Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Politics Above Politics

Author: Gary Hart

There is a great difference between Politics as it is practices today and politics as the only way devised for men and women to organize their societies.  Politics today is corrupted by money, self-interest, narrow-gauge thinking, dedication to office and power, and is becoming increasingly mean spirited.  In its authentic form, politics is a noble profession, especially when it does not become a profession, populated by people dedicated to the common good and by those whose concern is for future generations.

One of the participants in Plato’s Dialogues describes politics as “the care of souls.”

As one of the perennial few in each generation who migrate from religion to law and government, it was a natural transition.  I could spend a life helping those whose souls were sooner or later in transition to the hereafter.  Or I could do what little I could to help the public lives of those souls while here on this earth.

That meant that, first by supporting younger progressive candidates for office and then holding public office myself, I had to care for both fellow human beings but also the earth we all inhabit.  Words like security became central.  Nuclear weapons might make us secure against others who have them.  But we would all be better off without any anywhere.  Chemicals came to be used to grow food.  But they also contaminated air and water and caused cancer in humans.  Burning carbon fuels might heat our homes and get us from here to there.  But it soon began to warm the very climate upon which life on earth depends.

Politics has yet to redefine genuine security.  It will not.  But politics might.

To read Rachael Carson on the oceans and the interrelationship of all life is to see the difference between Politics and politics.  To read the Declaration of Independence is to begin to understand why men and women of social conviction enter public life.  To contemplate Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and other similar religious texts is to know that human existence must encompass charity, empathy, and service or that existence is merely time spent transiting from birth to death.

A life in Politics used to be interesting and amusing.  Now it about nothing but power, access to power, influencing power, and shouldering into the public trough.  To have known it in more noble and idealistic times and to see it now is to fear for the future of American democracy.

Against the sordid backdrop of Politics today, how can a still idealistic but aging public servant urge young people, who now fill the streets of our great cities to save their lives, that there is something called politics and that it is a noble profession.  They are frighteningly aware that fear of the gun lobby, and careerism among elected officials, rob those elected officials of the courage required to put the lives of America’s next generation ahead of the lobbyists and their own timid careers.

It is not accidental that there is no present-day book called Profiles in Courage.

We must either restore politics or continue down a darkening path that will not lead us to any kind of greatness any of us would recognize.  Correcting our present course will require Americans dedicated to civility, the common good, politics instead of Politics, tolerance, respect for difference, generosity of spirit, and maturity of judgment.  We must make the public square a forum for adults who know a little history, who don’t think their ideological church is right and everyone else’s is wrong.

An aspect of tolerance is mature understanding that those who seek to lead are not perfect.  Standards must be met, and character is demonstrated over a lifetime.  The caliber and quality of those willing to submit to the ritual hazing by the media, and now particularly the partisan media, have deteriorated in the last few decades.  Having loosened the dogs of expose`, predictably the pendulum has now swung so far the other way that all is permitted and what would have been outrageous behavior a few years back is now accepted if it is demonstrated by someone who shares our anger.

Returning the train of our nation to the relatively straight rails of history will not happen overnight.  We did not replace politics with Politics in the blink of an eye.  We are in the process of making epic mistakes in addressing the new era of mass migrations, globalization, and technology and will suffer for those mistakes until we exhaust ourselves with excess and the adults arrive.

But when those who place politics above Politics, the national interest above special interests, do arrive, we can once again become the beacon of the world whose principles are admired and respected by all men and women of good will everywhere.

A Choice of Who We Are

Author: Gary Hart

We have many ways to live our lives, but two significant ones stand out.  One is to be generous, big-hearted, concerned with others, helpful, and most of all kind.  The other, the opposite, we see too often these days.  It is mean-spirited, most of all angry, self-absorbed, heedless to the plight of others, and dismissive.

Pragmatically, we all have to get along to go along.  So most human interactions in the market place of life are reasonably civil.  The political arena, where who gets what is decided, is the most obvious test of the two kinds of humans.

