The Intractables

Author: Gary Hart

There is something that defines the United States that is tangible, identifiable, and definable.  It is called the national interest.  It is the sum of what it means to be a nation of citizens pursuing the common good, what is best and most important for all, for ourselves and for our posterity.  We see it most vividly and clearly in times of economic failure, the Great Depression, and security threats, World War II and the Cold War.

Both these conditions cause us to put the national interest and the common good ahead of other, narrower concerns.  Faced with neither of these threats, too often Americans divide over lesser concerns.

In recent years those narrower issues have sharply divided our nation.  They include guns, abortion, immigration, and perhaps one or two others.  Having no unifying challenges to address, political parties instead migrate toward coalitions composed of single issue voters such as gun ownership, opposition to abortion, and rising anti-immigrant nationalism.

An entire political industry has arisen in recent years composed of those skilled in promising such constituency groups what they demand in return for their votes.  These manipulators are also skilled at finding narrowly focused wealthy families who donate tens of millions of dollars.  And they use partisan media and new social media platforms to promote their platforms, often falsely, and denigrate those who do not share them.

In exchange for party political and financial support, they demand one hundred percent loyalty to the coalition’s strict platform.  No deviation is permitted.  No compromise, the essence of democratic government, is allowed.  To seek a middle ground is anathema in the political church of sanctimony.

Years of gerrymandering by State legislatures has made eighty to ninety percent of Congressional districts either solidly red or blue.  And the electoral prize goes to the candidate of the most rigid orthodoxy on the most sacrosanct issues.  It is a demonstrable fact that conservatives have been much more successful at enforcing their orthodoxy than have progressives.

On the intractable issues such as immigration, what efforts at Congressional compromise have occurred have virtually always involved Senators from so-called purple, or swing, States where independent voters not aligned with any interest group make the difference.

It is no wonder that the hue and cry across the land is: why can’t they get anything done in Washington.  This comes often enough from members of one or more of these intractable factions who must be understood to mean: why can’t we get what we want.

One of the unifying themes of those responsible for founding this nation was the fear of “factions”, what today we would call special or narrow interest groups who care primarily if not only about their issue.  So much for the national interest.  So much for the need to meet halfway, to give something in order to get something.

The most intractable of all the intractables is abortion.  Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling, abortion opponents see only black and white, good and evil.  The hypocrisy of the “pro-life” label is seen most clearly when strict anti-abortionists support the death penalty or for that matter bombing civilian villages in Southeast Asia.  We are all pro-life.  No group in America owns that label.

Our largest task today is to recover the national interest, that which we all share in common.  We will not be able to do so unless that vast army of voters who want us to export democracy but do not vote are heard from.

If, instead of fifty or perhaps sixty percent of voter turn-out in national elections (and not much more than forty percent in off-year elections), Americans do their duty to the Republic and vote.  If this percentage rose to eighty percent or above, we might find that a clear majority of Americans want compromise instead of political polarization and the intractables reasonably quickly found traction and resolution.

Even if the single-issue voters did not get the absolutist policies they demand, our nation would be better for it.  And we would regain our self-respect and become adults once again.

 

6 Responses to “The Intractables”

  1. LORENZO CHERIN Says:

    This is the argument for the traditional modern liberalism, social liberalism, New Liberalism, as started in the UK, in the 1906 government onwards then taken up by the Liberal Party, and of the sister arty in Canada, then FDR, latr JFK and all the parties in Liberal International, foolishly the body Democrats never subscribed to as a whole, although the Young Democrats , separate from the DNC do.

    Polarisation is not going to be met but is matched, by a protectionist far left response to the nastiness of the far right.

    The US has polarisation on these issues because it has gone off the radical and moderate centre and centre left,and the liberty of conscience, freedom of expression, at the heart of Liberalism, embracing too much, a rag bag and bob tail, mixture of grievances , plus an overt attachment to a “progressivism ” that is a one sided one size fits all, leftism, at odds with its exact but worse opposite on the right.

