“New Ideas”

Author: Gary Hart

A few days ago the New York Times contained an essay suggesting there were few if any big ideas these days. Readers responded by pointing out new developments in science and other fields. Quite a number of years ago, as a candidate for national office, my campaign was characterized as featuring “new ideas.” So the topic is of personal interest.

In my own case, I outlined a new national economics that took advantage of, rather than resisted, globalization and information to expand the economic pie, a foreign policy that looked beyond the Cold War to a century of new international alliances, and a defense policy based on detailed military reforms for emerging unconventional conflicts, anticipating Afghanistan and Iraq. In an age of media compression that demanded sound bites rather than comprehensive policies, it was thought to be very clever to ask “where’s the beef”, since those ideas could not be reduced to sound bites.

All of this leads to two distinct possibilities: one is that big ideas require room to breath, especially in a media environment used to advertising slogans; and the other is that our opinion environment is dominated by insider establishments that don’t wish to recognize big or new ideas that arise outside those establishments. There is, for example, a foreign policy establishment, and a closely related though distinct national security establishment, and a separate economic establishment. As is often pointed out, these establishments are almost exclusively located in New York, Washington, and Boston. Their members meet in the same places, read the same opinions, and listen to the same speakers. If you are not an active member of those establishments, your ideas are rarely given much attention, let alone credibility.

This all came to mind by an invitation to provide a forward to a forthcoming book, Natural Security, by Professor Rafe Sagarin, Jr. The author proposes that nature’s organic adaptability to change provides a new way of thinking about and structuring our national security. It is new, very interesting, and provocative. One of two things will happen: it will either be ignored by the national security “priesthood”, or young combat officers and veterans will pick up the idea and discuss it within their own circles. I very much hope the latter will occur. And it is quite possible both will happen.

There are big ideas and new ideas. Those of us who are not establishment members must use the new media, which provides the chance to expand on ideas beyond the sound bite, to circulate and discuss those ideas, give them room to breath, and hopefully overpower elite establishments still stuck in traditional thinking.

5 Responses to ““New Ideas””

  1. Stephen D. Pillow Says:

    Senator Hart,

    As a volunteer in Georgia for your 1988 Presidential campaign I remember well the media requests for sound bites on your positions on the economy, education, foreign policy, military reform, and the changing role for America in the coming years. While accompanying you on several campaign tours through the state, I would be asked what your views were on such topics, or what I thought that you were saying. I used a tactic that I saw you use on numerous occasions of holding up a copy of “Reform, Hope, and the Human Factor: Ideas for National Restructuring” and would ask the reporter if he or she had read it. If they said yes, then I would say that they had the answer. If they said no, I would give them a copy and ask them to do so and that would answer their question. I still have my copy of this wonderful collection and often return to it for it is as vital and informative today as it was in 1988.

    Thank you for my copy and for the education and friendship that I received from working with you.

  2. Danann Says:

    Love you, Gary Hart.

  3. Wm Scott Pappert Says:

    Senator Hart, thanks for the reminder. Your point is quite subtle. What Americans need is for a generational shift as not only as those ideas circulating in the elite circles considered relevant, but the genesis and implementation of these ideas circulate within the same generations of politicians. Interestingly, the advent of the ‘Arab Spring’ for example has fundamentally challenged the foundation of some of these politicians, think tankers and American’s beliefs in areas of foreign policy for example. Evolving data on climate change and it’s impact on demographic shifts and conflict is another example influencing re-thinking on policy abroad. Discussion about the relevance of more traditional military strategy is taking place in some mainstream think tanks. Richard Haass’s theory of globalization producing a non-polar world and what that might mean for a future American military as well as Joseph Nye’s theories of the need to proportionally shift employment of hard power to soft are pertinent example’s rethink for an evolving world. But these are the fairly elite establishments of Boston and New York. Another excellent example of ‘outsider thinking’ permeating mainstream thinking pertains to an American green revolution as the Hawkens, Lovins book ‘Natural Capitalism’ outlines. Bill Clinton’s review stated that it proves beyond a reasonable doubt that current technologies will allow us to become richer by cleaning the environment rather than spoiling it. I appreciate the need for especially the use of social media to permeate those outside the elite think tanks but let’s remain hopeful for the ability to influence the elite insiders as well.

  4. