Goodbye to Politics

Author: Gary Hart

Goodby to Politics

Sometime back, doesn’t matter exactly when, politics said goodby to me.  I didn’t say goodby to it.  As an avenue for active citizenship, it fundamentally changed.

There was a time, years ago, for no apparant reason of birth or training I had a keen insight into American politics.  I understood it about as well as anyone and could practice it about as well as anyone.  Then, everything began to change.

Instead of politics as an avenue for service, it became a road to wealth.  Instead of the means to define the national interest, it became a career and a stepping stone to behind the scenes influence.  Instead of a noble ideal, it became a battleground for hard core ideologues looking for a fight.

I am not naive.  There have always been cynics, maneuverers, and hacks in American politics.  But they were no more than hangers-on and bottom-feeders, not the mainstream practitioners.  Even the most Machiavellian manipulators, say the Lyndon Johnson of the old political school, often practiced their art to achieve a noble social cause.  Power is where power goes, he once said.

Then came assassinations, Cold War deceits all around, Watergate, and much more.  And it was as if a kind of Gresham’s law of politics took over.  Bad politics drove out good politics.

Those diminishing few of us who saw ideals more important than careers and the national interest more important than a narrow, vindictive, and mean special agenda, now find it necessary to move on and abandon the field of today’s unproductive politics to those who understand and relish it as a path to a lifetime office-holding career or to great lobbying wealth.

But this thought lingers.  Someday, somehow, America will long for a restoration of its ideals and its nobility and it will once again turn to young women and men who understand politics to be unselfish, a way to serve, and a process for the creation of a better society and world.  May that day come soon.

19 Responses to “Goodbye to Politics”

  1. Bill Pruden Says:

    There is no small irony to the fact that Senator Hart’s plaintive cry for a return to the nobilty that politics once represented comes a day after Memorial Day, a day on which we honor those who sacrificed their lives in defense of the noble experiment in government that is the United States. Unfortunately that experiment is, as the Senator notes, being perverted and undermined by less honorable instincts. As an educator who once, long ago, aspired to a career in politics as public service, I believe deeply that one of the great challenges of our time is to rekindle the flame of idealism and the ethos of service that were a foundation for politicians in times past. Idealism and wielding power are not mutally exclusive, but power unconnected to ideals can serve no public purpose. That connection must be reaffirmed if we are to further the distinctive experiment that is the United States of America.

  2. Usama Tariq Says:

    Gary, I’m an amateur in politics, studying in a land far away from my roots. I must say, standing on and sticking to principles is what i admire about you the most. By now, I just looked at the T.Jefferson quote above, ” In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock”. In the end it just boils down to what Kipling wrote, If you can keep your head while everyone is losing theirs, You can be a Man my son.^ Bill is right, power unconnected to ideals can serve no public good for it evolves into absolute power and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

  3. Mary Wetzel Says:

    I sincerely hope that education, strong families, and moral structure can turn the political arena around. The self centered structure of the present system worries me to distraction. I pray for more good caring intelligent service minded men and women in government.
    Thank you for your article and I hope that our basic backbone in the USA can heal itself and save the USA from the new breed of self-serving and selfish individuals at all levels.

  4. John Mitchell Says:

    It appears to me that there is a correlation between the shift to the profit motive as a basis for political engagement, identified by Senator Hart, and the encroachment of publicly corporations into political life recently endorsed by the Supreme Court. Publicly held for-profit corporations are incapable of having a sleepless night, of worrying about the future, of wanting what is best for human children, of feeling sorry when a human gets hurt, of feeling empathy when a human suffers a loss. The fact that humans may experience some of those things as a result of the corporation’s actions is inconsequential, except insofar as there is an opportunity to sell sleeping pills and aspirin. As for war, the for profit corporation can only see it as an opportunity for profit, and if loss of human life is part of the equation, as an opportunity to profit from that. (Even the body bag company makes a profit, doesn’t it?) If corporate managers “do the right thing” in human, moral terms, for the sole purpose of doing the right thing, they could be sued by shareholders for wasting corporate assets. Whenever we hear those commercials about how morally “good” a publicly held corporation is, we must remind ourselves that it is always motivated by profit – because that is the legal obligation of its management.

