Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

What’s Going On

Author: Gary Hart

Among the punditocracy in our Capitol “realignment” is in the air.  A site that draws a small but highly perceptive commentariat such as this one might do well to ponder what shape that political realignment (presuming it does in fact occur) might take.

The insiders now seem to assume that the Clintonian centrist Democratic Party is no longer the home of New Dealers and Great Societiests but whose maintenance of the legacy social safety net attracts the less well-off elderly, minorities, the poor, the better educated, and the young.

More interestingly, the Republican Party, under the influence of Nixon-Fox-Rove, has become a menagerie of evangelicals, white middle class elderly, rural and small town residents, gun owners, less well educated, anti-immigrants, and blue collar factory workers displaced by global competition.

Political journalists cling to the antique categories of liberal and conservative even as those traditional ideological categories seem quaint.  After Vietnam, the Democratic war party became the peace party, and the previously isolationist Taft Republicans became the interventionist, regime change party.  But the Democrats have nominated a somewhat hawkish interventionist and the Republicans have nominated a pro-Russian, Putin-embracing, NATO critic who sounds like “come home America.”

Realignment indeed.  It might be safe to conclude that the last realignment post-Vietnam has run its course and is being replaced by a new, as yet undefined, one.

Ideological language and its meanings cause considerable confusion.  The size of government doesn’t change regardless of White House occupant.  Tax cuts on the 1% may vary a few points.  Military spending stays roughly the same.  The same figures in both parties come and go from appointive office.  Aside from academic political scientists, very few people can distinguish between liberal and left on one hand and conservative and right on the other.  There is a difference in both cases but it is rarely distinguished.

One of the more thoughtful columnists distinguished between traditional conservatism that seeks to apply traditional principles to new realities and reactionary movements, of the Trump variety, that angrily resist all change and seek to return to an imagined better past time.  This is a helpful and important distinction and observation.

As a strong believer in principles, one way out of the current political chaos might be a requirement that both major parties deliver a manifesto, a statement of beliefs based solidly on convictions and principles shared by many.  Not likely in an age of twitter.  But an interesting exercise nonetheless.  Mostly not likely because parties, especially the Republican Party of late, has tried to be all things to all disparate movements.  Draw lines of principal and you surely lose many who say, Wait a minute; that’s not what I believe.

The job of parties is coalition building.  But to persevere a coalition must embrace a central, enduring theme and purpose.  The Roosevelt coalition came apart under the pressures of civil rights in the 1960s and economic stagnation in the 1970s.  The Taft coalition came apart under the pressures of the Great Depression, World War II, and the perceived communist threat.

A Clinton victory in November might forestall a Democratic realignment for a few years, but at its peril.  The Party is not attracting young people, the next generation, the way it did in the Kennedy era.  The Party has a relevance problem.  It adopted “centrism” at the cost of principle.  A Trump victory or a Trump defeat necessarily will lead to an epic struggle for definition and control of the future Republican Party.  Even for those of us not involved, that will be worth close watching.

On Sunday Huffington Post posted an essay written by General Charles Boyd and me the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy.  Out credentials were based on our service on the United States Commission on National Security for the 21st Century (1998-2001), General Boyd as the Commission’s Executive Director and I as its co-chair with the late United States Senator Warren Rudman.  Most notable among our 50 recommendations to the new George W. Bush administration was the urgent need to create a Cabinet-level Department of National Security uniting the Border Patrol, Customs, and Coast Guard with a common data base and communications system.  We did so because, by 1999, we had become convinced, as we publicly reported, that “America will be attacked by terrorists using weapons of mass destruction, and Americans will die on American soil, possibly in large numbers.”

Our essay was to remind Americans, yet again, that we had been warned and that our Government literally did nothing to prepare and to show the costs of neglect, ignorance, and failure to prepare.  And we wished to remind those too young to remember and those who wished to forget that history repeats itself and we suffer when we fail to learn and to remember.  There are new threats for which we are not prepared, especially in the areas of cyber attacks and biological (viral) outbreaks.

Educational surveys show how woefully ignorant too many Americans, students as well as their parents, are of American history, including our recent history, global geography, and current affairs.

