A Choice of Who We Are

Author: Gary Hart

We have many ways to live our lives, but two significant ones stand out.  One is to be generous, big-hearted, concerned with others, helpful, and most of all kind.  The other, the opposite, we see too often these days.  It is mean-spirited, most of all angry, self-absorbed, heedless to the plight of others, and dismissive.

Pragmatically, we all have to get along to go along.  So most human interactions in the market place of life are reasonably civil.  The political arena, where who gets what is decided, is the most obvious test of the two kinds of humans.

This is often explained as a division over the role of government: the government should or shouldn’t be doing this or that.  This division is age-old and will not disappear, though in times of widespread financial hardship or foreign threats everyday people do seem to soften and want to offer a helping hand.  I remember this well from the end of the Great Depression.

Is it too much to ask why we cannot conduct our lives in this big-hearted manor.

Obviously, leaders set a tone.  If a president says that Americans should care for each other, that life should not be a dog fight, that makes a difference.  But if a president says get out of my way, don’t come begging to me for help, make it on your own, that makes the opposite difference.

If a president, by word and deed, encourages racial suspicion, even hatred, suggests that those who are not white or are from foreign countries are less than human, there are, tragically, segments of our society who long to have their basest convictions confirmed.

But a steady drumbeat of negative, hateful, and divisive messages changes our very culture and the principles upon which we claim to stand.  Our society must decide whether we are all in this together or it’s every man for himself.  The former outlook is the cement of a nation.  The latter is a ticket to a hellish nature red in tooth and claw.

Nothing will tear us apart more quickly than a bitter, mean-spirited, leader seeking to reduce a basically benevolent society to his level of hostility.  Such a leader is not seeking to make this country great again.  He is seeking to destroy the legacy of Lincoln, Roosevelt, Eisenhower and many others.

The pundits’ anguish over liberal or conservative misses the point.  If the decision of our time is whether America will lose or gain its soul, each of us has our own idea which path to follow.  But our new dilemma is not left or right, blue or red.  It is deep in our souls.  It is about our character as a nation.  It is about what kind of people we genuinely are.

In the political realm, character is usually determined by how power is used.  If it is used to create chaos and disruption by hiring, firing, and replacing as a demonstration of authority and the uses of distraction, that is not authentic power.  It is childish petulance.  Real power is wielded maturely, thoughtfully, and confidently.  Otherwise, it is merely a child breaking crockery to get the attention of adults.

Our current detour should not be seen as a nation regaining it strength and authority.  They were never lost.  We have almost always been great and, God willing, we will remain so despite our current thrashing about in search of policies that have never worked.

Power, authentic American power, is demonstrated by respect, not contempt, for the Constitutional principles and institutions created at our nation’s founding.  Running rough-shod over traditional norms of behavior demonstrates contempt not only for those norms but also the American people in whose name they are practiced.  Petulance, juvenile behavior, is not the mark of true strength or leadership.

As in our individual lives, our nation must always seek to make itself better, to improve on past mistakes, to behave with generosity and good will.  The sins of the warm hearted and those of the cold hearted, as Roosevelt observed, are weighed on different scales.



5 Responses to “A Choice of Who We Are”

  1. Paul G Says:


    Senator Hart’s “Who are We?” essay seems to me a yeatsian reflection on those of us who care about our fellow beings much as today’s generation inspires us now to act fearlessly but wisely in our mutual self-interest amid WH crazy:


    “We have many ways to live our lives, but two significant ones stand out. One is to be generous, big-hearted, concerned with others, helpful, and most of all kind … in times of widespread financial hardship or foreign threats everyday people do seem to soften and want to offer a helping hand. I remember this well from the end of the Great Depression .. pundits’ anguish over liberal or conservative misses the point … character is usually determined by how power is used … The sins of the warm hearted and those of the cold hearted, as Roosevelt observed, are weighed on different scales.”

    – Gary Hart, 2018


    “I hate journalists. There is nothing in them but tittering jeering emptiness. They have all made what Dante calls the Great Refusal, — that is they have ceased to be self-centered, have given up their individuality …. The shallowest people on the ridge of the earth.”

