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.

28 Responses to “Reflections on the future”

  1. Neeraj Chandra Says:

    Donald Trump has repeatedly spewed lies — about his past, historical events, and so on — on the campaign trail, yet the lies have no affect on his poll ratings. Does this suggest that we are living in a post-factual democracy, and if so, what are the implications for future elections? Do policy positions even matter? What criteria will the electorate use when voting?

  2. Gary Hart Says:

    There is a hard core of Trump supporters that seems not to care for his uncivilized and loutish antics. And that hard core is much too large. I have enough faith in the “wisdom and good judgment of the American people” (Jefferson) to believe that number will shrink by election day. Thanks to Mr. Murdoch and Mr. Ailes, there is now a renegade Republican Party that does not observe traditions of civility, maturity, civic virtue, or any of the qualities our Founders assumed our democracy would honor. This is a test of their hope. Let us pray we do not fail it. GH

  3. Sam Kepfield Says:

    This is a realigning election, much as 1860, 1896, 1932 and 1980. The old Reagan coalition is dead, and the conservative economic paradigm is now seen as bankrupt. What replaces it is unclear. Does the GOP become a full-fledged fascist movement, or does it revert back to a “traditional” conservative party, as it was in the 1970s?

    The media environment has changed dramatically, and Trump has shown that he has mastered it, much as John Kennedy mastered television and Franklin Roosevelt mastered the radio. I don’t think we can put this genie back in the bottle, but we have to hope that someone who is far less scary can use it in 2020.

    In their book Generations, Howe and Strauss note that about every 80 years, America is defined by a crisis — The Revolution in the 1770s, the Civil War in the 1860s, the Depression in the 1930s. So we are due for a major upheaval and I think it’s coming no matter who wins.

  4. Gary Hart Says:

    Mr. Kepfield has raised the very interesting cycles of American history theory and effectively so. Should the Republicans go full fascist, which I seriously doubt, you will end up with a very large Democratic Party. Clearly, the media has changed and traditional media is racing to catch up with the “social media” by expose`, sensationalism, and character destruction. We are already in the middle of a “major upheaval” and these two conventions demonstrate that. Thanks for a thoughtful comment. GH

  5. Brian C McCarthy Says:

    Senator,

    I would say the first four of those things have already happened and the last two don’t seem to be anywhere on the horizon.

    25 or so years ago, the Republican Party was captured by the so-called “religious right”, leading to the candidacies of the likes of Pat Robertson and Pat Buchanan, extraordinary influence of the Christian Coalition, and mainline Protestant Republican candidates making almost born-again professions of faith on the campaign trail. That phenomenon quietly ended and was soon replaced by the dominance over that party by the Tea Party, with cartoonish candidates like Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle taking center stage.

    We Democrats have, in the meanwhile, flirted with triangulation and a sort of bloodless centrism in an effort to avoid being labelled as “liberal”. For all the controversy over the ACA (aka Obamacare), let’s all remember that it was based on a plan the Republicans put forth in the 1990s.

    As far as the official press is concerned, does it even matter very much what they have to say anymore? So many Americans get their news from one-sided sources now that traditional media outlets such as major newspapers and network news hardly seem to matter. Conservatives watch Fox News, liberals watch MSNBC, and those to the farther right or left get their news from highly ideological websites. There are no Walter Cronkites anymore for America as a whole to trust. Those occupying the center seem to be without a voice.

    It is hard to imagine that this will end. Ironically, the explosion of information and ideas that the internet once promised has lead to an actual decrease in citizens being actually informed because we all now get our news from sources that only report the news that is favorable to our side and commentary that is agreeable to us. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s famous response to Senator James Buckley that “everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts” was brilliant and true in 1976, but down the drain today. Facts that support any position you want to take are a dime a dozen when you’ve got a smart phone in your pocket and an internet full of misinformation to supply it.

    I still don’t believe Trump will win in 2016, at the end of the day. But I see no good reason to believe the next election will bring us a choice of two enlightened, competent, respectable leaders, and maybe not even one. We’ve been headed down this path for a long time and the presidential contest four years from now may make this one look substantive and respectable by comparison. Politics has become about venting anger and seeking entertainment. The media and the internet have made this not only possible, but inevitable. I wish I had a more positive outlook.

    My thanks to you again for providing this window into actual substantive discussion. It is a rare thing these days.

