Destiny Abandoned

Author: Gary Hart

It is an interesting, and important, question for political historians whether a nation can, in a relatively short period of time, abandon many of its standards of behavior, political norms, types of leadership, ethical rules, and qualities of governance and still retain the same historical ideals to which it has been attached and principles upon which it was founded.

The answer most readily available is, wait until the next election.  If a majority of voters, or as most recently a minority, ratify those departures from solid tradition and principle  and hasten the process by which the America we thought we knew becomes a different country altogether, it is pretty clear evidence that the new and different America is emerging.

So long as laws and traditions stay within often flexible Constitutional limits, one administration can undertake to reverse, virtually across the board, bipartisan principles of foreign policy and domestic policies regarding energy, environment, education, entitlements, and stewardship of public lands and resources, among virtually all other consensus achievements.  That is, until many in the public remember why those policies were established in the first place.

American citizens are at liberty to change their minds, or at least depart from the ideals of their forebearers.

Times change, and we must adapt to those changes.  New policies must address new realities.  But we must remember enough history to know why previous generations thought it important enough to enact laws, negotiate treaties, engage in and not retreat from the wider world, and appreciate why engagement in and not retreat from a shrinking world in our own national interest.

There was a relatively brief period of time following the successful conclusion of World War II when America was dominant.  Wise statesmen and women of both political parties had the wisdom to understand several things: we would not and should not seek to govern the world unilaterally; we became stronger by constructing an expanding security umbrella that would prevent another world war; expanding global markets properly governed offered huge trade opportunities for American products and prevented trade wars; and new challenges, especially in the environment, were international, not national, and required multi-national collaboration.

Anyone who thought we were losing in this new international world didn’t understand what winning and losing meant.

The United States will not “win” by abrogating trade agreements, departing security arrangements, becoming isolationist, or insisting on dictating terms to other nations of the world.  Anyone whipping up a Fox news crowd with overheated rhetoric about making America great doesn’t understand the meaning of greatness in the 21st century or the genuine statesmanship required to demonstrate to friend and foe alike why our greatness will not come at the cost of diminishing the stature of other nations.

It goes without saying that truly great leaders do not welcome chaos in government, including in White House, say one thing and do another, appoint friends to high office with little or no experience, leave key Embassies without official ambassadors, demean serious democratic foreign leaders and praise authoritarians, constantly reverse policies on a whim, and derogate key allies.

Serious presidents, those history will remember for more than just destructive eccentricity, respect this nation and the office they are granted.  They have read and demonstrated an understanding of the Constitution and principles upon which it is based.  They demonstrate humility rather then arrogance.  They know enough about the nation’s history to understand that it is more important than their own ego.

To understand the difference, read Abraham Lincoln.

Will Lincoln be there when he is needed.  Not if we institutionalize our current detour from all that has truly made us great in the past.

7 Responses to “Destiny Abandoned”

  1. Brian C. McCarthy Says:

    Senator,

    A friend suggested to me earlier this week that we should make voting compulsory, as some counries do, and that would solve the problem.

    I can’t agree. I think that inherent in the right to vote is the right not to vote. Maybe what we should do is not compel those who don’t vote to vote, but to give them a reason to vote. Many of those who don’t vote seem to be those who are not particularly tied to one ideology but have a variety of opinions – they like the Democrats on some issues and the Republicans on others and they don’t see what difference it makes if one or the other gets elected.

    But we cannot take for granted that certain people will vote one way or the other and ignore them. We saw in 2016 that the “blue wall” is a myth. Wisconsin and Michigan voted for Trump.

    Mr T has his base and they are very happy with him. I would love to believe that he has no chance of reelection in 2020 but I can’t really believe that, given what happened in the 2016 election. To date, I have not met one Trump voter who admits they wished they had voted for Hillary Clinton.

