Archive for the ‘Books and ideas’ Category

The Thunder and the Sunshine

Author: Gary Hart

If you are fortunate enough to reach a certain age, and if you have been as fortunate as I have to had opportunities for extraordinary experiences, as I have, there is a kind of natural inclination to want others to know your stories and whatever meaning you may have derived from them.  So, I’ve just published a memoir, The Thunder and the Sunshine.

It is about the odyssey of my life, an odyssey all of us experience in one form or another.  This odyssey encompassed the rollercoaster, and misunderstood, McGovern presidential campaign, investigations of the CIA and bizarre occurrences that accompanied it, military tours, meetings with foreign leaders, my own presidential campaign, service with some extraordinary Senators, and experiencing a little of the worst and much of the best our nation has to offer.

And lessons were learned.  In condensed form these include: the absolute requirement of respecting our Constitution, even when inconvenient; the necessity of honoring our nation’s best principles and ideals in our conduct; the seldom-followed need to learn from history; and, in the final analysis, the demand that our leaders trust the people of the United States by telling us the truth.

In a word, when we have not done these things, we have made some serious mistakes.  When we have followed these lessons, our nation has been at its very best.  Throughout my life in public service, I have done my best to observe these lessons.

It Is Still Possible

Author: Gary Hart

Congressional deadlock, created by lock-step partisanship and an unprecedentedly rigid opposition party, has been extensively analyzed, with no apparent resolution.  In the midst of wide-spread citizen economic misery, many Americans have simply concluded that this is the way things are…and apparently always will be.  In Kurt Vonnegut’s memorable phrase: “…and so it goes.”

But this isn’t the way it has to be.  There is a better way to govern and that better way characterizes much, if not most, of American history.  It certainly characterized the Senate of the 1970s when Democrats and Republicans found common ground, called the national interest, and held themselves accountable for achieving it.  This better time was brought to mind this week when I had a unique opportunity to remember those times.

Esquire magazine convened a commission of two Republicans, Jack Danforth (Missouri) and Bob Packwood (Oregon), and two Democrats, Bill Bradley (New Jersey) and this writer.  We were challenged to balance the federal budget by 2020.  Our moderator was Lawrence O’Donnell, former Senate staff director and now of Morning Joe.  The results of this experiment will be available in the December issue of Esquire, out by mid-November.  I urge you to read the results.

We achieved a balanced budget within a decade, but we also creatively addressed stabilization of Social Security, controlled health care costs, dealt with long-delayed military reform, and addressed energy conservation and climate challenges.  Cynics will say: “That’s easy if you don’t have to seek re-election.”  But why should statesmanship be considered cynically?  We were able to achieve our goals because each of us put the interests of our nation ahead of ideology and party.  That is the way government used to work.  I know from personal experience.  And there is nothing, save rabid ideologues and selfish interest groups, to prevent it from working that way now.

It is now commonplace, including on this site, to attack “the government”, as if it were some distant entity none of us is responsible for.  But a majority of Americans elect their president and their members of Congress.  If they don’t achieve what we demand of them, perhaps we ought to get our mirrors out and ask ourselves whether we all might share some blame.

Doing the Right Thing

Author: Gary Hart

Though the blogosphere is a wonder, care must be taken by those who venture into it on at least two counts: over-opinionation that becomes strident and dogmatic; and the temptation toward moral superiority. Both seem rampant in today’s public world.

Now, having issued these caveats and cautions, as much to this blogger as anyone, let me suggest a growing impression. Even as we Americans battle against each other in ever harsher terms, there is a dimension to public matters that seems missing. That is the ethical, and even moral, dimension to the serious problems we now face. Previous entries here have stressed, for example, the moral dimension of climate alteration to the degree it degrades our public heritage to future generations, the “posterity” for whom our Republic was formed by our Constitution.

In addition to climate other similar challenges arise. These include: concern for mounting public deficits and debts; unnecessary energy consumption; still massive nuclear arsenals; and endemic poverty, to name the most obvious. For some of us these are ethical (possibly even moral) and not just political, concerns. They are matters of right and justice, not just liberal and conservative, differences. Do we have the right, the ethical right, to leave huge debts to our children? Do we have the right to burn fossil fuels unnecessarily? Is it just to leave massive nuclear stockpiles for future generations to worry about? Does a just society let one in five children live in poverty?

Again, it is important to reiterate that, by raising the bar on these questions from political to ethical, is not to suggest ethical or moral superiority on anyone’s part. For some of us these are life and death (existential) questions. They are not about political, economic, partisan, or ideological differences.

Some questions–slavery, equal rights for all, help for the needy–rose above politics and economic theory. It does not seem inappropriate to suggest that we approach 21st century foundational questions with the same ethical and moral concerns that led us to do the right and just thing regarding similar issues during the best of our past.

This might even guide us away from the present bitterness and meanness that afflict our society.

Welcome Post

Author: Gary Hart

Welcome to Matters of Principle, Senator Gary Hart’s personal blog.  More content is coming soon, so please visit the blog section of the site to see the most recent posts.  Thanks for dropping by.