This is often explained as a division over the role of government: the government should or shouldn’t be doing this or that.  This division is age-old and will not disappear, though in times of widespread financial hardship or foreign threats everyday people do seem to soften and want to offer a helping hand.  I remember this well from the end of the Great Depression.

Is it too much to ask why we cannot conduct our lives in this big-hearted manor.

Obviously, leaders set a tone.  If a president says that Americans should care for each other, that life should not be a dog fight, that makes a difference.  But if a president says get out of my way, don’t come begging to me for help, make it on your own, that makes the opposite difference.

If a president, by word and deed, encourages racial suspicion, even hatred, suggests that those who are not white or are from foreign countries are less than human, there are, tragically, segments of our society who long to have their basest convictions confirmed.

But a steady drumbeat of negative, hateful, and divisive messages changes our very culture and the principles upon which we claim to stand.  Our society must decide whether we are all in this together or it’s every man for himself.  The former outlook is the cement of a nation.  The latter is a ticket to a hellish nature red in tooth and claw.

Nothing will tear us apart more quickly than a bitter, mean-spirited, leader seeking to reduce a basically benevolent society to his level of hostility.  Such a leader is not seeking to make this country great again.  He is seeking to destroy the legacy of Lincoln, Roosevelt, Eisenhower and many others.

The pundits’ anguish over liberal or conservative misses the point.  If the decision of our time is whether America will lose or gain its soul, each of us has our own idea which path to follow.  But our new dilemma is not left or right, blue or red.  It is deep in our souls.  It is about our character as a nation.  It is about what kind of people we genuinely are.

In the political realm, character is usually determined by how power is used.  If it is used to create chaos and disruption by hiring, firing, and replacing as a demonstration of authority and the uses of distraction, that is not authentic power.  It is childish petulance.  Real power is wielded maturely, thoughtfully, and confidently.  Otherwise, it is merely a child breaking crockery to get the attention of adults.

Our current detour should not be seen as a nation regaining it strength and authority.  They were never lost.  We have almost always been great and, God willing, we will remain so despite our current thrashing about in search of policies that have never worked.

Power, authentic American power, is demonstrated by respect, not contempt, for the Constitutional principles and institutions created at our nation’s founding.  Running rough-shod over traditional norms of behavior demonstrates contempt not only for those norms but also the American people in whose name they are practiced.  Petulance, juvenile behavior, is not the mark of true strength or leadership.

As in our individual lives, our nation must always seek to make itself better, to improve on past mistakes, to behave with generosity and good will.  The sins of the warm hearted and those of the cold hearted, as Roosevelt observed, are weighed on different scales.

 

 

Destiny Abandoned

Author: Gary Hart

It is an interesting, and important, question for political historians whether a nation can, in a relatively short period of time, abandon many of its standards of behavior, political norms, types of leadership, ethical rules, and qualities of governance and still retain the same historical ideals to which it has been attached and principles upon which it was founded.

The answer most readily available is, wait until the next election.  If a majority of voters, or as most recently a minority, ratify those departures from solid tradition and principle  and hasten the process by which the America we thought we knew becomes a different country altogether, it is pretty clear evidence that the new and different America is emerging.

So long as laws and traditions stay within often flexible Constitutional limits, one administration can undertake to reverse, virtually across the board, bipartisan principles of foreign policy and domestic policies regarding energy, environment, education, entitlements, and stewardship of public lands and resources, among virtually all other consensus achievements.  That is, until many in the public remember why those policies were established in the first place.

American citizens are at liberty to change their minds, or at least depart from the ideals of their forebearers.

Times change, and we must adapt to those changes.  New policies must address new realities.  But we must remember enough history to know why previous generations thought it important enough to enact laws, negotiate treaties, engage in and not retreat from the wider world, and appreciate why engagement in and not retreat from a shrinking world in our own national interest.

There was a relatively brief period of time following the successful conclusion of World War II when America was dominant.  Wise statesmen and women of both political parties had the wisdom to understand several things: we would not and should not seek to govern the world unilaterally; we became stronger by constructing an expanding security umbrella that would prevent another world war; expanding global markets properly governed offered huge trade opportunities for American products and prevented trade wars; and new challenges, especially in the environment, were international, not national, and required multi-national collaboration.

