The Center Must Hold

Author: Gary Hart

In The Second Coming, W. B. Yeats wrote: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold: mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

He did not have in mind the kind of centrism so popular in recent political history, the avoidance of hard choices and strong leadership.  He had a more important center in mind, the kind of center that is hewn out of the marble of human experience, the garment woven of sacrifice and honorable compromise, the foundation upon which a viable and noble society might be built.

And he did not dismiss the chaos of anarchy; he diminished it as the alternative to the hard business of governing a complex community.  Anarchy is easy if you do not care about its results.

The center for early 21st century America, as Yeats would have it, is composed of years of struggle to control the spread of nuclear weapons, two decades of debate over an agreed platform for environmental protection; an agreement that the least of these—the elderly, children, the disabled, and the poor—would have a semblance of a safety net; a never-ending and never quite successful search for a just system of taxation; an approach to relations with other nations based upon wise and skillful diplomacy rather than bellicosity; a role for government much like the cattle driver of old who prevented the stragglers from getting left behind.

The formation of this center has not come easily.  Almost all of it required compromise between liberals and conservatives, left and right, protectors of tradition and pioneers in innovation.  In no democracy ever formed, including particularly our own, has compromise on fundamental issues such as the role of government been simple.

Changing times require new coalitions to be formed and often old coalitions to remain steadfast.  Life is a river that constantly ebbs and flows.  Policies and programs are required to adjust to new realities.  Principles must remain constant.

Wars and depressions bring us closer together.  Absent one or the other, most Americans choose to go their own way and not be bothered by the gritty business of governance.  Easier to mock those who do that business, and try to do it well, than to get one’s hand dirty in the sausage- making of compromise and coalition.

Thus, when things threaten to fall apart and mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, those who have spent much of a lifetime at the gritty business of governance in the interest of forming a center that will hold find it difficult to observe the admonish to “give them a chance” when their announced purpose is to shatter that governing center.

No one has been more intense in condemning the combination of prerogative, privilege, and power that has descended on our Government in recent years than the aging idealist who writes these words.  But that bath water can be thrown out without endangering the baby in the center whose life we hold dear.

Corruption must be condemned and eradicated, but the years of progressive compromise on basic governing programs and the principles upon which they are based does not have to be destroyed in the process.  Giving new leadership a chance becomes problematic when senior officials are nominated to lead agencies and departments whose core functions they oppose.

There is every indication even before it enters office that the new Administration intends to use public anger at corruption as an excuse to dismantle decades of hard-won progress toward a more just and fair society.

In virtually every arena of human progress since Franklin Roosevelt a government is being formed composed of those whose announced intentions are to dismantle and reverse that progress.  To sit quietly by while such a process is going on is, for many of us, a betrayal of our beliefs, our ethics, and our very patriotism.

As we well know, Yeats proceeded in the poem to describe what happens when the center does not hold: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

Shame on all those of both Parties and a range of ideologies who have corrupted our Government through access purchased with campaign contributions and the greed of special interests.  They have contributed mightily to the destruction of trust in government that has brought us to today.

But that corruption and that distrust cannot be the excuse for dismantling an array of policies and programs at home and abroad that have made us a better nation, that have justified our world leadership, that have made us at our best an example to aspiring people around the world, that have brought us on occasion near the shining city on a hill.

Resistance to those who destroy the governing center and our noblest ideals is our only option.  It is our duty and, for some of us, a right we have earned.

19 Responses to “The Center Must Hold”

  1. Neil McCarthy Says:

    Here’s the whole of it —


    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

    The darkness drops again but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

  2. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    I am beginning to worry about the center and about those Americans who I would have thought the ones to hold it.

    My worry stems from the fact that some of the people who I have greatly respected over recent years are finding it easier to praise the leadership of the likes of Russia’s leader while finding every conceivable fault with those who lead their own country.

    I have never seen as much of this kind of … may I say, decidedly unpatriotic … sentiment as I have over the course of the last several months and particularly intensely these last few weeks.

  3. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Of course, I hasten to add that I was not referring to our gracious host of this beautiful refuge.