    Nevertheless, I can’t believe that a majority of Americans want a United States in which the president makes spontaneous decisions that are then walked away from within hours. It reflects badly, to say the least. I’m partially glad that a US President and the Supreme Leader of North Korea will sit down and discuss issues that have never been discussed ever by a US President and a North Korean leader. This needs to happen. I’m troubled by the idea that it will be a flaky, erratic US president who is doing so. There is potentially more harm than good that can come from it.

    What is my point? It is that all of what you have said is correct – but I’m not sure of what ground you or I are standing on anymore. All the old rules seem to be out the window and none of the things that used to outrage the general public seem to matter anymore. I keep to a liberal crowd and most of them think Trump is toast in 2020 but I am not so sure. Is the answer to bring things down to his level, or is it to keep to higher ground and hope for higher expectations from the public?

    I have made this observation on your blog before, and forgive me repeating myself, but I think the internet and the rise of 24 hour news has led to the exact opposite of what it should have led. Not a more informed citizenry, but one more easily manipulated by ideological forces. Demagoguery seems to be winning the battle.

    I hope I am wrong.

    Cheers,
    BCM

  2. Gary Hart Says:

    Brian comes close to stating the conclusion I find myself headed toward, namely “I’m not sure of what ground I’m standing on anymore.” A large majority of Americans is not part of Trump’s “base” and deplore his crudeness, evasion of the truth, chaotic governance, and demeaning America’s stature in the world. But I am studying a new book on populism and democracy and the widening gap between them.
    Gary Hart

  3. Paul G Says:

    “Anyone whipping up a Fox news crowd with overheated rhetoric about making America great doesn’t understand the meaning of greatness in the 21st century or the genuine statesmanship required to demonstrate to friend and foe alike why our greatness will not come at the cost of diminishing the stature of other nations.”

    – Gary Hart, ‘Destiny Abandoned’

    Just as GE in the 1980’s and FOX in the 2000’s helped make America a mockery of solving America’s enduring problems with their super-promotion of their respective media-masters, Reagan and Trump, today’s few remaining media leaders don’t include a Cronkite or a Murrow.

    Just as Reagan declared our government “the problem,” so does our current president in his daily self-obsessed tweets, calls for loyalty and firings. As our honorable host says, this 30 years’ history has come home to roost and at great cost to the diminishing stature of our great nation.

    Well, isn’t our government We the People? It’s time we whip up FOX to bring this truth to light. Or, will millennial students rediscover a Cronkite or a Murrow to fire the proverbial shot heard around the world? Either way, we dare not abandon ourselves; statesmanship with a conscience is our destiny.

    https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/trumps-new-slogan-is-from-the-purge_us_587f928ee4b0cf0ae8810f52

    https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/22/business/media/how-fox-newss-influence-grew-under-roger-ailes.html?action=click&contentCollection=Opinion&module=RelatedCoverage&region=EndOfArticle&pgtype=article

  4. Paul G Says:

    CORRECTION:

    “Just as GE in the 1980’s and FOX in the 2000’s helped make a mockery of solving America’s enduring problems (NOT ‘helped make America a mockery’)

  5. Neil McCarthy Says:

    Re: will Lincoln be there when he is needed, it might be good (and reassuring) to remember that Lincoln followed Buchanan. We went from one of the worst to arguably the best. And we did this in an environment where, had Buchanan’s approach been institutionalized, we would have either been two countries or even perhaps one where the majority of states legalized slavery. Change is possible and it is often rapid.

    Brian’s fear that 2020 will turn out as badly as 2016 is a fair one but should not be overstated. There are signs that Trump will be rejected — he is stuck at between 38-40% approval; voters in his base regions are starting to reject him (e.g., Pennsylvania 18’s election this week of Conor Lamb to the House; and the Democrats could very well nominate a ticket against which Trump’s ad hominems are useless. The Trump voters Brian has spoken to are saying they wouldn’t vote for Hillary; they aren’t saying they won’t vote for Biden or Hickenlooper or McCaskill or Gillebrand or Booker or even Jerry Brown.