Anyone who thought we were losing in this new international world didn’t understand what winning and losing meant.

The United States will not “win” by abrogating trade agreements, departing security arrangements, becoming isolationist, or insisting on dictating terms to other nations of the world.  Anyone whipping up a Fox news crowd with overheated rhetoric about making America great doesn’t understand the meaning of greatness in the 21st century or the genuine statesmanship required to demonstrate to friend and foe alike why our greatness will not come at the cost of diminishing the stature of other nations.

It goes without saying that truly great leaders do not welcome chaos in government, including in White House, say one thing and do another, appoint friends to high office with little or no experience, leave key Embassies without official ambassadors, demean serious democratic foreign leaders and praise authoritarians, constantly reverse policies on a whim, and derogate key allies.

Serious presidents, those history will remember for more than just destructive eccentricity, respect this nation and the office they are granted.  They have read and demonstrated an understanding of the Constitution and principles upon which it is based.  They demonstrate humility rather then arrogance.  They know enough about the nation’s history to understand that it is more important than their own ego.

To understand the difference, read Abraham Lincoln.

Will Lincoln be there when he is needed.  Not if we institutionalize our current detour from all that has truly made us great in the past.

The Intractables

Author: Gary Hart

There is something that defines the United States that is tangible, identifiable, and definable.  It is called the national interest.  It is the sum of what it means to be a nation of citizens pursuing the common good, what is best and most important for all, for ourselves and for our posterity.  We see it most vividly and clearly in times of economic failure, the Great Depression, and security threats, World War II and the Cold War.

Both these conditions cause us to put the national interest and the common good ahead of other, narrower concerns.  Faced with neither of these threats, too often Americans divide over lesser concerns.

In recent years those narrower issues have sharply divided our nation.  They include guns, abortion, immigration, and perhaps one or two others.  Having no unifying challenges to address, political parties instead migrate toward coalitions composed of single issue voters such as gun ownership, opposition to abortion, and rising anti-immigrant nationalism.

An entire political industry has arisen in recent years composed of those skilled in promising such constituency groups what they demand in return for their votes.  These manipulators are also skilled at finding narrowly focused wealthy families who donate tens of millions of dollars.  And they use partisan media and new social media platforms to promote their platforms, often falsely, and denigrate those who do not share them.

In exchange for party political and financial support, they demand one hundred percent loyalty to the coalition’s strict platform.  No deviation is permitted.  No compromise, the essence of democratic government, is allowed.  To seek a middle ground is anathema in the political church of sanctimony.

Years of gerrymandering by State legislatures has made eighty to ninety percent of Congressional districts either solidly red or blue.  And the electoral prize goes to the candidate of the most rigid orthodoxy on the most sacrosanct issues.  It is a demonstrable fact that conservatives have been much more successful at enforcing their orthodoxy than have progressives.

On the intractable issues such as immigration, what efforts at Congressional compromise have occurred have virtually always involved Senators from so-called purple, or swing, States where independent voters not aligned with any interest group make the difference.

It is no wonder that the hue and cry across the land is: why can’t they get anything done in Washington.  This comes often enough from members of one or more of these intractable factions who must be understood to mean: why can’t we get what we want.

One of the unifying themes of those responsible for founding this nation was the fear of “factions”, what today we would call special or narrow interest groups who care primarily if not only about their issue.  So much for the national interest.  So much for the need to meet halfway, to give something in order to get something.

The most intractable of all the intractables is abortion.  Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling, abortion opponents see only black and white, good and evil.  The hypocrisy of the “pro-life” label is seen most clearly when strict anti-abortionists support the death penalty or for that matter bombing civilian villages in Southeast Asia.  We are all pro-life.  No group in America owns that label.

Our largest task today is to recover the national interest, that which we all share in common.  We will not be able to do so unless that vast army of voters who want us to export democracy but do not vote are heard from.