    Happy New Year, Senator Hart!

  4. Mark Says:

    This latest post told me this was the right time to send this message to you.

    Former Senator Hart,

    I love reading all your posts. Whether I agree or disagree with everything you write, I always discover a unique perspective centered on a wealth of knowledge. You are one of America’s greatest statesman and although I am surrounded by more conservatives when in my home state of Alabama, the consistent thing I hear almost every time your name is mentioned to anyone is the belief that you would have made a GREAT President (which I agree!!)

    I was actually honored to utilize some of the insights you offered in “The Republic of Conscience” in my book, “The People’s Clearing House,” which offers a unique method for campaign finance reform that raises the bar of accountability and helps the people unite to reclaim their government from the current prolonged grasps of career politicians, special interests, and crony capitalists. Unlike other reforms, it is centered on giving back, to that of taking away, and the direct ties to the community I establish should enhance participation and investment of citizens across the nation.

    My reform effort addresses all the problems of past reform efforts and truly takes the fight to the politicians- “meeting them on their turf so to speak.” I wrote it after witnessing firsthand the unfortunate entitlement found in government when I attempted to implement my anti-bullying plan to fulfill a promise to a mom who had lost a child to bullying. My experience taught me that to ever have the leadership capable of reaching the best answers on any issue before them for the people, there had to be a fundamental change to the culture. The People’s Clearing House offers the adequate tool for creating the fair arena for the debate and dialogue that has always defined us. Then and only then can leaders lead from a place of strength.

    Please take a look at my website,, where you can see more about me and my book and offers links to it. I would be glad to send you a copy to review if need be, but at the least I hope you take a look on Amazon and read the introduction from the free look inside feature. I am confident when you read it you will be pleasantly surprised at my ideas. I would love to hear from you. I am currently seeking the right reform group to work with, especially in Boston, and any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. If anyone can help me enhance the reform I describe or reach the right people, I know it could be no one better than you. Either way, I have so much respect for you and thank you for your service!

  5. Paul Borg Says:

    Dear Senator Hart,

    I reproduced the statement below with a specific intent in mind. If you find it unhelpful, please do not publish it. I will understand.

    Statement by the President of Russia Vladimir Putin in response to Washington’s hostile actions

    December 30, 2016

    “We regard the recent unfriendly steps taken by the outgoing US administration as provocative and aimed at further weakening the Russia-US relationship. This runs contrary to the fundamental interests of both the Russian and American people. Considering the global security responsibilities of Russia and the United States, this is also damaging to international relations as a whole.

    As it proceeds from international practice, Russia has reasons to respond in kind. Although we have the right to retaliate, we will not resort to irresponsible ‘kitchen’ diplomacy but will plan our further steps to restore Russian-US relations based on the policies of the Trump Administration.

    The diplomats who are returning to Russia will spend the New Year’s holidays with their families and friends. We will not create any problems for US diplomats. We will not expel anyone. We will not prevent their families and children from using their traditional leisure sites during the New Year’s holidays. Moreover, I invite all children of US diplomats accredited in Russia to the New Year and Christmas children’s parties in the Kremlin.

    It is regrettable that the Obama Administration is ending its term in this manner. Nevertheless, I offer my New Year greetings to President Obama and his family.

    My season’s greetings also to President-elect Donald Trump and the American people.

    I wish all of you happiness and prosperity.”

    I invite those who come to this meeting place to look within for a moment and bear witness to what you may be feeling right now. Read the poem again as posted by Mr. McCarthy and look to your feelings once more.

    Senator Hart, perhaps we might understand more clearly why the Center must hold.

  6. Paul Borg Says:

    Dear Senator Hart,

    I was reading “America A Prophecy” by William Blake. Here is a link to that work that also provides a little background to the Poem ( His imagery takes us to a place where the forces that shape our reality take on primeval forms and agency. Underlying Blake’s outer experience of reality is a vision, in my view, of Reality without the Filters.

