What’s Going On Here

Author: Gary Hart

A confession: I don’t understand politics anymore.  Major changes since my days of service and involvement include social media, small dollar fund raising (enabled by social media), identity politics, the happy explosion of women leaders, the emergence of little known candidates on the national scene, every person a pundit era, and much more.

All these changes strengthen democracy.  But they also make the practice of democracy less predictable and less controllable.  The political stage is much larger.  And no one manages it.

Look at what Donald Trump has done to the Republican Party.  Look at chaos in Iowa.  Look at a 30 something small town Mayor becoming a top tier presidential candidate.  Everyday Americans think no one is in charge, and they are right.

Democracy is richer, but at the price of public confidence in political institutions.

Typically, we want a show.  But we want a sense that adults are running the show.

One of the prices of the current show is the disappearance of statesmen (of both genders).  America surges when it is led by men and women of experience, training, depth, gravitas, and confidence.

There they were during and after World War II.  They created a new world order out of ruins.  Up until about three years ago, that order based on allied Western democracies managed global affairs reasonably well.  Now it is being shredded by a President who doesn’t care to understand it.  Statesmanship be damned.

If you have no taste or talent for diplomacy on a grand scale, just shrink the stage and fill the void with unwinnable skirmishes.  At least your “base” will be entertained.  Who would have thought to reduce domestic and global politics to a game show.

There is a price to be paid, however, for politics as an amateur hour.  It is the loss of confidence in government.  Unbound by the structures and institutions established by our Constitution, and ignorance of them, virtually anyone can come off the bench and take a hammer to 240 years of experience.

This is the price of presidential assassinations, Watergate, Vietnam, the Pentagon papers, and a range of extra-Constitutional activities.  When Americans lose confidence in their government, they conclude they can elect anyone and it won’t matter.

In the democratic world, governments are elected and then re-elected or replaced.  Citizen trust is required to lend a government legitimacy.  When trust, or confidence, is forfeited, a government sacrifices legitimacy.

But Americans’ confidence in their government has not only been sacrificed by the events already mentioned but also by a drumbeat of attacks on our government by those who seek to manage it.  Three or more decades ago, it became fashionable for candidates for office to attack the very government (“Washington”) they were seeking to participate in.

It is one thing to do this during an era such as Watergate, or when an administration or president or a single Party goes off the rails, and quite another to claim that the whole system of government (“Washington”) is corrupt and illegitimate and not to be trusted.

The assault on “Washington” has lost some steam given the number of elected and appointed officials going through the revolving door of office-lobbying-office-lobbying, etc., and never returning home.  Washington, it turns out, is not so bad after you get there.

The issue is the protection and preservation of democracy itself.  Change is a constant and democracy must adapt to social, cultural, and political changes.  Democracy is, after all, not a rigid structure.  It is rather a set of principles, rules, and processes.

We were bequeathed a Republic…if we can keep it.  Right now we are not doing a very good job at keeping it.


9 Responses to “What’s Going On Here”

  1. Michael Says:

    Yes, it’s chaotic out there. We are living through a period of technological and economic disruption, and that has to mean political disorder as well. To better understand it, I think we also need to consider how much the collapse of the Soviet Union – the elimination of a clear enemy and existential threat – had in all this. Yes, people had lost faith in government before its collapse because of the things Senator Hart listed. But the importance of the international institutions we developed after WWII was never in doubt, nor was a respect for the experience of politicians. Suddenly the rules that governed a bi-polar world for 50 years were erased. We were able to do things that were off limits before, like invent excuses to invade Iraq, a former Soviet client. And it wasn’t just the military threat the USSR posed that was removed. It was still an alternative economic model, even if much less so than in earlier decades. I don’t think it was a coincidence that left and center-left political parties, from the Democrats here, to the SDP in Germany and others, began adopting the neo-liberal economics that led to the alienation of much their traditional working-class support AFTER the collapse of the East Bloc. There are many factors that led to the freak show now running the country. We can only hope that the majority of Americans are sick of it and are longing for stability and competence again.


    Senator Hart, here reveals each comment, the understanding of politics far more than most half his age.

    Happily back here regularly, a family situation, yes one in the good old US of A, has taken up time, effort, thoughts, not least a long visit there very busy in NJ!

    Am back as a reader, commentator, and seeing some of the much that I missed, realise why I missed it, the decency, intelligence, conscience, ideas, style, and substance, that reflects from and due to, each post here and each poster.