If, instead of fifty or perhaps sixty percent of voter turn-out in national elections (and not much more than forty percent in off-year elections), Americans do their duty to the Republic and vote.  If this percentage rose to eighty percent or above, we might find that a clear majority of Americans want compromise instead of political polarization and the intractables reasonably quickly found traction and resolution.

Even if the single-issue voters did not get the absolutist policies they demand, our nation would be better for it.  And we would regain our self-respect and become adults once again.

 

Welcome to the Deep State

Author: Gary Hart

It is unclear when the Deep State was created or created itself.  It almost certainly took shape in the 20th century.  Candidates for creating the Deep State, or permitting it to create itself, are Franklin Roosevelt or Harry Truman.  Roosevelt for domestic purposes, Truman for international purposes.

Being a machine that runs of itself, its members almost certainly are senior career civil servants in every cabinet department and agency.  That means, at least, fifteen cabinet departments and anywhere from seven to fifteen principal agencies.  To be effective the minimum number of Deep State members must be at least a hundred per department and agency.  Thus, the core of the Deep State would be in the neighborhood of two or three thousand individuals.

Over time, senior officials retire and must be replaced.  If this mysterious State arose under Roosevelt, then there must have been over time some tens of thousands of secret members of the Deep State.

Were they required to take an oath of secrecy to join this covert government?  That must have been part of the arrangement, otherwise one book, not to say a whole library of books would have been published by now describing in thrilling detail how it all works.

Perhaps the Deep State has enforcers who take care of those who squeal.  Great research question as to how many members or former members of the Deep State met untimely and violent deaths.

And where has the Washington press corps been all these years.  Anyone remember a Pulitzer Prize for uncovering the Deep State right under their noses?

Amazing that it took President Donald Trump, who had never participated in government or particularly spent much time in Washington to reveal this secret.  Perhaps he is waiting for the appropriate moment to document the existence of the Deep State and its membership.

Perhaps not.

As a veteran of a few years of service at the U.S. Departments of Justice and Interior, there was little evidence of Deep State activity.  Almost to a person, the career civil servants were intelligent, diligent, hard-working, and highly knowledgeable about their responsibilities.  They could, of course, have been sly devils meeting in the furnace room after hours passing out assignments for subverting the current Administration.  How were we to know?

Believers in the Deep State surely hold open the possibility that the Russian Government and its FSB have known about this all along.  They would, of course, have passed on what they know to their new friend, but circumstances being what they are, he would be foreclosed from employing them as his principal source of intelligence.  Speaking of which, Deep State members must be all over the dozen and a half of agencies in the intelligence community.

From the Masons to UFOs Americans have loved mysteries.  Once it was established that George Washington was a Mason, among other Founders, we have let that mystery go.  There are still those pesky UFOs that somehow pop up, much like Arthur Schlesinger’s cycles of American history, every twenty or thirty years.

Kurt Anderson’s new book calls this “Fantasyland” and the Deep State has its own neighborhood there.

If you are out to practice the politics of distraction, how better to do it than to place a bright spotlight on the Deep State, and it has the added advantage of nourishing and feeding the “base” as well as accounting for unfulfilled campaign promises.

Where is P.T. Barnum when we need him?  But wait, perhaps we have him after all and he is the consummate ring master.

[This essay appears in this month’s The National Interest.]

Protecting the Republic

Author: Gary Hart

The Department of Justice, where I once worked in the National Security Division, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is the principal federal law enforcement agency, are, together with the Central Intelligence Agency and a dozen or so related intelligence service and, of course, the Department of Defense, responsible for the security of our nation.

What weakens them, weakens our nation.  That is why those of us who served on the Senate Select Committee to Investigate the Intelligence Services of the United States (the “Church Committee”, 1975-1977) took extraordinary care to fairly treat these agencies while building Constitutional barriers to unlawful behavior.  Veterans of those agencies agree that they were made stronger by constraints placed upon them.

Virtually non-stop since legitimate questions were raised by the Justice Department about Russian tampering with our 2016 election, universally confirmed by all intelligence services, the President of the United States has conducted open warfare against his own Department of Justice and the FBI which works with it and under its direction.