The national media paid little attention to our interim reports and warning in 1999 and 200 and our final report on January 31, 2001, eight months before 9/11.  How are the American people to know of such dire warnings if the press does not do its job as the First Amendment intended.  That Amendment was not simply to protect the press’s independence but to insure that it carried out its duties to inform the American people about important information concerning public business.

General Boyd and I submitted our essay and its lessons to the New York Times.  It was rejected.  The editor said the paper already had a piece (ONE PIECE) reminding readers of the 9/11 anniversary.  I responded by suggesting the occasion and the lessons it held might deserve more than one opinion piece.  One might suppose that, having missed the original story and its warnings when issued in early 2001, leading media outlets didn’t want their failure remembered.

What has America learned from the loss of more than 3000 lives, not just our citizens but also our media?  Are we more aware of the world in which we live?  Are our security services, and our elected officials, on a higher degree of awareness and alertness?  If we are warned again, will we find it out through a media (whose own collective memory seems roughly 24 hours), and will we demand greater attention, alertness, and foresight from our president and leaders than we saw in 2001?

We owe no less to those who perished, in the minds of a few of us unnecessarily.

Toward a Better Day

Author: Gary Hart

Even those of a generation that reached maturity in the happy days of the 1950s find it necessary to remind ourselves that, even though our lives were relatively calm, peaceful, and optimistic, we still lived in a racially divided society, a growing nuclear cloud hung over us, and there were struggles going on in many places in the world.

Yet, by comparison to today, it was a pretty good time to be an American.  Of the qualities we enjoyed, optimism about the future seemed commonplace.  Whether explicitly or implicitly we were told we could achieve anything we set out to do.  Life then was simpler, calmer, more civil, and, yes, happier, even for those of us in the humbler working class.

Will America ever be like that again?  Blocking that goal are a variety of barriers: mass migrations, always a fertile field for demagogues in any age; globalization threatening manufacturing jobs; the genuine and dangerous reality of climate change; terrorists with access to weapons of mass destruction; religious fundamentalism; and other new 21st century realities too numerous to mention.

Complicating governmental approaches to these realities are: increasingly bitter ideological partisanship, denial of the realities themselves in some quarters, partisan media megaphones, unenlightening political leadership campaigns, an entertainment industry both violent and adolescent, and the rise of the politics of blame and anger.

So, perhaps the ideal of a return to an era of good feeling, relative happiness, and optimism is purely unrealistic nostalgia.  Let us hope not.  For a nation to let itself be trapped in a negative cage of our own making, dominated by demagogues, and roiled by anger is a depressing outlook.

I for one cannot live the remainder of my life in an atmosphere of distrust, resentment of my fellow Americans, and despair over the decline of our political system.  It is not a natural state for me or for the vast majority of our fellow citizens.  To do so would be to succumb to atomization, isolation, erosion of civil society, and bitterness.

That is not who we are.  That is not what America is meant to be.

Despite slogans about the loss of greatness, our economy is performing exceptionally well, compared to the collapse of 2008, our military remains the strongest in the world by orders of magnitude, our higher education has few rivals, and our inventiveness rivals that of the days of Edison and Whitney.

Our Constitution is a document of human realism founded on a very idealistic belief in the possibility, yea, the necessity, of self-government.  Even during a violent civil war, Abraham Lincoln called on us to follow “the better angels of our nature”.  Despite the current wave of xenophobia, we still have a statue in New York harbor opening its arms to “…your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.  Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.’   This welcome does not exclude races or countries of origin.

When America decides to ignore or reject this statue and its welcome, we will no longer be America.  And if we vote against its spirit, we should in good conscience take the statue down or let it stay as a monument to our hypocrisy.

The test of a nation, like the test of an individual, occurs during times of trouble, not times of ease.  The happy days of the 1950s were relative times of ease.  We find out who we truly are in times like these today.  At the very least, at a time when meanness seems the default attitude, we must all do our best to assert our humanity, respect for others, and common decency.

A Tragedy Foretold

Author: Gary Hart

After November, expect an avalanche of analyses as to how the Trump phenomenon could have happened and, in some cases, how it can be prevented in the future.