    This Englishman saw America’s importance in the cosmic scheme of things and has given due significance to its place in the succession of Inspired Acts of Creation that has at its goal the establishment the “Sacred City on the Hill” for all humanity. For the brave and hardy souls who would engage Blake on his home ground, and who desire to experience this Visionary’s view of America, I highly recommend this work. Please note the importance he places on the men through whom the birth of America was made possible. It was literally taken from the Visionary’s Cosmic Realm and made Flesh and Blood through the agency of these personalities.

    Ignorance clouds our vision and never ending distraction keep us from regaining our bearings. Most of us who live in cities no longer see the stars in all their magnificence anymore. Our sense of the profound, the awe inspiring, is diminished. The forces that would make us synthetic reproductions of the Glory we once were as infants continue the unrelenting process of degrading us further. The Center must hold. If it does, then what has been degraded can be restored and we can build upon that which is Solid and Good.

  7. Gary Hart Says:

    Apropos of very little in this post, I note that the Washington Post editorially called into question the President-elect’s rather unorthodox views toward Russia, raising the question whether they might be attributed to his long-range corporate investment plans. I note for the record I raised the same issue five months ago (A Fable for Our Time) and shortly thereafter took the post down as being too speculative. GH

  8. Paul Borg Says:

    Here is the link to that editorial.

  9. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Too speculative? I thought the deletion was due to some over-the-top bordering on decidedly uncivil comments … ?

    In future, you should leave those speculative posts up and take your lumps later, if necessary. 🙂

  10. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    >>> … the Washington Post editorially called into question the President-elect’s rather unorthodox views toward Russia, raising the question whether they might be attributed to his long-range corporate investment plans.

    Hopefully, the Washington Post and New York Times and every other reputable news outlet will continue to shine the spotlight on Trump’s curious worldviews, with respect to Russia and any number of other US adversaries, not to mention keeping a laser beam focus on his approach to key allies.

    Wouldn’t it be ironic if President Trump forced the kind of changes in journalism that might catapult the media (the parts where there is still hope for redemption, that is) straight out of its dysfunction and into a golden age of serious reporting as it assumes its constitutional responsibilities? That is one of my New Year’s wishes.

    In this new year, we (especially those of us who have a bully pulpit, so to speak) should resolve to highlight examples of this Trump-inspired reformed media, at every given opportunity … to encourage more journalistic excellence, you know. If the media/blogosphere/punditocracy really does its job then it’s hard to fathom how a Trump administration will survive a full term, speculatively speaking.

  11. Eric C. Jacobson Says:

    Although I often agree with my fellow commenter Ms. Miller, I must differ with her and strongly commend Sen. Hart’s mild rebuke to the Washington Post for (in sum and my characterization:) printing malicious defamatory lies about the President-Elect.

    Although it appears to be subsiding as the reality of Trump’s impending presidency and its salutary features (which even Ralph Nader is now acknowledging — ) begins to sink in, the reaction by mainstream Democrats and their kept corporate media presstitutes (and that exactly connotes their illicit relationship) to the election of Mr. Trump will be viewed by historians as one of the more bizarre spectacles in American history. A “yuge” effort at de-legitimation and detraction emerged, featuring one damn thing after another —

    • “spontaneous” demonstrations by minorities, some of whom were bused into our nation’s big cities,

    • college students supposedly requiring “safe spaces” in which to process their grief,

    • a recount initiated for no apparent reason (except the opportunity it presented her to raise millions of dollars from large Democratic donors) by Green Party candidate Jill Stein who received less than 1% of the popular vote and whose candidacy could not possibly benefit from the recount results,

    • a campaign of vicious scapegoating of (democratic-capitalist) Russia and its elected president Vladimir Putin who was falsely accused of electronically hacking into the email system of John Podesta and other DNC officials (when the emails’ delivery to Wikileaks was plainly an “inside job” by someone — possibly a Bernie Sanders’ partisan offended at the DNC’s rigging of the nomination for Hillary or a moralist in a US intelligence agency offended by the Clintons’ corruption — who wished to leak them to the public), and in the past week

    • our “retaliation” against Russia for said (fictional) alleged “meddling” in our elections — the overt side of which was the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats, and (far more ominously if true) the covert side of which might well have somehow included the downing of a Syria-bound Russia jet carrying a renown choir and activists on a humanitarian mission.