There is no precedent for this in American history.

The President fires the Director of the FBI, rants that his own Attorney General will not do what he is told, and claims that the FBI is in “tatters” even as he directs the tattering.  Knowing nothing of American history or our Constitution, he enters the White House believing that the Department of Justice is his personal law firm and he can order it to do, or not do, what he wants.

Once again, there is no precedent for this.

It is paranoid mendacity for the President and those around him to claim overtly and covertly that the Department of Justice and FBI are riddled with Democrats out to get him.

To prove there is no end to this, on top of it all he approves the release of a report by the staff of one Member of the House of Representatives that claims to prove this preposterous assertion, against the appeal by the Director of the FBI that national security will be compromised (this is the sources and methods claim), and without the common decency and traditional decorum to permit his Committee’s minority members to issue a rebuttal to the false and misleading claims it makes.

Despite the media sound and fury surrounding this issue, this phony report is already falling of its own weight and will not achieve its intended purpose of distraction from the Mueller investigation and attempt to discredit the Department of Justice and FBI.  But the damage, which seems to characterize most of this Administration’s actions, will have been done to two critical agencies upon which our security depends.

For the better part of a year, as misstatements and misrepresentations (credible journals have called them lies) have mounted, a student of Jefferson could not help but wonder what he and his founding colleagues would make of a former reality television host dismantling years of bipartisan progress at home and abroad with the ignorance of an undisciplined child.  They feared, and rightly so, an oligarch or authoritarian who would directly and indirectly deconstruct and disregard the Constitution and balanced governing system they created.  Unsuccessful attempts have been made here and there, usually by presidents facing retribution, but none on the scale of what we see now.

I imagine Jefferson and the others whispering in the ears of those who will listen: Be careful.  Be very careful.  Do your duty and be on guard.

 

[Anyone questioning the author’s credentials on national security is free to do so.  But the author has a fifty-year record in response.]

“Terrified”

Author: Gary Hart

Service on the Senate Armed Services Committee offered penetrating insights into America’s national security structures, both military and intelligence.  It also offered introduction to senior military and civilian commanders of both those structures.  With very rare exceptions, those commanders were, and presumably still are, figures of substance, thoughtfulness, experience, sobriety, and patriotism.

Of the eleven former Secretaries of Defense I have known, four while serving in the Senate, none was more wise, thoughtful, and intelligent than William (Bill) Perry.  Until the fall of the Soviet Union and for a time thereafter, the principal concern of Secretary Perry and several Secretaries who preceded him was the Soviet nuclear arsenal, the threat of nuclear war, and the possibility always that one side or the other might mistakenly start World War III.

It all depended on technology and, of course, computers were at the heart of that and became even more so as they increased in sophistication.  As he consistently demonstrated in hundreds of Congressional briefings, some classified, Bill Perry understood this implicitly.

In 1979, our Committee commissioned Senator Barry Goldwater and I to quietly discover how many false launch warnings had occurred in the past number of years.  We found that there were several dozen—the precise number is still classified—and they were ranked by order of seriousness, seriousness being measured by the length of time the warning persisted and the total number of missiles the radars and other sensors revealed.  The longer the warning lasted and the larger the incoming launch, the more serious the threat.

Of these there were several.

One of the most serious involved at least 200 Soviet incoming missiles—the exact number is still classified—and it lasted a dismaying number of minutes.  In a recent NPR interview, Secretary Perry mentioned this incident as one of the most frightening on his or any other Secretary’s watch.  It turned out to be produced by a malfunctioning computer chip that costed a few dollars.

Knowing that the Soviet arsenal was for a time smaller in number, its missiles and warheads larger because they had yet to conquer accuracy guidance systems and therefore had to blow up a larger patch, and their computerized command and communications systems behind ours in sophistication, we could only surmise how many faults warnings they were receiving about missile attacks by the U.S.  Informal discussions have suggested they were more frequent and more serious.