    Catholics on the centre left should, as in the uk, be able in a free vote to vote against , later abortion, without, in the way of the norm in America,accusations of, sell out, or sexist, or emersing in hatefull scenes of betrayl insults.

    Trudeau has insisted all Liberals must support the wretched Canada law on abortion, no restrictions on it, brought in by his father.

    I and many, are for legal abortion, but in France its up to twelve weeks, a little different from polarised America.

  2. Paul G Says:

    “There is something that defines the United States that is tangible, identifiable, and definable. It is called the national interest. It is the sum of what it means to be a nation of citizens pursuing the common good, what is best and most important for all, for ourselves and for our posterity. We see it most vividly and clearly in times of economic failure, the Great Depression, and security threats, World War II and the Cold War. Both these conditions cause us to put the national interest and the common good ahead of other, narrower concerns. Faced with neither of these threats, too often Americans divide over lesser concerns.”

    – “The Intractables,” by Gary Hart

    Senator Hart’s ‘intractable’ essay mirrors an explosion of examples in our daily diet of seemingly endless ‘breaking news’ outrages that fail to satiate our hunger for timely and equitable solutions. Here’s two recent articles on such willful ignorance I hope worthy of readers’ reflection and traction(?):

    The Mirage of Knowledge (antipathy to expertise) https://harvardmagazine.com/2018/03/death-of-expertise-by-tom-nichols

    From Inclusion to Division (identity politics) https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/mar/01/how-americas-identity-politics-went-from-inclusion-to-division

  3. Paul G Says:

    “Our largest task today is to recover the national interest, that which we all share in common. We will not be able to do so unless that vast army of voters who want us to export democracy but do not vote are heard from … Even if the single-issue voters did not get the absolutist policies they demand, our nation would be better for it. And we would regain our self-respect and become adults once again.”

    – “Intractables,” by Gary Hart

    Affirming Senator Hart’s lifetime dedication to JFK’s principled call 55 years ago “ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country,” former US Labor Secretary Robert Reich, in his new book The Common Good, adds an urgent dimension to this call to today’s robbed generation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UzG2sjlpqac

  4. Eric Jacobson Says:

    James Carville was onto something when he said in 1992: “It’s the economy stupid.” (Little known “fun fact”: Sen. Hart’s campaign manager Oliver Henkel had to lay off James from Hart’s 1984 presidential campaign staff in late 1983. Fund-raising stalled-out when Hart’s long-shot candidacy looked totally quixotic until the “10 days that shook the world”: Hart finished second in the 1984 Iowa caucuses, won the New Hampshire primary the following week and promptly went 9% points ahead of President Reagan in the Gallup poll! http://www.nytimes.com/1984/03/09/us/gallup-s-survey-gives-hart-9-point-lead-over-reagan.html .)

    I would say that every presidential election is about both the economy “per se” and about the stability of our prevailing political-economy (overall) and integrity of the nation and its institutions at that phase in its history.

    By that standard, something had become terribly “rotten in Denmark” in our country by 2015-2016. Books about the 2016 presidential campaign are now being published. The ones that ring true to me view that outcome as a withering comeuppance to complacent elites who believed the 2015-2016 status quo provided in John Stuart Mill’s famous (“utilitarian”) adage “the greatest good for the greatest number” and was generally satisfactory to a large majority of voters (the single-issue-based differences Sen. Hart refers-to to the contrary notwithstanding).

    A book review that well sums up “what happened” in a compelling nutshell is here: https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/03/02/trump-this/ . Another good one of the same general stripe is here: https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/03/02/how-neoliberal-fundamentalism-helped-make-trump-president/ .

    My own (nutshell) view is that elites of both old parties HAVE thrown the vast majority of American people to “the wolves of Wall Street” for decades now. Tectonic shifts occurred in the relations between capital and labor: Significantly, American capital (big business) discovered that it could without domestic political “resistance” (or barely even tabling it as a public “issue” until the 1990s) massively relocate production of goods and services to foreign countries and thereby “yugely” increase its profits due to the vast differentials between wage rates and pollution restrictions between developed and developing countries. The Chinese Communist Party in particular (likewise without domestic political “resistance” post-1989) was happy to oblige American business owners (for still unknown reasons).