    Beyond its timing, the tragic Russia flight crash is eerie relative to the mad interview ex-CIA-Acting-Director Michael Morell gave to Charlie Rose in August 2016 stating that our nation needed to “start killing Russians and Iranians…[covertly]”. I kid you not. See: .

    Where is a special prosecutor like Lawrence Walsh when we need one? And, for that matter, whatever became of the legal ban on assassinations by executive branch personnel? Is it just “inoperative” or has it been repealed by one or another of the post-9/11 pieces of draconian legislation that has Benjamin Franklin spinning in his grave? Same questions for the former ban on the CIA propagandizing the American public?

    What is so appalling about the effort to discredit President-Elect Trump by the asinine likes of Morell is it’s rank hypocrisy: the losing presidential candidate Morell endorsed and her fellow neoliberal Democrats are guilty of precisely that which they accused Trump of — being what Morell calls “unwitting agents of a foreign power”, namely China, India and all Third World countries to which U.S. corporations have relocated production in pursuit of maximum profits. See Paul Craig Roberts’ latest article on this dark side of globalization-as-we-know-it syndrome (that — knock on wood — is now coming to an end): .

    The illicit relationship with China is particularly dismaying given the Faustian nature of the bargain we have made with their Communist leaders, to dispense with our historical criticism of their nation on human rights grounds. As recently as the mid-1990s Nancy Pelosi made this healthy form of China-bashing a regular staple of her discourse. No longer.

    I conclude by tag-teaming somewhat with Sen. Hart and rebuking the other east coast establishment newspaper that has discredited itself in recent decades (by cheerleading for the criminal Iraq War as I pointed out here: ) and exhibited appalling bias against Mr. Trump (some of which may now be moderated following Trump’s recent “sit-down” with NY Times’ majority shareholder Carlos Slim).

    By way of quick history-lesson preface: the phrase “America First” was first employed politically during the Progressive Era – the time when our nation first decided (and irrevocably so) that neither Gilded Age-type plutocracy nor European-type colonialism was for us and that our captains of industry and arms merchants would henceforth always be subjected to the police powers of government – by Democrat Woodrow Wilson in 1916 before becoming the slogan of Republican Warren Harding’s successful 1920 campaign. See .

    But the once venerable New York Times omitted entirely this longer historical usage of the patriotic slogan when they reported the negative connotations the term America First picked up in the 1930s when it was misappropriated by Nazi- and fascist-sympathizers. I remember seeing the NY Times article in the first half of 2016 but can now only locate this published letter by Susan Dunn: .

    But there is no reason to allow that latter sordid 1930s episode to preempt wholesome re-use and renewed currency of such a patriotic, positive and meaningful slogan. As a grandson and son of German-Jews from Berlin who fled the Nazis for the U.S. in March 1938, I am pleased President-Elect Trump continues to the use of the phrase and its close variation (I slightly prefer) “Americans First”.

    Hiram Johnson, who served as California’s Governor from 1911-1917 (and as Teddy Roosevelt’s running mate in 1912) during the Progressive Era, and as a U.S. Senator from 1917-1945, made the isolationist slogan Johnson coined “God gave us two great oceans” central to his 1920 Senate campaign. Of course he was extolling the safety these oceans provided before the age of ballistic missiles tipped with conventional or nuclear weapons. But in 1919 Senator Johnson well-defined the term America First this way (blending its anti-plutocratic and anti-colonialist ethos: “Bring home American soldiers. Rescue our own democracy. Restore its free expression. Get American business into normal channels. Let American life, social and economic, be American again.” Perfect!

    PS: Discovering this quote from Hiram Johnson in recent weeks made me proud to have studied Governor Johnson’s correspondence with his aide Simon Lubin in Bancroft Library for my senior history thesis at UC Berkeley: It was the first time California had attempted to improve the plight of migrant farm workers who had historically been treated atrociously by growers. Contrary to my home state’s superficial unearned reputation and ridiculous posturing as a liberal bastion (see eg. today’s news about our state Legislature hiring Eric Holder to “fight” the Trump Administration), they don’t make patriotic progressives like Hiram Johnson in California anymore.