A persuasive school of thought will link this phenomenon to the loss of privacy two or three decades ago and the consequent decline in the caliber and quality of political leadership in America.  The cost of the loss of privacy is the loss of respect.  And the loss of respect guarantees that men and women of talent and virtue will not submit themselves to the mockery of a mob of anonymous internet trolls and semi-literate political analysts.

Jefferson supposed that America’s future rested with “the aristocracy of talent and virtue”.  He did not mean that only aristocrats possessed those qualities.  He was too radical a democrat to believe that.  Rather, he believed that, largely due to widespread public education, a cohort of leaders with talent and a sense of public duty would form a new aristocracy, one not of wealth, family, and class but one of natural leadership ability and commitment to the common good.

Jefferson would not have been surprised by Abraham Lincoln in the least.

Jefferson would be surprised, shocked might be a better term, at the Trump phenomenon, one that appeals to baser instincts, latent prejudice, and mob hostility.  Like his friend James Madison, as well as the other Founders, he understood the hazards of demagoguery.  But he also believed a free press would reveal demagoguery, ignorance, prejudice, and vulgarity and an enlightened citizenry would quickly dispatch those exhibiting these qualities.

What neither he nor others could have anticipated was an amalgamation of mass media obsessed with sensation and scandal falling prey, virtually lock, stock, and barrel, to a demagogue who cleverly understood those same media’s thirst for daily doses of outrageousness disguised as “reality”.

The First Amendment’s unique protection of the press was for the purpose of providing independent information and enlightenment about the public’s business, not as a guarantee of profits for newspaper barons and corporate networks (especially corporate networks licensed by the public itself).

In the vacuum created by the disappearance, with some notable exceptions, of the aristocracy of talent and virtue, and given the replacement of public service as a noble profession by ideological entrepreneurs eager to please one interest group after another, the Trump phenomenon now looks virtually inevitable.

The Party that permitted itself to be co-opted by a reality-t.v. demagogue will spend considerable time rethinking its priorities after November, seeking to re-establish its true identity, and calculating the cost of a “Southern strategy” that expanded into an evangelical strategy, a gun strategy, an anti-immigrant strategy, and so much else..  Its “family strategy” meanwhile has managed to embrace a thrice-married nominee without so much as a blink of shame.

After the great train wreck of 2016, there remains the possibility of a serious political awakening in which the needs of media sensationalism take second place to the search for a new aristocracy of talent and civic virtue, the rise of a new generation of young men and women looking less for a career in elective office and more for a chance to ask what they can do for their country.

It has been estimated that fewer than 9% of the American people selected the two major party candidates for national leadership.  And it is a distinct possibility that fewer than 50% of eligible voters will decide between these two.  The fact that fewer than a quarter of eligible voters will select the next president should be cause for alarm and a judgment on us who hold our nation’s future in trust.

We could all do much worse, after this descent into democracy’s cluttered basement, than to engage in some soul searching about citizen responsibility for self-government, resistance to demagoguery, serious consideration about our nation’s future, and thoughtful discussion of alternative economic, foreign policy, and security approaches in an age of new realities.

Such a national renewal after the current nightmare would be greatly helped by the re-emergence of statesmen and stateswomen too long absent from the public arena.  But, in the end, it is really up to each of us.

Apologies

Author: Gary Hart

I have taken down the most recent posting entitled A Fable for Our Times.  I accept responsibility for it and regret having posted it.

Unfortunately, in the current highly-charged political atmosphere, I am guilty of adding fuel to a fire veering too close to the edge of civility.

Several responses unnecessarily revisited my own national campaign long ago and others went so far as to compare my candidacy to that

of Mr. Trump.  Others alluded to alleged but unproven allegation of illegality on the part of Mrs. Clinton.  Having decried the bitterness

and nastiness of today’s politics I should not have encouraged it further.

Gary Hart

You Have Sacrificed Nothing

Author: Gary Hart

Statements that resonate, speeches that linger, are not the result of a voice, a wardrobe, a hairstyle, or a handsome face.  One of the greatest speeches in human history, was delivered by a man who had none of these things.  He had no speech writers, no clever wordsmiths to tell him what to say and how to say it.  It was literally written near the last minute on the back of an envelope.  It is now carved in stone and in our hearts.  It is the Gettysburg Address.