    We need far more like this wise Senator and this website.

    We who know it, say, that, Senator Hart you understand politics as it was and is and should be and could be, and some of us shall continue to help make it be…


    P. S.

    Elizabeth and all our chums, good to read you too!

  4. H Patrick Pritchard Says:

    It is important to remember that two of the main ingredients in building trust in governance is competence and reliability. Today those two ingredients seem to be in short supply. As I was listening to the Nevada debate the other night an ancient refrain kept running through my head. It is a refrain Senator Hart is most familiar with. “Where’s the beef?” I believe this to be a very important question directed to the more progressive elements of the Democratic party.

    The cries for Medicare for all, free college tuition, college debt forgiveness, and the reduction of medical cost are catchy campaign fodder and noble ideas, but no one seems to know how we get from now to then without causing major economic disruptions.
    If anyone has a clear path to these goals they are keeping it under wraps. Has anyone done a solid cost analysis on the switch from the current healthcare system to Medicare for all and the overall cost to the economy in terms of economic investments and jobs? I doubt it. Indeed where is the beef?

    We keep hearing about Denmark, Sweden, the UK, etc. healthcare and educational systems, but those countries do not have economic burdens this country has placed on itself for defence spending, national security, foreign aid and assistance around the globe, not to mention the costly wars in the Middle East as well as the 500 lb. gorilla in the room a $22 trillion dollar national debt. Just for laughs lets throw in the cost of subsidies to the private sector.

    Let’s get real. If you want to enact an progressive agenda you will need Congressional support. You need to not only win the Presidency, you must hold your majority in the House and flip the Senate by a substantial margin. Who among the current Democratic candidates has strong enough coat tails to pull that feat off?
    It took FDR and the Great Depression to pull it off the last time!

    You’ll need Democratic majorities in both Houses just to scrub the enacted Trump tax plan as well not to mention plans for a tax overhaul on the wealthy.

    How long will an administration last that can’t deliver a promised aggressive progressive agenda?

    A third and most important element of building trust in governance is communication. The mainstream media debilitates this process when candidates are given a minute and fifteen seconds to explain their plans for dealing with the issues. Their questions seem to be geared to the creation of usable sound bites for later replay. Unfortunately I don’t have a good remedy for this phenomena, but if given the proper incentive I’m sure experts in the communication field could develop one.

    Former President Obama made clear during his campaigns that change could not come overnight and it would take maximum and sustained effort by the electorate to accomplish change. Somehow that message got buried in the excitement of the moment. Barring a major national calamity. Progressive ideas can be enacted but it will take time and maximum effort on the part of a willing nation to support those changes. That will only happen when we can answer the question: “Where’s the Beef?”

  5. Gary Hart Says:

    Welcome back, Lorenzo. We have been missing you. Hope all is well with your family.
    And to cousin Patrick, the irony of the where’s the beef is that its author new full well that there were volumes of support for ideas of military reform, globalization, the information revolution, and other key themes in my campaign. GH

  6. H Patrick Pritchard Says:

    You are absolutely correct dear cousin. Mondale had no beef to speak of!

  7. Brian McCarthy Says:

    Senator, it seems to all come back to social media and the internet: it is a sad irony that these tools, which should have opened up democracy to information and participation, concurrently opened the door to even greater amounts of misinformation and manipulation. Now, no one trusts sources of information – whether of opinion, fact, or pure fiction – that are not blatantly aligned with their point of view and preconceived notions of what sources provide real vs “fake” news. How different history would be if all leaders dismissed all information they disliked as fake news.

    I add my name to the list of those glad to see Lorenzo back.



    A very warm thanks to Senator Hart, as always a man far more than a politician, for his lovely comment. A family situation that has begun to resolve itself, or become solved, with much input from my wife and myself, is the source of the pull away from here and much online recently, do really appreciate becoming active herein again, spurred on by such camaraderie.

    As ever Brian here talks sense and expresses similar sentiments to our great host, also greatly appreciated, with thanks.

  9. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Lorenzo, so happy to see you back as you have been missed but understand that family always prevails. Your wise words and others here always add to the wonderful spirit of Matters of Principle, a true refuge in uncertain times.

Leave a Reply

All comments are reviewed by a moderator prior to approval and are subject to the UCD blog use policy.