    As politicians perpetually facilitated the freedom of publicly held corporations to fashion human public policy, and as the Supreme Court eventually blessed the freedom of non-voting publicly held corporations with a “First Amendment right” to persuade humans which way to cast their votes, it is no wonder that politicians seeking election of re-election will try to appear “friendly” to the interests of those with the greatest power, money and (now) voice to influence elections.

    We need to return to those fundamental civil rights principles, wherein corporations are treated as the mere property that they are, and humans rule the world. We need to rise up against corporations giving each other “corporate discounts” denied to mere mortals, a form of race discrimination by corporations against the entire human race, as but one example. We need also to understand that giving corporations such power simply multiplies the power that the wealthy owners and managers of these corporations already have.

    Rant finished.

  5. magnolia girl Says:

    That about sums it Gary. Very sad indeed.

  6. Holly Says:

    We already have young idealists wanting to serve. How do you suggest they obtain the financing required to effectively campaign against the corporate sponsored candidates wihen our election process is essentially legally corrupt?

  7. Jim Says:

    Case in point, once had a friend who went to Washington as a staffer and ended up spending years as a lobbyist say to my wife, “I went to Washington to do good and I ended up doing very well”. It is frustrating for me to often times not even recognize the country that I have felt so blessed to be a part of.

  8. Tim Leavitt Says:

    Idealism and service in politics has been drowned out by big money. Unless that changes idealism will be continue to soffocate.
    Americas latest big business is political campaigning. It has become an industry unto itself. The money involved in the new never ending campaign cycles is enormous. Estimates are that Obama will raise and spend a billion dollars. That is only one candidate running for one election. When there is that much money being raised and spend, you can bet that the people doing it have a vested interest in keeping the campaigning going full time. The campaign consulting industry is now exporting this rot to the UK, Canada and many other countries. Someone should warn them before it’s too late. Already Britain’s conservative party is being run by imported Republican operatives. God help them.
    This merger of campaign management industry and cable news/new talk radio is destroying anything left that resembles a valuable political process. This industry is built on distortion. It’s what they are paid to do.
    Media today has no interest in changing things because they receive to much in advertizing dollars and too much cheap cable punditry with the never ending campaigning. The campaign consulting industry is getting fat by arming both camps that are eagerly engaging in a never ending war.
    Until this system is altered even the best and nobelist of candidates will be overwhelmed by this corrupting.

  9. Soundtech Says:

    As much as I agree with the hope of a reversal of the political motivation back to public service, I do not see any chance that that will happen. Our republic is dead, transformed via “legal” means into a nation at war with an ideology which will never end. We might as well hope that the Caesars would step down and allow the Roman Republic to again be the governing body. We’ll see that happen long before we ever see the corporations release their stranglehold on this nation.

  10. Will Says:

    Sad but true

  11. Tom Gee Says:

    Being of the same generation, I have pretty much had the same ride as Senator Hart along the road from the early 60s, when idealism abounded, to now, when it is all but dead, though he was more the driver and I the passenger. I got to participate in the creation of the Peace Corps, Head Start, the Job Corps, Upward Bound, VISTA, and so many other good and decent government solutions. I got to support a few great candidates for high public office, including most particularly Senator Hart and President Obama. But, unfortunately, what I now remember most is the relentless thirty-some year “The government is the problem” refrain begun by the Reagan revolution. Several presidential candidacies have been launched on that simple idiocy. A TV network was founded and has flourished. And, on and on. So sad.

  12. Pat Boice Says:

    Agree with Sen. Hart’s blog, and also with Mr. Pruden above. My question is: what needs to be done to effect this “return to the nobility that politics once represented”? Is it only the responsibility of our educational system? Do parents need to be re-educated? The conservative “think” tanks have been very effective in educating a significant portion of voters to think “government is bad”. Do we have effective liberal/progressive think tanks that are as effective? Certainly the Press could have a role, but it appears they, too, have deserted their nobler calling in favor of more sensational reporting. What a dilemma! Senator Hart, you are an encouraging voice – how do we get a wider audience for your blog?