    BCM

  6. Reggie Says:

    With all of the disenchantment that people from both of the major partys seem to be feeling do you think that one or more of the third partys we have currently can become a major party? If more then just the republicans and the democrats where considered major partys would lobbyist (and super pacs or businesses) be able to buy off as many as they are able to currently?

    In my opinion i do think that character assassination is taking away many great possible leaders that will never stand up for the job because of some slight mistake that happened in their past. They are afraid that their possible opponent will frame it in a way that kills their personal life as well as their professional life as well

  7. Eric C. Jacobson Says:

    Although (as Heraclitus said) one “never steps in the same river twice” a privilege of even moderate longevity is seeing generally comparable situations repeat themselves. By way of recent example I watched with interest as Bernie Sanders (who I ardently supported and sent about 4 donations averaging about $27 each) found himself in essentially the same position following the last of the Democratic presidential primaries this year as you, Senator Hart, were in in 1984.

    In your case, both due to your own temperament and (I presume) the demands of your delegates and supporters (who you said in your Convention speech “gave loyalty new meaning”) you refused to concede the race to Walter Mondale. Rather during your prime-time Convention speech, which occurred just before the outcome-determinative roll call, you made a clarion call to those in the hall (Moscone Center in San Francisco) in support of your own nomination and specifically told the superdelegates: “Let no one tell you how to vote except your conscience.” When the Chariots of Fire theme song came on as you finished your remarks (which I believe closely rivals Ted Kennedy’s 1980 Dream Will Never Die speech for eloquence and historic importance) there was hardly a dry eye in the house. The speech can be seen here: https://www.c-span.org/video/?124439-1/democratic-national-convention-day-3 starting at the 5 hr. 36 min. mark, and preceded by a 15 floor demonstration.

    In stark contrast, this year Senator Sanders conceded the nomination to Hillary Clinton soon after the primary season voting ended. I saw no cause for him to do so since Mrs. Clinton had not amassed sufficient pledged delegates to clinch the nomination. As with Senator Mondale in 1984, Mrs. Clinton requires the votes of most of the superdelegates to win the nomination at the roll call in Philadelphia on Tuesday.

    My questions are: Did Bernie consult with you about how to handle the situation between the end of the primaries and the Convention? If yes, and you are not bound by confidentiality, please share with us your advice to him. If no, what would you have advised him to do if he had sought your counsel?

    I ask because I’m sure I’m far from alone in being acutely disappointed in what can only be described as the self-abnegating nature of Bernie’s nationally televised address Monday night, the entire second half of which consisted of one long representation that Hillary is worthy of support because she can be counted upon if elected to implement significant parts of Bernie’s left-liberal policy agenda. As the Brits say: Rubbish! (With a capital R!) Or is it Bollocks!? (With a capital B!)

    I presume the DNC strong-armed Sanders, if not physically then via a threat to pull his delegates’ credentials, disallow his name to be placed in nomination and/or deprive him of a speaking opportunity at the Convention. What I find inexplicable is that for some strange reason Sanders said “Uncle” (with a capital U alas) in response.

    My last question then is: If the 1984 DNC had similarly tried to strong-arm you in 1984, what would your response have been? My guess is that it would have been to tell them to take a flying leap off the Golden Gate Bridge.

    As it happened, they did that anyway when all 800 superdelegates, including one Bill Clinton of Arkansas (who you gave his start in politics in 1972) spurned your entreaty and cast their votes for Walter Mondale, thereby ensuring President Reagan’s reelection in a landslide. As the late great Frank Mankiewicz said in real time: “There’s an ecology to politics. Walter Mondale is Ronald Reagan’s natural prey.”

    If he were here today, I know what Frank would say: “Hillary Clinton is Donald Trump’s natural prey.” Why I think that Frank would be exactly right about that is the subject for another day and separate comment.