  6. Paul G Says:

    “Democrats could very well nominate a ticket against which Trump’s ad homonyms are useless. The Trump voters Brian has spoken to are saying they wouldn’t vote for Hillary; they aren’t saying they won’t vote for Biden or Hickenlooper or McCaskill or Gillebrand or Booker or even Jerry Brown.”

    – Neil McCarthy

    At the risk of what our honorable host some time ago cited as ‘unseemly,’ I’ll re-phrase Neil’s illuminating comment as follows:

    “Democrats could very well nominate a ticket against which Trump’s ad hominems are useless. The Trump voters I’ve spoken to in Boston are saying they wouldn’t vote for Hillary; they aren’t saying they won’t vote for Biden, 75, or Bernie Sanders, 76, or Jerry Brown, 80, or Gary Hart, 81.”

    After all, to re-phrase Fox on McCain during his presidential run, ’80 is the new 70,‘ as dozens of people 85+ not only run the historic 26 miles’ marathon each year but complete the race in record times.

    It’s time we value decades of accumulated wisdom to help us solve our nation’s enduring problems. It’s time we stop being swayed by pretty faces of hollow souls open only to the highest billionaire bidders. It’s time we the people truly look into our conscience, accept our failings and fight to restore our republic. Let’s begin by educating our brave millennial students.

  7. Eric Jacobson Says:

    Although it wasn’t what I originally had in mind when I introduced myself to Sen. Hart in the Spring of 1983 at an AFL-CIO convention he was addressing in Los Angeles and handed him a raft of law and policy papers I had written in my last year of law school (“We’ll be in touch” he replied), over the years (since 1987) jousting with the host’s detractors has become an avocation with me.

    Because of Senator Hart’s (artificial) place in the corporate media’s and what-might-be-called the political-industrial complex’s firmament (where “fake news” is too often the order of the day and the opening line of his obituary is already pre-written, as Sen. Hart himself recently mentioned), I get regular opportunities to speak truth to these powerful miscreants. For example, I “live-tweeted” during MSNBC’s recent hour-long (in sum) “mockumentary” on Sen. Hart, trying my best keep up with the serial lies, distortions and defamations. See https://twitter.com/ECJLA/with_replies between March 8th-13th.

    A few years ago another regular in this blog comment space, Chris R, and I tag-teamed during an episode I’ve dubbed “correction-gate” in the NY Times (involving Matt Bai’s book All the Truth Is Out), squaring off and I believe winning the “battle of the barbs” with the character assassins of the Miami Herald and its group of friends and family apologists who all got into the act in the contentious 53-comment thread. See https://publiceditor.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/11/12/matt-bai-gary-hart-miami-herald-margaret-sullivan-public-editor/ .

    One of my best contributions in this unusual genre (if I say so myself) is the last lick I got in against my leading antagonist on that NY Times correction-gate discussion thread (who got downright nasty in one round, asserting I lacked writing talent: Fighting words!). In my comment that appears at the top of the “correction-gate” thread I tried to see the forest (not just the trees) of the Hart-detraction phenomenon, tracing it to the reluctance of America’s older and aging population cohorts to face the extent to which they have forsaken the hopes and ideals of their youth and accommodated themselves to contemporary realities that are grotesquely unjust and indecent by comparison to the kind of nation and world they expected to evolve during their lifetime and that of their progeny and their friends’ and relatives’ children. To make the point I quoted an article written by Adam Walinsky, an aide to RFK, in 1983, titled The End of Debunking, as follows:
    ————
    https://publiceditor.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/11/12/matt-bai-gary-hart-miami-herald-margaret-sullivan-public-editor/#permid=16525800:16911225

    Eric C. Jacobson Los Angeles, California December 10, 2015:

    The Times links Gary Hart and notorious gangster Dutch Schultz in the same story.

    Really?