    – WB Yeats, 1888


    “I that have not your faith, how shall I know
    That in the blinding light beyond the grave
    We’ll find so good a thing as that we have lost?
    The hourly kindness, the day’s common speech,
    The habitual content of each with each
    When neither soul nor body has been crossed.”

    – WB Yeats, 1910

  2. Tyler Says:

    Senator, I think Trumpism will be soundly rejected in the mid-term elections. Only 40 percent of the country think he is doing a good job as president.

  3. Paul G Says:


    Contrary to jeering decades of solution-empty-horse-race journalist-pundits, today’s young people are proving their dedication to the primary principle Senator Hart has long proclaimed for US victory: an incorruptible republic.

    By organizing and marching for their lives in most major US cities last week, these inspiring youngsters began their life-long mission to earn the right to an education free from fear of gunfire’s blinding light for all our children.

    However slowly tittering mean-spirited journalists and lobbyist-politicians may dissolve in the blaze of enlightenment these dedicated young people have so recently sparked, our students urgently need its older but wiser statesmen to keep our founders’ trampled torch aflame; to restore our republic.

  4. Eric Jacobson Says:

    Thank you Paul G for the WB Yeats quote! The poet captured the “homo jounalistus” species perfectly. The only modern writer I know who has expressed anything close to the insight of Yeats into the at once superficial other-directed and insufferably arrogant, non-objective and parasitical character of what the late great Richard ben Kramer memorably called “bigfoot journalists” is Janet Malcolm. She famously wrote:

    “Every journalist who is not too stupid or full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people’s vanity, ignorance, or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse….The writer ultimately tires of the subject’s self-serving story, and substitutes a story of his own.” https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/791731

    I echoed Yeats’s view (without knowing of it) in a tweet on the host’s birthday last November, which noted that Sen. Hart “was the future once” and added: “G-d damn the mainstream media”:
    https://twitter.com/ECJLA/status/935594034461995008 . I guess Yeats would be proud.

    What galled me most “back in the day” is that these feckless reporters (most but not all of whom were themselves politically non-conservative) disrespected Sen. Hart’s 1984 achievement in halting President Reagan’s atavistic rightist counter-revolution against America’s center-left post-WW2 political consensus, and almost “nipping Reaganism in the bud.” See this Gallup poll: https://www.nytimes.com/1984/03/09/us/gallup-s-survey-gives-hart-9-point-lead-over-reagan.html. The host and his pick-up campaign team comprised of a few experienced hands (including Frank Mankiewicz, Patrick Caddell and Ray Strother and many political novices knew what they (we) were doing (overall) in 1984 and likewise had the Republicans’ number in 1988.

    Journalists preempted our scheduled- and launched 2 year political war with the GOP on May 1, 1987 and converted it into a 7 day flame war with the media. The media won that battle 3+ decades ago against Sen. Hart and his supporters but those same journalists must now admit they lost the war: “Big league!” They have been demoted from their self-appointed role as political gate-keepers to merely marginal contributors to a societal narrative and issue-framing-function that for years has been occurring mostly online and in the streets (via Occupy, Black Lives Matter, Bernie Sanders’s real-populist campaign, Trump’s fake-populist campaign, the Resistance to Trump, and now March for Our Lives).

    For example, during the week of the 15th anniversary of the launch of the infernal Iraq War I helped get at least a modest amount of attention paid to the sad occasion by tweeting a link to the host’s important interview with Charlie Rose on the day the ruinous and illegal war began. See https://charlierose.com/videos/16105 . My tweet is here: https://twitter.com/ECJLA/status/975985078894346241 .

    During his appearance on Rose’s show Sen. Hart thoughtfully discussed the path not taken and one reason why it wasn’t: A prominent Senator the host had consulted-with (seemingly John Kerry) declined to support Sen. Hart’s proposal for intrusive permanent inspections as a Democratic Party alternative. Full support for the host’s proposal by elected Congressional Democrats may have politically prevented President Bush from launching the war that has so indelibly stained our country’s escutcheon.