  12. Chris R. Says:

    Some years back, I lost respect for the Washington Post. That was when it harassed some lady based upon some sleazy (alleged) P.I. Report that she had been having an affair with a leading presidential candidate. At the same time, it went out of its way to dispel rumors that the sitting V.P. had been shot, when the U.S. Secret Service blocked the D.C. Fire Dept. from entering a burning apartment building where he had been visiting his mistress until he had exited the building. Nothing under its new owner changes its editorial policy of defending Washington establishmentarianism. (The New York Times made no attempt to appear fair and even-handed in last year’s presidential campaign either.)

    Since our host has long posited that left, right, and center in our politics change over time, it is curious that he now wishes the center to hold still. The President-Elect has given indications that he would govern similar to Richard Nixon’s domestic economic policy. Such a Keynesian economic policy would be to the left of the present administration, but time will tell what will be.

    We might also remember Jefferson wrote that he considered “Russia as the Power friendliest to the Americans.” If the President-Elect choses to come to agreement with Russia about defeating Islamic State extremists, or-stopping North Korea, (a nation that lacks a peace treaty with the U.S. From the Korean War), from weaponizing nuclear bombs on long-range missles, without abandoning our NATO allies, then I expect we should all support that. We have one president at a time, and partisanship should end at the water’s edge.

  13. Gary Hart Says:

    Anticipating possible confusion over the reference to the “center”, I made clear in the second paragraph of this post that neither Yeats nor I used that term in the manner now popular in political ideological terms. The center he, and I, refer to is the result of serious policy makers of various persuasions arriving at concurrence and compromise on major issues of consequence to the nation’s future. That is the center that must hold against currently proposed plans to dismantle hard-won concurrence on the environment, energy, foreign policy, education, and much else. I was honored to participate in much of that concurrence in the national interest, well before the current politics of anger and division. GH

  14. Gary Hart Says:

    Further, the additional thoughts on the Washington Post’s confronting possible Trump, Inc., commercial interests in Russia was to point out I had done the same thing almost six months ago. Patting myself on the back was not meant as an invitation to trash that paper on a range of other, very unrelated, issues. GH

  15. Elizabeth Miller Says:


    I’m curious about how you differ with me and on what issue … ?


    Busy lately , so a Happy New Year and Epiphany to Senator Hart and our good colleagues and friends on his , and as a consequence , our , much liked and valued site!

    There is a phrase that describes precisely the sort of centre or , to translate from Anglo-English , to American -English , center !As an Englishman, albeit one of part Italian and Irish origin married to a wife of American origin ,please excuse my continued use of the spelling I am used to.

    The phrase is where I feel much of the time my politics sits . It is in the radical centre. Not the wishy -washy centrism Senator Hart alludes to. The radical centre is not that centrism. It is Liberalism. In the United States, Liberalism has evolved to be , not a word for that territory that gave us on its classical Liberal journey , Jefferson and Franklin, on its social Liberal journey Roosevelt and Stevenson, but an adjective , a substitute , for left wing bleeding heart mush !

    The late great President Kennedy was in both the moderate and radical centre. He is claimed today by some who have a form of intellectual fantasy going on , as a conservative , precisely because , like all traditional Liberals , classical and social , he loved freedom, and unlike some modern leftists , did not believe the state was the answer to everything ! He would be called centrist today by Bernie or Bust brigade!

    He would also be looked to by those of us in the radical centre or moderate centre – left , as what he said he was in one of the best descriptions of the stance ever. A Liberal. Not left wing like the far excesses of modern American Liberalism. Not the centre- right Liberalsm that loves freedom , and is an important component of the purer traditional classical form yet adhered to in many countries. But a Liberal who , like our host , is concerned , correctly , that the centre, or center should hold !