    Clearly the Times is still in “debunking” mode when it comes to Gary Hart. It is worth asking WHY:

    The answer may be found in an op-ed the Times published on Nov. 22, 1983, written by former RFK aide Adam Walinsky, titled “An End to Debunking”. http://www.nytimes.com/1983/11/22/opinion/an-end-to-debunking.html .

    Hart’s “finest hour” was his moving 1984 Democratic Convention speech. He extolled warm public interest liberalism (NOT the cold neoliberalism later espoused by the Clintons). See, at 5 hr.36 min. mark (preceded by a 15 minute hall-wide demonstration): http://www.c-span.org/video/?124439-1/democratic-national-convention-day-3 .

    Walinsky’s insight into Kennedy debunking I believe equally explains Hart disparagement:
    —–
    “We have debunked John and Robert F. Kennedy for more than a decade because what they stood for has been more than we were prepared to be, and therefore their memory has been more than we were prepared to face. They reminded us of too much.

    “Of course, the debunking has been sad: No one can be proud to mock his own youth, his own dreams of justice and excellence however flawed. But more than this, it has been frightening. To turn away from John and Robert Kennedy…is to turn away not from their mistakes but from what they challenged us to be. That was the best that was in us…”
    —–
    The Times can do a public good by ending its debunking of Gary Hart.

    1 Recommend
    ————
    In closing along this line, I have long considered Sen. Hart the Leonard Cohen of American politics, for one main reason: No public figure in living memory has a natural public speaking voice as cogent as Sen. Hart’s. He is a pleasure to listen-to even when I disagree with him, which is really the “acid test” for we life-long political types. There is not even a close second. Like Leonard Cohen, Hart was simply “born like this…”

    Although I concur with Paul G. that the host may (and probably will) find it “unseemly” I took the liberty just now (as a public service) of tweeking the lyrics of Cohen’s classic song titled Tower of Song with the spirit of Paul G’s (“new beginning”) comment in mind.

    As you listen on YouTube while reading along with the tweeked lyrics, stay tuned for a little fun Leonard has with the audience at the song’s end. It’s the type of playful wit I miss seeing Sen. Hart display on occasion on the stump and in public speaking engagements.
    ————
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6YWrcCRWXfI
    Tower of Song by Leonard Cohen
    (Lyrics “channeling” Gary Hart by ECJ)

    Now my friends are gone and my hair is grey
    I ache in the places where I used to play
    And I’m crazy for our homeland but I’m not coming on
    I’m just paying my rent every day in the Tower of Dawn

    I said to Mike Mansfield, how lonely does it get?
    Mike Mansfield hasn’t answered me yet
    But I hear him coughing all night long
    Yeah, a hundred floors above me in the Tower of Dawn

    I was born like this, I had no choice
    I was born with the gift of a golden voice
    Twenty-seven angels from the Great Beyond
    Yeah they tied me to this table right here in the Tower of Dawn

    So you can stick your little pins in that voodoo doll
    I’m very sorry, friends, doesn’t look like me at all
    I’m standing by the window where the light is strong
    They don’t let a woman kill you, not in the Tower of Dawn

    Now you can say that I’ve grown bitter but of this you may be sure
    The rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor
    There’s a mighty judgment coming, but I may be wrong
    You see, it’s kind of hard to hear the peoples’ voices in the Tower of Dawn

    I see you “the people” standing on the other side
    I don’t know how the river got this wide
    I loved you so, way back when

    And all the bridges are burning that we might have crossed
    But I feel so damn close to everything that we lost
    We’ll never, never have to lose it again

    So I bid you au revoir, I don’t know when I’ll be back
    They’re moving us tomorrow to that tower down the track
    But you’ll be hearing from me again, not long after I’m gone
    I’ll be speaking to you smartly from my window in the Tower of Dawn

    Yeah my friends are gone and my hair is gray
    I ache in the places where I used to play
    And I’m crazy for our homeland but I’m not coming on
    I’m just paying my rent every day in the Tower of Dawn
    ————

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