One Man’s Compass

Author: Gary Hart

What follows breaks an unwritten rule I’ve tried to follow on this site, and that is to minimize self-referential essays.  In an age where almost every spoken or written word begins with the first person singular pronoun, it is possible to make observations and assertions as direct statement without “I think” or “It seems to me”, etc.  Nevertheless, recent political upheavals have caused many to revert to basic principles and to establish foundations for why we believe what we believe.

In my case [here we go into the self-referential mode], there were two reasons I gravitated toward the Democratic Party: family and religion.  My parents were working class people from large families (Mother 13, Dad 8 children) who were unable to finish high school because they had to work early.  They raised me in the Church of the Nazarene, an off-shoot of Methodism, and I attended Bethany Nazarene College (now Southern Nazarene University) in Oklahoma.  My first graduate program was in philosophy and theology.

To their credit, one strain of Nazarene doctrine emphasized the Wesleyan (John and Charles) social gospel and the requirement to care for those in need.

Even in Kansas of that day, if you struggled through the Depression you had to be pretty conservative not to bless Franklin Roosevelt for his efforts to help vast numbers of people in need, those without jobs, without shelter, without nutrition, without hope.  To be on a bottom rung of the ladder meant you were probably not going to be a Republican.

I had my first paying job at the age of 11 as a car-hop at a drive in hamburger place and by the age 17 and a number of years thereafter worked summers on the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe railroads in Kansas and Colorado.  There didn’t seem to be many Republicans on those track gangs.  I don’t remember once thinking the Republican Party offered any chance for people like me.

But as my own religious principles evolved, I found little in the teachings of Jesus that promoted belief in wealth accumulation, individualism at the expense of others, devil take the hindmost ideologies, or every man for himself.  Quite the contrary, those teachings were founded on the notion that we should love and care for one another, help the poor and needy, by concerned for the widow, for the child, for those without hope, be stewards of God’s earth.  I’m still waiting for the Christian, evangelical or otherwise, who correlates the teachings of Jesus with the ideology of the Republican Party in either its Reagan or Trump mode.

The Democratic Party of my youth, of Roosevelt, Truman, and Kennedy, is adrift in part because under President Clinton and the “centrists” who followed him it joined the anti-government chorus and thus lost its identity.  To believe in a caring, just, and decent society, one does not have to advocate for “big government”.  Government should evolve to meet the needs of the people.  No more, no less.  The issue is not how much government we want.  The issue is what kind of society we want.  Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid were created to solve basic human needs.  Those on the right find it convenient to pretend these are not government programs.

The sad kabuki theater involving repeal of the Affordable Care Act illustrates the muddle ideologues of the right face when trying to destroy a program that is helping millions.  Preach market doctrine all you want, but there are some basic human needs that markets don’t solve.  Markets are fine for those who can pay.  There is little profit in serving the poor.

But, we are all familiar with Jefferson’s observation: “Widespread poverty and concentrated wealth cannot long endure side by side in a democracy.”

There is no need to plow old ground.  American has still not found a way to adopt a social safety net and let it operate.  There are still Republican die-hards that want to repeal Social Security.  Mature nations find a path acceptable to a sustainable majority and then move on.  We have yet to achieve that level of maturity.

In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, People of Paradox, Michael Kammen captured our subconscious immaturity: “…we believe that our government is weak, stupid, dishonest, and inefficient, and also believe it to be the best in the world and would like to offer it to others.”

All the above is simply to explain why I am who I am.  It is not all that interesting or important.  But when truth itself is under attack and childish “leaders” pervert basic principles, it becomes necessary to restate immutable principles and try qualify for serious adulthood.

I am fond of this quote from John Buchan’s memorable biography of the 17th century Scottish patriot Montrose:

“No great cause is ever won or ever lost.  The battle must always be renewed

and the creed restated, and the old formulas, once so potent a revelation, become

only dim antiquarian echoes.  But some things are universal, catholic, and

undying—the souls of which such formulas are the broken gleams.  They do

not age or pass out of fashion, for they symbolize eternal things.  They are

the guardians of the human spirit, the proof of what our mortal frailty can

achieve.”