  13. Gary Hart Says:

    The consistent theme in these thoughtful comments is the impact of big money as a crushing weight on idealism. As a former campaign finance reformer, I hold out little hope for reform in the near term. Except, the Internet opens up an extraordinarily powerful chance for a small dollar impact on campaigns. Its potential has yet to be fully realized. Usually reform of our laws occurs only after a major financial scandal. Responding to Holly, I do believe young people can make an impact either through seeking office, working in political campaigns, or participating in causes. There is no simply answer or avenue, but it can be done. There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.

  14. lark Says:

    I cannot disagree with John Mitchell. Money rules in politics, not ideals, not dreams of a better future, just greed. I love this country so much. I have been blessed to have been in all 48 lower states. What I have learned is that this is a beautiful country, and good people live in each state. I have also learned, to my dismay, that we, the people may love our country, but many of the politicians and all of the big business world love only money. It must change, or we will lose all those ideals of goodness and liberty.

  15. Stephen D. Pillow Says:

    Thank you Senator Hart. I had the honor and privilege of serving with you during your 1988 Presidential campaign and viewing first hand many of the ideals of which you speak. I have recently been working on a viable option to the current two party system that has been the mainstay of our election process for most, if not all, of the history of this great democratic republic. Until there is a viable option to both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party in this country, the Middle Class will have no true representation in government, be it federal, state, or local. But nothing will be done to resolve any of this until and unless the Middle Class starts a grassroots movement to address this issue. However, there has to be someone, be it an individual or a like-minded group of individuals, who is willing to step forward, create a philosophy for the movement, think through the processes necessary to put the movement in place, and then produce and propagate the material (and I don’t mean “propaganda”) in such a manner that the majority of the Middle Class, regardless of race, sex, or creed, can identify with and support the goals of such movement. Until such time as this occurs, the Middle Class is doomed to be the pawn of both Parties and pay the bills for both. Hopefully the “new boss” won’t be “same as the old boss”. Too often though, The Who have been proven right. We will have to work to insure that this doesn’t happen. Let us all work together so that “we don’t get fooled again.”

  16. Jim Engelking Says:

    Despite your having been deserted by the “new politics,” Gary, you have not left politics. Thank you, and don’t ever do it. We the people need people who care about us, and who have the abilities to lead us, to help us help ourselves and each other. Not to do it for us, but to engage with us, challenge us, encourage us. Run the race with us to the finish line. The thoughtful commentary over the past 10 days is very encouraging to me, as is the expressed desire by at least one young person to become more involved. For the last three years, I have worked with and mentored young Democrats in Jefferson County, Colorado, and I am enouraged by their intelligence, perseverance, and willingness to work hard to change what my generation has left for them. I have learned a lot from them, continue to look for opportunities for them, and will not abandon them. They know this is hard work, and that does not scare them. We can do this!

  17. Ken Dean Says:

    Never under-estimate the power of the dark side.
    Forces of light are far greater, and a disturbance to the shadow side of politics. Senator Hart was a radiant beam of light in a troubled time. One can only take on centers of power so long, before those centers of power, strike back. Senator Hart was (and remains) a warrior in the “Good Fight” — right from the start. A rare treasure in American politics. Also a treasure to have known him and helped him. Perhaps one last noble chapter remains to be written in Senator Hart’s public career. The crown jewel from an elder of the American wisdom tradition. We pray the forces of higher good will call it forth. Time and patience, patience and time. A motto he spoke of 39 years ago, which remains forever with us who heard it.

  18. Leon Galindo Says:

    I live and come from a nation and family where “bad politics” took over from the start. Bolivia is and remains today a nation filled with conflict, injustice, social disparities, poverty, and contradictions of all kinds, a nation run in the recent past by “free-market, democracy-loving neoliberals” and now run by neo-socialists, both parties and watered-down ideologies dominated by people who practice the devastating form of politics Mr. Hart sadly decries. Citizens of America — look to where Bolivia is today to see the future if dedication to the values and ideals of the US Founding Fathers does not once again take center stage.

  19. Adam Gladstone Says:

    Sen. Hart,

    This is all the more reason why we need more people like you involved in politics. Unfortunately today, with all the monied interests and influence, the political machine only spits out the same lobbyist inspired pablum as national leaders. We need a new national voice who will harness the power of the people through the internet and really voice the change that we need so desparately at this time. Democracy’s last hope is that the voice of the people will be heard through instruments like the internet over the corporate monied interests over every other means of communication.

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