Though the Cold War as such is more or less over, there are still tensions in Syria, Ukraine, and the Black Sea.  Plus, in the meantime, we now face a belligerent North Korea that has surprised our intelligence services with the speed with which it has developed its warhead and missile capabilities.

All this to say there remains serious nuclear danger in the world, perhaps in some ways even more dangerous than during the Cold War.

Early in the Cold War the U.S. political and military leadership developed what came to be called the Triad.  That structure placed nuclear warheads on land based Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), on missile launching submarines, and on bomb racks of long range bombers (originally B-52s, some of which are still operating well over a half century later).  Thus, the strategists said, even if an enemy were to attack and destroy most if not all of our ICBMs, we could still destroy it with air and sea launched weapons.

Bill Perry, among several advocates, has steadfastly argued that we do not need the vulnerable ICBMs and can more than adequately maintain deterrence against attack with these other legs of the Triad, and further that we should systematically dismantle the ICBM arsenal.

No serious debate occurs on this subject because, especially in our current Congress, a howl would emerge from certain circles on the right that “liberals are weakening our defenses at this critical time”, etc., etc.

There remains the threat of accidental war, possibly even greater than during the Cold War era.  Computers fail, communications are undependable, and the ranks of hackers grow.

Our systems have always assumed a sophisticated level of maturity and intelligence among senior political leaders, including the commander in chief, but have administered strenuous psychological tests to uniformed military officials involved in the maintenance and, if required, launch of nuclear missiles.  It is being plausibly argued that Administration officials in inner national security circles, including the commander in chief, should undergo at least some version of those tests.

Yet no serious discussion of this catastrophic possibility occurs in our Congress or Administration.  This amounts to gross neglect of duty, possibly the most gross.

Asked by the NPR interviewer how he felt about accidental nuclear war, Secretary William Perry, now 90 years old, said: “I’m terrified.”

 

Do Narcissists Leave Legacies

Author: Gary Hart

A theory making the rounds is that Donald Trump’s vulgar and anti-presidential behavior is intentional not accidental, that he intends to shock, that he is completely unconcerned about critical comments from press and public alike.  His greatest fear is not condemnation.  It is fear of losing the spotlight and he will do anything, however shocking, to maintain center stage.

As bizarre as this sounds for anyone, let alone the President of the United States, it does account for his ugly behavior as the worst boy in the class.  And, thus, there are those of us who try not to reward that behavior by joining the growing chorus of outrage and providing him what he wants.

But it is necessary to assume he will be around for another three years, that is unless boredom genuinely sets in and he decides to wander off, and questions arise which deserve thought and attention: is his effort to vulgarize presidential behavior permanent or idiosyncratic; will serious nations of the world assume the era of American leadership is over and reorganize themselves accordingly; will America’s critics use the stick he is giving them to beat us over the head; in short, is he the destroyer of anything worthwhile in American culture.

Many of us who consider ourselves genuine patriots deplore his behavior like a child in a glass factory with a hammer and have beliefs in our nation’s core strengths and principles that will survive even a series of Trumps.  If otherwise, that one narcissistic and deeply troubled man can make our country less than it was, then we were never as strong as we were taught to believe.

At the very least he is an embarrassment and those with foreign friends find ourselves repeatedly saying, This is not us.  We are who you have always known us to be, flawed but well intentioned, basically decent folk.  Regardless of repeated reassurances, however, there will for a long time be the thought, If it can happen once, it can happen again.  Other nations also have had twisted performers dancing loopily and vulgarly around the stage.  But they are not the America of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Statue of Liberty.

Up to now we have held ourselves to higher standards of principle, belief, and character.  Everyone of our leaders has had a flaw or two, but, with one or two exceptions, none has behaved in a way to bring discredit to the United States or make us look ridiculous in the eyes of the world.

Richard Nixon employed what he called the “madman” theory of foreign policy which may or may not have caused the leaders of North Vietnam to pause.  But it was not so bizarre as to cause them to laugh.

We are confronted, at this moment in history, with a president who has little or no respect for the office he holds.  His daily behavior is an affront to virtually all those who preceded him.  He refuses to accept that he has any duty of respect for the nation or its history.