  8. Gary Hart Says:

    I concur, practically without reservation in Brian McCarthy’s analysis, and I concur with dismay. From the Kennedy years onward, I have always been an idealist and optimist about America. I find solace in continued study of American history. We may not ever have had a circumstance precisely like the one we now experience, but there have been radicals, incompetents, and corrupt individuals in our politics. But rarely have we had a system of legalized corruption and radical demagogues such as we have now. But, as William Faulkner said, We will not only survive, we will prevail. GH

  9. Gary Hart Says:

    Responding to Reggie: 50 State laws make a genuine third party difficult if not impossible. Ballot access in many if not most of those States requires a party and candidate to have obtained a certain percentage of votes in the previous election, thus creating a cat chasing its tale, or a very high number of petition signatures. The organizational effort is complicated. A third party requires three things: a clear manifesto, substantial public appeal, and a persuasive (charismatic?) leader.
    And all of us know highly qualified people who abandon hopes for public service because they resist the casual hazing by press and opponents. GH

  10. Gary Hart Says:

    And to Eric Jacobson: Neither Sen. Sanders, or for that matter anyone else, consults with me on strategy or tactics these days, but that’s ok. The “DNC”, a rather ramshackled enterprise at best, did not have the power to tell me what to do those many years ago, or for that matter force Sen. Sanders to capitulate this year. They would do so at their peril, as we have discovered. The super delegates are about as close to a national committee as we have, and they should be bound by rules to support the candidates according to their percentage performance in their States.
    We do miss dear Frank, don’t we? GH

  11. Paul Borg Says:

    Dear Senator Hart,

    I would suggest that Senator Sanders’ response to the outcome of the primary campaign cycle is expressed in the following translation of the tao te ching chapter 69.

    The generals have a saying:
    “Rather than make the first move
    it is better to wait and see.
    Rather than advance an inch
    it is better to retreat a yard.” This is called
    going forward without advancing,
    pushing back without using weapons. There is no greater misfortune
    than underestimating your enemy.
    Underestimating your enemy
    means thinking that he is evil.
    Thus you destroy your three treasures (simplicity, patience and compassion)
    and become an enemy yourself. When two great forces oppose each other,
    the victory will go
    to the one that knows how to yield.

    Lau Tzu as translated by Stephan Mitchell

  12. Gary Hart Says:

    Beautiful, Paul. Makes me remember why I enjoy this blog. GH

  13. Paul Borg Says:

    Dear Senator Hart,

    I regard this blog and all who participate in it a very real Blessing.

  14. John Mayock Says:

    I also agree with Brian and am fearful for the very notion of Democracy as we have known it. In my youth, there were the “trusted aggregators” like Walter Cronkite, who had at least the facade of impartiality, but who were also conservative in the true meaning of that word. Today, very little of the media in any form has the dignity and authority to help inform the public in a similar fashion, and so we have a lot of highly opinionated ignorance being taken as gospel truth. There appears to be no funding and little interest in true investigative journalism that is devoid of sensationalism.
    I would also like to say that I find this blog to be some of the most enlightening reading available.

  15. Gary Hart Says:

    Thank you, Mr. Mayock. It was my pleasure to know Mr. Cronkite, David Brinkley, and many others, including a young t.v. news presenter in 1972 named Tom Brokaw. I’ve often wondered what is being taught in journalism schools these days and whether journalistic ethics, and there is a long-ignored code in that regard, is every acknowledged. Mr. Jefferson believed a free press was crucial to democracy but also thought it was free in order to provide information on the public’s business, not just to make money. GH

  16. Brian C McCarthy Says:

    Senator,

    I’m sorry to cause you dismay by my response. You are right, we will survive, and we will prevail – it will just take a lot more perseverance, work, and persuasiveness than I think most national leaders – and citizens – are showing an inclination for right now. What can be done to wake them up? A new political party is not the answer for reasons you elucidated. People like those who read and comment on your blog need a reason to believe there will be a greater reward to involving themselves in public policy and the political world than just electing candidates who lean and vote their way but do little or nothing to really shake things up. At some point, might the media become so partisan, flippant, and sensationalist that public servants no longer fear it because it has lost its credibility, and thus free them to color outside the box?

    BCM

  17. Gary Hart Says:

    In response to Brian, I was not dismayed by the original comment, but indeed shared virtually of his analysis. Being an idealist, as I have been, requires a firm conviction that most people, including those in politics, are good, that they believe in the best of this nation’s principles, and they will, with varying degrees of intensity, carry out the basic duties of citizenship. Our nation has been through other periods like this (anti-immigration, isolationism, corrupt journalism, and so forth) and still survives. Public servants shouldn’t fear the press. But the more the press puts profits over its First Amendment duties, the less credibility it will have. I still believe, after this period of negativity, our nation will get its true bearings and restore its dignity and honor. GH

  18. Paul Borg Says:

    Dear Senator Hart,

    In honor of Bernie Sanders’ supporters especially the youthful idealists:

    Please find some comfort in this:

    “There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love.” ― Martin Luther King, Jr.