Resonance with history is most often produced by an individual with a conviction, with beliefs lodged in the heart, with a sense of honor, integrity, and principle.  The person delivering words worth remembering must have something to say and a reason for saying it.

Powerful truths are often contained in a few powerful words.  When Mr. Trump loses this election, it will be because of, as much as anything, these simple words:  “You have sacrificed nothing.”

Mr. Khizr Kahn, his silent wife beside him, looked into Mr. Trump’s soul and found…nothing.

Mr. Kahn could deliver that message, so far reaching in its implications, such a devastating profile in character, because he spoke with moral conviction and authority.  He and his wife had sacrificed something ultimately precious, their son, and they had sacrificed their son because they loved America, an America with liberty and justice for all.

Mr. and Mrs. Kahn and their son Captain Humayun Kahn are and were Muslims.

Mr. Kahn said he doubted that Mr. Trump had ever read the Constitution of the United States of America and offered to share his copy with Mr. Trump.  The picture of Mr. Kahn holding up the Constitution should be shown to every voter and in every household in America every day of this election.

It is the purest symbol of what this election is about.

Mr. Trump should apologize to Mr. Kahn for what he has said about Muslims.  But he will not.  He does not have the courage to do so.  He has sacrificed nothing.

Moral authority is achieved through sacrifice.  It cannot be acquired by immense wealth.  It cannot be bargained for in the marketplace.  For moral authority, we must look to Tolstoy, to Gandhi, to Martin Luther King.  Each of us must look into our own souls for the courage required to achieve that authority.  True leadership is never mean, bitter, angry, or divisive.

If Mr. Trump wishes to achieve that authority, he might start by begging the forgiveness of Mr. and Mrs. Kahn.  He will not do so.  Searching his soul for courage, you will find nothing.

In the end, history remembers the Abraham Lincolns, not the Joseph McCarthys.  It takes no courage and no sacrifice to demean and belittle others.

Many years from now, the fading figure of Donald Trump will be remembered with these words: You sacrificed nothing.  After the election he will have plenty of time to do what Mr. Kahn admonished him to do: visit the Arlington National Cemetery and learn the meaning of sacrifice.

Reflections on the future

Author: Gary Hart

Sometime back, under the impact of a series of improbable, even ridiculous, political developments, I wrote that I was forthwith leaving “politics” behind and focusing instead on more serious, more substantial, more meaningful topics with longer range implications.

Well, of course, I should have been smart enough to know that we may not care about politics, but politics cares about us.

Given the historic moment in which we find ourselves, let me invite comments, and offer to respond to questions if any are asked, concerning the impending national election and particularly its impact on the long term national interest.

For example, will history look back on this moment as a hinge of history, where we are leaving behind one era, say one that began in the mid-20th century with the end of WWII and ended at least figuratively on 9/11?  Are the new media replacing traditional journalism, the “press” of the First Amendment, at the expense of serious citizen discourse and information necessary for an informed electorate?  Are we producing a generation (or more) of young Americans with little if any sense of history?  Is the new level of political vitriol and meanness, ideological orthodoxy, and character destruction driving qualified leaders away from public service?  Will we ever be able to curb the Washington revolving door of insider lobbyists, super pacs, campaign contributions providing access, and a political system of and for the few and powerful?  Will political and/or economic crisis produce great leaders as they have in past times?

Faithful and thoughtful commentators on this site, and those of you who may have been silent up to now, are invited to share your thoughts on these topics or others you consider of equal or greater historical impact in the context of our current national election.

Identity

Author: Gary Hart

Many people, in America and elsewhere, are searching for identity in a world that is disrupting if not destroying historical identities.  Globalization, mass migrations, ubiquitous media, and disintegrating borders are pulling up the roots that most of us have taken for granted.

As in other Western democracies, the face of America is changing.  From its beginning we have been a white, Protestant nation, even after waves of immigrants from Europe.  Now immigrants are coming from the South, and black, brown, and Asian peoples are literally changing the face of the nation.

Another pillar of identity, work, changed dramatically at the same time.  Manufacturing, as the basis of the national economy, shrunk under pressure from less expensive imports, and the new technology sector hired only young people, and trained immigrants, with tech skills.  A generation of manufacturing workers not only lost their income, they lost their identity.