7 Responses to “One Man’s Compass”

  1. Gary Hart Says:

    Apologies for the typos. Corrections have been made. GH

  2. LORENZO CHERIN Says:

    Dear Senator

    You say I , and colleagues here are too generous to you, actually you are both intellectually and politically assertive ,and individually and personally ,unassuming on your own site !

    You should let us in to more of your self referential, stories, we , those who like and respect you , would enjoy to know more.

    You talk sense here as usual !

  3. Paul Borg Says:

    Dear Senator Hart,

    Thank you.

    Original rendering of “America the Beautiful” last stanza, 1893

    “…O beautiful for patriot dream
    That sees beyond the years
    Thine alabaster cities gleam
    Undimmed by human tears!
    America! America!
    God shed His grace on thee
    Till nobler men keep once again
    Thy whiter jubilee!”

    PS. I know many feel the final line may have racial overtones. I read it as Thy “more perfect state of Freedom”

    Let us witness the drama as yet unfolding, and with the Guardians at our side, play whatever role may be assigned us with courage and cheerful mean.

  4. Stephen D. Pillow Says:

    Senator Hart,

    I was raised in the Methodist Church, so many of the principles of which you speak were very influential in early development also. Having had a similar upbringing, social, financial, and religious, to yourself, I was very taken by three comments that you made that expressed much of why I believe what I believe.

    “To their credit, one strain of Nazarene doctrine emphasized the Wesleyan (John and Charles) social gospel and the requirement to care for those in need.”

    “But as my own religious principles evolved, I found little in the teachings of Jesus that promoted belief in wealth accumulation, individualism at the expense of others, devil take the hindmost ideologies, or every man for himself. Quite the contrary, those teachings were founded on the notion that we should love and care for one another, help the poor and needy, b(e) concerned for the widow, for the child, for those without hope, be stewards of God’s earth. I’m still waiting for the Christian, evangelical or otherwise, who correlates the teachings of Jesus with the ideology of the Republican Party in either its Reagan or Trump mode.”

    ”But, we are all familiar with Jefferson’s observation: ‘Widespread poverty and concentrated wealth cannot long endure side by side in a democracy.’”

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts in this very personal matter in a very personal manner.

  5. Eric Jacobson Says:

    With customary over-modesty Senator, you pack a lot of important observations into this short autobiographical essay while proclaiming it not all that interesting.

    Historians will never fully settle the debate over whether “great men” (which is now understood to mean “great persons”) and/or “social forces” and/o “zeitgeist” (ideas whose time has come) are the majors drivers of historical developments over time.

    The staunch modern Democratic creed (begun by FDR and ended by Jimmy Carter) you espouse in paragraphs 7-10 (along with your non-Russophobia) is what distinguished you from other elected Democratic Senators and lower-level politicians in the 1980s and beyond (and continues to distinguish you today) and is why so many of us hastened to support your 1980s presidential campaigns. We recognized the villainy of the Republicans (I called Reagan et al. an “organized lies syndicate” — some things never change) and further recognized that the mainstream Democrats under not just President Carter but the likes of Ted “Mr. Deregulation” Kennedy represented an “unbearable Republican liteness of being”.

    I still remember exactly where I was in 1985 (driving to a girlfriend’s house north of the UCLA campus) when I heard the news (on my car radio) that Ted Kennedy had announced he would not be running for president in 1988. I realized that you had just instantly become not only the front-runner for the Democratic nomination but favorite to succeed President Reagan, and end the nation and world’s “long national nightmare” of Reaganism. (I mentioned it to her when I arrived.)