    As far as I am concerned, you have proved to me that what was thought impossible is really possible. Your efforts and successes have been a comfort. Please realize that allowing your energy to leak uselessly away in anger and recrimination only serves to hinder your purpose. There is so much left to do and perhaps so little time to restore this Republic to the People to whom it belongs. Please believe something great has been accomplished and that no effort will have been in vain. Please carry on and act to convince those who oppose this purpose to embrace it as you do.

  19. Paul G Says:

    REFLECTIONS ON THE FUTURE

    Q1. 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?

    When our republic’s founders such as Thomas Jefferson and visionary leaders such as the honorable host of this site are “air-brushed” from attention either in Texas school books or more recent pre-9/11 warnings, maybe only God can see.

    Q2. 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?

    This already occurred when Wall Street began to see news not as a “cost center” but as a “profit center,” likely beginning in 1968 with 60 Minutes.

    Q3. Are we producing a generation (or more) of young Americans with little if any sense of history?

    Yes; but even worse, our founding idea as a republic – and the public service duty its continuing benefits require of our younger citizenry – as often cited by JFK and our honorable host, but is increasingly lost on today’s local, state and national leaders.

    Q4. Is the new level of political vitriol and meanness, ideological orthodoxy, and character destruction driving qualified leaders away from public service?

    Yes, exactly as our honorable host predicted, May 8, 1987. But the political vitriol and meanness, ideological orthodoxy, and character destruction is human nature and not new; what is new is Wall Street’s Orwellian brilliance – a sharklike lazer-focus on world-wide profit for its own sake “in our national interest, of course” while waving Old Glory – for our jobs, homes and pursuit of happiness, even as it savages us with “entertainment.”

    Q5. 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?

    Doubtful, especially as the wholly unproductive Finance sector has grown from 11% of our US economy in the 1950’s to 40+% at present, and are almost singularly responsible for producing today’s “citizens’ united” Democratic Party nominee.

    Q6. Will political and/or economic crisis produce great leaders as they have in past times?

    50+ years after the murder of JFK and his brother Robert, and the air-bushing from history of their best disciples of the republic, I’m no longer hopeful. In an era when otherwise highly credentialed (schooled) citizens almost proudly state, “Facts don’t matter; all that matters is what people believe,” well, I imagine only God knows.

  20. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    This is a question directed to everyone!

    Other than our esteemed host, who would you describe as an up-wing politicians or community leader, someone who is forward-thinking, big-thinking, future-oriented and who advocates for enlightened policies that would push America to the cutting edge as a global leader, has a vision for progressive change and the prerequisite courage to carry out that vision in the face of powerful special interests?

    I’m interested in learning about these leaders and what part of the country they represent – local, state or federal.

  21. Brian C McCarthy Says:

    Elizabeth Miller asks a question I ask myself often. I would answer that some of the politicians/leaders I keep my eye on are Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Michael Bennet of Colorado, and former Governor Martin O’Malley of Maryland. I have reservations about some of them, for varying reasons, but I feel all have potential to lead American politics forward and to expand the base of the Democratic Party and/or exhibit qualities of respectability and statesmanship that exceed those of most of their peers. However, there is no current politician / public servant who currently enraptures me in the way I would hope for.
    BCM

  22. Paul G Says:

    Ms. Miller:

    Please help me understand if your definition of “up-wing” requires such a leader to never accept PAC / special interest money?

  23. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Paul,

    That’s a good question!

    I’d answer by saying that my definition of up-wing wouldn’t necessarily preclude a leader from accepting PAC money, depending on the PAC and if it promoted an agenda that was in the common interest of all Americans.

    Another question is can an up-wing leader take special interest money and still act courageously to carry out their vision in the national interest despite taking that money, keeping in mind that Senator Sanders has already shown the way in this regard and his example is certainly one to emulate.

    I would also say that I would expect an up-wing leader to fight tirelessly to have ‘citizen’s united’ overturned and to implement serious campaign finance reform.

    So, do you know any up-wing leaders?

  24. LORENZO CHERIN Says:

    Senator Hart

    What a typically thoughtful and useful venture this is , thank you for it .