  17. Eric C. Jacobson Says:

    Perhaps it’s merely a minor difference: You said you thought Sen. Hart deleted his Fable post due to shrill comments it elicited and (in sum) you expressed regret he had not left it up.

    I thought (and think) Sen. Hart’s withdrew his Fable post because on reflection he felt that casting Mr. Trump’s segue into presidential politics as (in sum) “an extension of his business career by other means” was unfair, unsound or at the very least “too speculative”. So I’m pleased Sen. Hart took down the Fable post and has now lightly chided the Washington Post for besmirching the President-Elect along the same lines Hart originally had.

    While we’re on the subject, I believe there is a far more benign answer to Sen. Hart’s speculation into Mr. Trump’s motivations for running for president: It is that Republicans are plainly more drawn to exercising power than Democrats and independents. Leaders in both politics and the business sphere enjoy the exercise of power. That’s what makes the competition for elite positions in both fields so keen.

    Indeed the “whole story” of 2016 is that Mr. Trump and his tiny circle of astute advisers realized that in order to avoid political decimation the Republicans had to turn against their 1% benefactors and advance the interests of America’s everyday people who the Republicans and mainstream Democrats (Twiddledum and Twiddledee) have been waging an ugly class war against for decades.

    Not to “toot my own horn” (too much) but since nobody else will: I predicted that Republicans were far more likely to break with the 1% than Democrats precisely because GOP operatives’ lust for power was so much stronger than Democrats’ or independents’. (Btw, I’m not sure that kind of “lust in one’s heart” is such a bad thing. As Ralph Nader once said: “Take care of politics or politics will take of you.”) I foresaw EXACTLY what would happen in 2016 in early 2014 in two writings in (which writings were among many other similar ones). If it’s of any remote interest, see here: . Another one from the end of 2014 is here: (scroll down to my comment, the only one).

    Is Mr. Trump to be faulted and even defamed for driving his political Mack truck through an opening created by decades of feckless Democratic elitism and solidarity with their 1% donor class over America’s multitudes? I don’t think so.

    Now, after forever helplessly watching the 1% oppress the American people in nihilistic pursuit of profits-uber-alles I find it rather exhilarating to see corporate executives such Ford’s CEO ask “How high?” when President-Elect Trump invokes the national interest and says “Jump”: That is: “Move your production back here from Mexico!” The CEO’s response (in sum): “Yes sir Mr. Trump!”

    Speaking of fables, if this type of scene had been placed in a Hollywood script prior to Nov. 8th the “suits” would have rejected it as some kind of Dalton Trumbo or Clifford Odets lefty-idealist dream-sequence! (“Pictures are entertainment, messages should be delivered by Western Union” Samuel Goldwyn said at the height of the Cold War.) The truth is Mr. Trump now has every potential to become a public interest president, and take the 1% down several pegs across the board. To continue to exercise power, which is his métier, beyond a single term, he will have no choice but to do so.

    In contrast, judging from their off-point histrionics since the election, the Democrats remain utterly oblivious to their political peril and incapable of adapting to the new 21st century Americans First political climate. As the host said several posts ago (paraphrasing a line from his 1984 Democratic National Convention speech): “the Democrats have a relevancy problem.” (You think?)

    For myself, as January 20th approaches I am almost as optimistic as I was in May of 1984 when I read the poem linked just below to Sen. Hart and about 20 of his stalwart donors and supporters in a West Los Angeles living room: . (Although I would now excise the utopian thought “and across all borders” — proving I have learned “something” in the interim 32+ years!)

    Happy New Year.

  18. Gary Hart Says:

    One last try, and then let’s all move on: my reference to the Washington Post story about the confluence of Trump’s political and commercial Russian interests was to question why it took the Post five months to raise what seemed at the outset to be obvious. GH

  19. Gary Hart Says:

    All those with serious interest in ideas, political and otherwise, are welcome at this discussion site. But the host’s long public service career, which continues even to today, is relevant only as it may shed light on those issues. This is not a vanity site. And one occasional commentator seems obsessed with a single incident in the host’s long life. This is not healthy and, should it continue, may I respectfully suggest, the commentator seek professional help. GH

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