Geography used to play a key role in defining identity, that is until Americans began to uproot and move several times during a life time.  It became less common to identify oneself by region.  Being a Westerner, I believe there is still a regional identity in the West different from other American regions.  It is a matter of history, tradition, culture, and an approach to life different from other places.  And I’m sure those who have not migrated out of their respective regions feel likewise.  But it is less common for people to spend a lifetime in a particular place.

National security also has also been a dominant factor in identity.  World War II united Americans, as did the Cold War that followed.  A common enemy caused us to bring out the flag and pin it to our lapels.  We had a common cause that we identified with.  We are all in this together to resist threats to our survival.

So, race, religion, employment, region, and national unity shape identity and all are undergoing great change.

When Mr. Trump talks about making America great again, the unspoken message is that we can recapture our lost identity.  We will all be Americans again just like the good old days.  We will build walls against immigrants and foreign trade.  Renewed militancy against terror will bring back the common cause of national security.  We will recapture a religious identity and, by his rejection of Muslims and Mexicans, not so subtly suggests to evangelicals that it will be a white Protestant identity.

The search for a lost identity goes a long way to explaining the Trump phenomenon.  He promises a return to the happy days of the 1950s when families spent generations in the same communities with the same like-minded, and like-appearing, neighbors, and where Dad went to his factory job every day and Mom cooked and kept the household humming.  The kids went to schools with others who looked just like them and who went to the same churches.

And that was the family—father, mother, two children.  Now that traditional family institution has taken alternative shapes and does not preserve that traditional aspect of identity to older generations.

There are few if any instances where nations recaptured a nostalgic past.  History not only does not stop, it does not reverse itself.  The one ineluctable fact of human existence is change.  And we happen to be living through one of the most dramatic eras of change in human history.  The price being paid is the loss of our traditional identities.

The great challenge for us now is the shaping of a new identity that enables and empowers us to deal with this chaotic change as a cohesive society built upon enduring principles of democracy, human dignity, and mutual respect for all those on the same quest.  Our quests for our individual identities will only be successful if they coalesce with most other Americans into a new positive and constructive national identity

Government Schools

Author: Gary Hart

The State of Kansas now calls its public schools “government schools.” Thomas Jefferson, who linked public schooling to democracy and vice versa, now has yet another reason to roll over in his grave.

So, I guess we now have government highways, and government parks and wilderness areas and government forests, and government libraries, and government State boundaries, and a whole lot of other government things. Before Kansas enlightened me I though these were all facilities that belonged to the public, all the people of America, and that we administered them on our behalf by electing a government to do so.You have to ask yourself whether federal farm subsidies to Kansas farmers also makes them “government farms.” It would be interesting to know how many Kansas farmers send the subsidies back.

But now Kansas tells me all these public assets and resources belong to the government, not to the American people. I went to public schools in Kansas and they didn’t teach me that back then. But perhaps I had a premonition because I migrated to Colorado well over a half century ago. I thought it was just that Colorado had mountains and Kansas didn’t have any. But, no, I anticipated that Kansas would give its public schools to the government. Thank goodness, Colorado hasn’t chosen to do so.

Sometime between Abraham Lincoln and Barry Goldwater, the Republican Party became the anti-government party. And, to quote a Republican president, “the government is the problem.” Which reminds one of Gertrude Stein’s last words. When asked, “Gertrude, what is the answer?” She replied: “What is the question?”

The government is the problem of what? Last time I checked, we the people elect the government—president, House of Representatives, Senate. Two of these are now in the control of the anti-government party. What’s the problem?  The president was elected twice by a majority of American voters.

And that Republican president who claimed the government he was responsible for running was the problem didn’t reduce its size or budget one bit. Anyone with an ounce of knowledge of American history knows that public education from the time of Jefferson until today has been in the hands of local people. The State of Texas has a committee that selects school books and it insists those books not contain anything about evolution and only a footnote about slavery. Any State or local schoolboard that wants its children to be ignorant is free to make them ignorant. Presumably Kansas is as free to turn out ignorant students as Texas is. So, what’s the beef?