    And such (bizarre) “globalization” (which never would have been allowed in any former era of American history) was but one facet of the looting operation the 1% and their (once semi-patrician now largely fallen) professional-class enablers have perpetrated since the last days of American normalcy in the 1970s. The Iraq War and Great Recession debacles were but symptoms of a system thrown totally “out of balance” as Phillip Glass captured artistically in his epic score for the 1982 film Koyaanisqatsi ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koyaanisqatsi ).

    The seeds of the 2016 election result were sown when President Obama applied band-aids to a cancer (the causes of the Great Recession) and sent Keystone Kops after Wall Street criminals instead of a real Greed Police force. Obama’s reelection campaign ads in 2012 dishonestly portrayed his presidency as a success. He eeked-out a victory due to Mitt Romney’s (honorable) unwillingness to falsely promise (as Trump deceitfully would one cycle later) Romney would bridle the 1% from the overboard liberties they had taken. The rest is history:

    In 2015-2016, following the bipartisan machinations of the powers-that-be against the Bernie Sanders movement, all it took to blow this rickety House of Cards down was a blowhard billionaire used-to performing on a scripted (so-called “reality”) television show and willing to pose as a populist and mount a professional-wrestling-style campaign against long-time friends and fellow elitist scofflaws, the Clintons (see here: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/06/magazine/when-hillary-and-donald-were-friends.html ). Trump recited lines and speeches ala a modern “Music Man” written by neo-fascist polemicists whose only skill is supplying reactionary verbal “crack” to desperately oppressed multitudes with chips on their shoulders. “Trouble in River City” indeed. See Don Caron’s magnificent lampoon here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5opzBgyMzK8 .

    It WOULD be funny if it weren’t so damnably serious: America has descended into neo-feudal (rule by the super-rich gentry such as Jeff Bezos) kakistocracy (rule by their worst and dumbest political minions, ie. Trump and his dumb-bell family and Republican bulbs dim enough to associate with them and become cast members in what Sen. Graham accurately called the “sh–show” Washington-beltway politics and government have become).

    It is time for non-conservative Americans to have some REALLY “hard talk” (not shallow polite “coffee talk”) amongst themselves over the political grounds upon which they will challenge the Trump, his cronies and (dwindling) followership in 2018, 2020 and beyond. (Hint: forget “Russiagate”.)

    Let the “hard talk” begin!

  5. Tyler Says:

    Senator,

    The People’s Party recently released an American Mission Statement. It’s pretty great. It’s on page 3 of their platform, which can be viewed here: https://www.forapeoplesparty.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/MPP-Platform-1.pdf

  6. Stephen D. Pillow Says:

    I have not been responding to several of the latest commentaries of Senator Hart, because I have been seeking information of a practical nature as opposed to that of a philosophical, political, economic, and/or social theory. It is passed time to put your theories into action so that we may salvage this nation before it is sold to the highest bidder, “whether foreign or domestic” from whom their oaths of office say that they “‘will defend the Constitution.” Folks, it’s we act now to retake this government for the people of this nation as a whole, or learn how to gain sustenance from all of our laurels from our wonderful theories. Isn’t it a shame that they just didn’t work out because there was no concerted effort by those who were positing plans for the future, ever got down to instructing their audience in how to implement the theory into reality. That is how the future will remember us, IF we don’t put our theories into action ourselves. We need to be discussing practical application of our theory. Just thought that I would share what I have discovered over the last couple of months. Those high school student at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida have shown the way. I have not seen such a spontaneous melding of a group of citizens into a significant political force since the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. If any of this makes any sense, or not, please comment. That’s the only way that we may overcome this obscene diseased abomination that our “government” has become.

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