    As it turned out you never got to first base in your 1988 presidential campaign. You were (effectively) ejected from the 1988 presidential race by self-appointed referees, those the late great Richard Ben Kramer called “bigfoot journalists”. Contrary to Republican propaganda (“liberal media, yadda yadda”), the mainstream media was then- and is now (overwhelmingly) comprised of private sector institutions that are entirely partial to the conservative establishment. They work “hand in glove” with the oligarchs who own and rule America and mean to forever keep their super-privileged positions at the expense of everyday people and the common good. Neither your idealistic politics nor your free-spirited personality were acceptable to those “powers that be”. The message, then and now, was and is: at the presidential level, only conservatives and neoliberals need apply.

    Very long story short (and if anyone is interested the long version is here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5ilXuTzT1mlMHV6Y2l3QkFCbWM/view?usp=sharing ), the bigfoot media “rubbed you out” during those “Seven Days in May” 1987. (Literally May 1 – 7.) To your credit you “stood your ground” for a short while but then capitulated (for reasons you have chosen never to disclose).

    The only positive contribution Donald Trump has made to American politics and history (or ever will) is demonstrating that is POSSIBLE to stand up to the bigfoot media and win a presidential election. I wish you had run the same experiment in 1987-1988. But I am not surprised you didn’t. Billionaires have prerogatives that others don’t and (by almost any standard) you were a pauper in those (1987) days. You had had to take a second mortgage on your Colorado home to finance the airing of paid ads in New Hampshire during the 1984 Democratic presidential primary campaign in order to stay in contention, a gutsy decision that worked out very well. And as a sitting Senator until January of 1987 you had only your salary to live on. You then immediately started working on your 1988 campaign and announced it officially on April 13, 1987 if memory serves. I was pleased to be there in Denver (with another girlfriend, screenwriter Rose-Marie Turko) at what we thought was history-in-the making.

    If the country and world are ever to be saved from our arrogant feckless selfish-few elite fellow citizens who are making both a living hell for the vast majority of the American people and citizens of the world, ways and means will have to found to permanently neuter both the bigfoot media and the oligarchs for whom they work. Staunch Democratic idealists like yourself Senator, much less unknown independent progressives like myself, are relatively powerless on our own. But (as I lean towards the “great person” theory) I continue to believe that we could change history for the better if we could successfully encourage a few good “class traitors” (people like uber-liberal billionaire Ronda Stryker of Michigan) to step up and finance and lead the revolution. As I said in a op-ed in 2016: Help me Ronda! http://la.indymedia.org/news/2015/08/272570.php .

  6. LORENZO CHERIN Says:

    Eric

    In what surely would have been good writing backed up by real content, you let your own stance down, with your reference to the late Edward Kennedy thus.

    Anyone knows he was to the left of, Bobby who was to the left of Jack , later .

    Senator Hart , clearly puts “centrists ” in the shown inverted commas , describing those around and including latter President Clinton, because he knows, as you do, as I do, they moved to the right , beyond the centre ground of the late , great President Kennedy.

    President Carter , tried to improve and extend towards , universal healthcare, but the far more left wing Senator Edward Kennedy , and his more ideological allies, pushed too far too often , according to Carter, thus ending up with zilch.

    The consensus in parties is based on a broader stance in some parties, your system necessarily does this. Two big parties , in other countries , which would be split between , three or four, in coalition.

    We can benefit from history, but not rewriting it.

    As the problem under Cilnton was a move too far to the right, the Democratic party now is in danger of moving too far to the left.

    Younger people are fed up every time the left right thing is emphasised.

    Too be progressive today, forward for a better yesterday , is not gong to cut the ice.

    We need what is the only way that works.The goals, values, of the traditional Democrats of old, with policies, solutions, for today and tomorrow

  7. LORENZO CHERIN Says:

    p.s.

    And , as a thought , I would say, the image of a grinning Paul Ryan, behind a bloated Donald Trump, joyous at the destruction in one fell swoop of the health insurance of the poor and disabled , is one of the most vulgar things I have seen in politics in many years, a joke, and , pun intended, a sick one, from the running mate of the architect of pre Obamacare , Obamacare, ie , Romneycare !

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