The Kansans who elected their current government (yes, government) claim to love their country but hate its government. That kind of thinking requires an agile, some might say demented, mind.

Few would argue that we do not have a government Army, or Navy, or Marine Corps. That doesn’t seem to bother Kansas. But to the arch-conservative, anti-government mind, that’s alright. It’s everything else the government does that is bad, especially those programs for poor people and civil rights laws and government interference like that. What business is it of the government if we want to leave people in poverty, including a fifth of America’s children. We don’t need no stinking government. But, rest assured, even the most ardent right-wing Kansan insists that you keep your dirty government hands off his Medicare and Social Security. “Those aren’t government programs because they benefit me.”

There are some very good people in Kansas, including relatives of mine, and I enjoyed as good a small town upbringing as any young American could want. But I always knew I was an American before I was a Kansan and I learned to respect the Government of the United States that so many have died defending. History provides reason to hope that we will eventually grow up and out of this latest know-nothing spasm that brings the demagogues out from under their rocks. But politicians in Kansas or elsewhere who don’t know the difference between the public interest and the government we elect to protect it will not ease the transition back to sanity.

People of Paradox

Author: Gary Hart

We Americans imagine ourselves to be progressive…that is to say, embracing change, experimental, imaginative, and creative.  At the same time, however, we are much more conservative than we consider ourselves to be.  We are cautious about adapting to new processes and institutions.  We protect past practices and traditional ways of doing things.

We want better public service, but are reluctant to pay for them.  We want better transportation systems, but do not want higher taxes.  We want a stronger military, but do not want a draft and do not want expensive weapons systems to be counted as part of the budget deficits.  We want better schools, but do not want to pay teachers what they deserve.  We want a strong foreign policy but do not want entangling alliances.  We want the benefits of foreign trade, including the jobs created by our exports, but do not want the competition trade involves.

Much of this is standard human nature.  But clinging to the past while seeking to move into the future can cause a form of collective national schizophrenia.  It is the source of much confusion and friction.  When we are confronted with our duality, it often makes us angry.  The best study of this paradox is People of Paradox by the late Professor Michael Kammen.

Nowhere is our ambivalence more prevalent than in foreign venues.  The most dangerous phrase in Washington is “do something.”  During the Cold War when a disturbance virtually anywhere in the world took place, it was a “communist takeover” and we must “do something.”  We did something in Vietnam and seven years later left after 58,000 American and over a million Vietnamese had died.  Now it is the complex Syrian civil war and, despite the sincere hesitancy of senior military commanders, many hawks are heard to say “we must do something.”

When doing something turns out badly, the interventionists disappear or blame the party in power for not “doing more.”  A former Secretary of State might say, What do we have this big military for if we’re not going to use it.  But serious students of military affairs know that, in local indigenous conflicts, our military, if it is used at all, must be used as a scalpel, not a hammer.  The first question a senior military commander asks is, What’s the exit strategy?

Our ambivalence about the use of military power abroad is not just the outcome of Vietnam and Iraq.  It is the changing nature of warfare.  Some politicians, who should know better, are still saying we should have won in Iraq.  But national conflicts based on ancient sectarianism, tribalism, and ethnic nationalism do not lend themselves to permanent “victory” for U.S. interventionist forces as they did in World War II.  There is no surrender ceremony and signing of documents.

So, for a mature nation such as ours on this our national birthday to face a new and different century full of greys and plaids and not blacks and whites requires a higher degree of maturity, a study of history, a knowledge of the roots of our own ambivalences, and appreciation for overcoming paradoxes.

We cannot always have it both ways…large problems solved without expenditures and investments.  We must sideline the ideological hucksters who rant about “government spending” and look at our commonwealth, all those public goods we own together, as in need of periodic investment to transfer them in good health to our children and future generations.  No more pointed illustration of this need is to be found than in this, our centennial of our National Parks.  They require care and maintenance presently being denied by members of Congress incapable of educating their constituents on the need for that investment.

Our slow progress toward what it means to be a mature nation must be speeded up.  We are wasting time in petty, irrelevant squabbles when the nation is in serious need of both mature leaders but also mature citizens.

Happy Independence Day to all.