It remains to be said, yet again, our country is strong, stronger than an infantile, madcap poseur of the day.  Most Americans are and will remain decent, thoughtful, respectful people.  We are not racists.  We are not hateful.  We realize, one way or the other, we are all God’s creations and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.  We have high principles and we aspire to live up to them.  We will occasionally err out of ignorance or misinformation.  But we will almost always find the right path back to who we truly are.

Leaders come and go.  But thank God, they do not stay long.  Another mark of our Founders’ genius.  Once again, William Faulkner said it right: We will not only survive.  We will prevail.

What Awaits

Author: Gary Hart

Blessings on all who visit this site and who have been such loyal friends, critics, and commentators.

Whatever the coming year may hold, stay close to those you love, care for those in need of care,

stay strong in your convictions, and never, ever sacrifice principles.

Gary Hart

I Aspire to Be a Christian

Author: Gary Hart

What follows breaks two personal writing rules: too many first-person pronouns in an age of ego; and personal focus on my religious beliefs.  Starting with the New York Times commentary page and working outward, every writer makes sure you understand that it is him or her who is rendering an opinion, as if we didn’t know that already.  And though for a time a public man, I served in an age where serious public figures tried to live their beliefs rather than chant them and thus advertise their hypocrisy.

One way or the other many if not most of us practice the politics of identity.  So, Christians say “I am a Christian.”  Perhaps because I was raised in a humble evangelical household, attended an evangelical college, and graduated from divinity school, and have, for better or worse, always been a literalist, the Christian religion requires some qualifications for self-identification.  And if you take those qualifications seriously, as I always have, you don’t just pay your dues and walk through the door.

In the deepest sense, you do not choose Christianity; Christianity chooses you.

Jesus preached a demanding message: the worship of wealth is a distraction from the practice of faith; daily try to help those in need; care in real, practical terms for the poor, the homeless, the hungry, the lonely; love one another; be kind to each other; materialism is incompatible with a caring heart; life is to be lived inward spiritually and outward behaviorally.

There are two kinds of Christian aspirants.  Those ascetics single mindedly pursuing purity.  And those of us identified in Francis Thompson’s poem The Hound of Heaven: “I fled Him down the nights and down the days.  I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways of my own mind.”

At a more advanced age than I ever anticipated, thoughts are increasingly on things of the spirit and what Kierkegaard would call existential matters.  Although I recall no votes in public service days that were antithetical to the Sermon on the Mount, and tremble in rage at those who so casually deny basic human public services to the unacceptably large number of poor we step over on the sidewalks on the way to self-advancement, I still have failed to faithfully follow Jesus’ admonitions in the radical ways He preached.

In a panel discussion some time back, a former Senate colleague defined the core issue as “how much government we want.”  My response was rather “what kind of society we want.”  We are not simply a very large and disparate collection of people occupying the same geographical area.  The Christian Gospel, and for that matter Judaism and Mohammedanism, are premised in some part on our social responsibilities.  This is both practical and spiritual.  The “every man for himself” philosophy of many on the right inevitably leads to a slightly less draconian version of Blake’s “nature red in tooth and claw.”

I hope I live long enough and follow the better instincts of my nature diligently enough to be accepted as a Christian.  This is my prayer.

I need a little more time and a lot more focus on what is good and true and lasting.  Obituaries serve the interests of the media which have their own priorities and I know the lead paragraph in mine regardless of what time I have left or what I might achieve.

I believe, as the Gospels tell us, that there is a judgment of some kind when it all comes to an end.  For my errors and sins, I will offer on my scale a small role in the lives of a group of younger humanitarians whom I have known and loved and who are daily feeding hungry children, providing books and literacy to young people without access to books, providing public service avenues to inner city youth who have no other chance at higher education, providing health care in small villages, raising money for food and medicine in disaster areas, teaching, healing, and caring.

The Bible says we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God.  My hope of salvation rests in what little idealism I helped inspire in these and perhaps others.  Before it is all over, I aspire to be a Christian.