    I was more successful at helping with issue-framing (albeit still in a small way in the scheme of things) on Monday, when I responded to Katrina vandenHeuvel’s tweet commending a NY Times op-ed suggesting U.S. negotiations with the Taliban over Afghanistan’s future. My responsive tweet quoted and linked-to a clip of President Kennedy’s UN speech in 1961 declaring in part that “we will never negotiate out of fear and we never fear to negotiate.” It was retweeted by 11 people who between them had over 200,000 followers! (Not bad for a few minutes worth of effort.)

    Perhaps most importantly (because it reflects the current Zeitgeist featuring widespread upset over the uncouth, uncultured, unstatesmanlike president and a yearning for better days): A fellow describing himself as a 21 year army veteran and civil engineer who says in his mini-bio “life experience made me a liberal” replied to my tweet quoting JFK by saying: “Oh how I wish we had that eloquence in speech from our leaders now.” See https://twitter.com/ECJLA/status/978455045304758272 . Hear hear!

    These are but a couple of examples of the multiplier effect (message dissemination power) and feedback-loop of social media and why it will be THE communications platform of presidential politics going forward (all the pearl-clutching by older-age-cohort establishmentarian elites to the contrary notwithstanding).

    For that reason events like this one ( https://www.politico.com/story/2018/03/27/obama-fundraiser-beverly-hills-488644 ) — an upcoming Beverly Hills $75,000 a person ticketed fundraiser for Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill with the usual Democratic Hollywood elite suspects and attended by Barack Obama, most of the proceeds of which will be squandered on prosaic tv ads prepared and placed by mainstream Democratic consultants — are fast becoming passe and the political equivalent of “fighting the last war”.

    The era of old-school fundraising from the 1% “donor class” who fund Democratic candidates who will make public policy between “the 40 yard lines” (on the left-right political spectrum) is OVER. Bernie Sanders’s $27 mass donation model has won the populist day and impugned the legitimacy of Democrats (at least at the presidential candidate level) employing the old large-donor based model.

    The president who comes next isn’t going to fund-raise, campaign and be elected this traditional way and his or her administration isn’t going to look (at all) like either Obama’s bygone small-bore centrist Democratic presidency or Trump’s nihilistic Republican s—show, which may now be about to take a turn towards another of our endless criminal wars. (Btw, I blame them ALL on those asinine journalists and publishers who character-assassinated Sen. Hart: https://twitter.com/ECJLA/status/972550356478521344 .)

    The next president will be someone who understands intuitively what Leonard Cohen meant in this song, titled “Anthem”, from his prescient 1992 album “The Future” (particularly the 1st and 5th verses:
    (1992 original recording)
    (2008 concert recording with Leonard and his band of brothers and sisters)

    The birds, they sang
    At the break of day
    Start again, I heard them say
    Don’t dwell on what has passed away
    Or what is yet to be.

    Yeah, the wars
    They will be fought again
    The holy dove
    She will be caught again
    Bought and sold and bought again
    The dove is never free.

    Ring the bells that still can ring
    Forget your perfect offering
    There is a crack, a crack in everything
    That’s how the light gets in.

    We asked for signs
    The signs were sent:
    The birth betrayed
    The marriage spent
    Yeah, the widowhood of every government
    Signs for all to see.

    I can’t run no more
    With that lawless crowd
    While the killers in high places say their prayers out loud
    But they’ve summoned, they’ve summoned up a thundercloud
    They’re gonna hear from me.

    Ring the bells that still can ring …

    You can add up the parts
    You won’t have the sum
    You can strike up the march
    There is no drum
    Every heart, every heart
    To love, will come
    But like a refugee.

    Ring the bells that still can ring…

    Ring the bells that still can ring
    Forget your perfect offering
    There is a crack, a crack in everything
    That’s how the light gets in
    That’s how the light gets in
    That’s how the light gets in.

  5. Tom Gee Says:

    As with friends Paul and Eric, I applaud Sen. Hart’s continued enlightenment and inspiration. Having come up in the same “Ask not” generation, it is difficult to fathom the depths to which we seem to have sunk. Yet, just when we needed it, along comes the “March for our Lives” youth to give us renewed hope.

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