    I think your national election needs to be seen as our international election ! By that , I refer to those of us who are not American , and love your country for the best of what it is and can be , and yet accept it warts and all , though wanting it to remove some of those self same warts !

    As a British citizen , who married a wife , originally from America, I feel strongly that as we watch and engage with this election, it is one in which the USA can turn its back on the world , or embrace it further.

    There is one choice , for Trump , that does the former .The other, for Clinton, that does the latter.

    President Obama has restored not diminished the standing of the USA in the world .That should continue.

    As someone who has been part of that with your excellent appointment to Northern Ireland , do you agree ?

  25. Gary Hart Says:

    My thoughts on the Miller/Galvin exchange: there are quite a number, perhaps even a majority of elected officials at all levels who are “up-wing”, committed to the common good, not special interests, and who do their best to finance their campaigns with small dollar donations.
    And of course I concur in Mr. Cherin’s straightforward analysis: engagement versus isolation and confrontation. That choice alone should make the difference in the outcome of this crucial election. GH

  26. Chris R. Says:

    This election has been historic indeed. For the first time since 1952 a sitting Vice-President was unable to secure the nomination of his party following a president’s second term. All of those millions of dollars in political contributions from MBNA and other banks would have made it impossible for him to run a successful campaign as “Middle-class Joe”. The fact that he voted for the bankruptcy laws from which Trump’s businesses benefited, but consumers did not, make his attacks ring hollow. (Hillary Clinton had the good sense to abstain from that which she could not oppose.)

    I share Eric C. Jacobson’s view that Hillary Clinton is Trump’s natural prey. (I even thought of that exact quote before he wrote it!) Trump’s victory would:
    1) Close the door on an era of two families dominating national politics and its most powerful offices. (He will have vanquished them both in one election cycle.)
    2) Reverse 20+ years of neo-liberal economic policy which led to the deindustrialization of the U.S., and
    3) Signal the finalization of a political realignment of working class Americans from the D to the R column which started with Reagan.

    Trump executed a hostile take-over of the GOP. Those establishment Republicans whom he defeated and now shun him do so for substantial differences on policy, not because he is “uncivilized” nor for his “loutish antics”. Trump has already signaled that his solution to the student loan debt problem will not sit well with many Republicans. If Trump decides that the best way to court scorned Sanders’ supporters is to write-off student loan debt through “quantitative easing” as Green Party nominee Jill Stein has proposed, this election will likely be over. Make no mistake: Trump intends to win this.

    What the Democratic Party has become is an elitist party far removed from the populist party of Jefferson and Jackson, which is quite comfortable privately representing the bankers. Would Andrew Jackson invite Michael Bloomberg to speak at his convention? Not on your life!

  27. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Chris R,

    Your comment about Biden being unable to secure the nomination rings untrue, if not facetious. As does your analysis of his support for the bankruptcy bill.

    Had Vice President Biden chosen to seek the nomination, you may have learned more about why he voted for the bankruptcy bill. Senator Clinton chose the political expedient route as opposed to coming to the aid of women and children. Talk about something ringing hollow! You’ll realize what I mean by that AFTER you do some research on Biden and the bankruptcy bill.

    All this goes to show that congressional votes are complicated things that are not always easily understood in a dysfunctional media and political culture.

    The rest of your comment will take a bit longer to digest. But, I’ll be back!

  28. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Chris R and Eric C,

    Senator Sanders and his ardent supporters can be rightfully proud of a Democratic primary campaign that has already made a significant contribution in the furtherance of positive and progressive change in America. In particular, Senator Sanders has succeeded in expanding the view of what is politically possible in terms of achieving that change.

    The biggest obstacle in the way of ensuring that the political revolution that is at the heart of the Sanders campaign and at the root of what is necessary to effect the kind of change he champions may be the failure to accept the reality of the Democratic primary season and acknowledge that Hillary Clinton is now the legitimate standard-bearer of the Democratic Party and the only one who can defeat Donald Trump and prevent a political catastrophe for the United States and for the rest of the civilized world.

    The Democratic Party is the only vehicle that Senator Sanders has to move forward his vision for equality, prosperity and peace. His supporters are deluding themselves if they think that defeating Hillary Clinton would end the era of income inequality and militarism. A Trump victory would surely open their eyes but, then it would be too late.

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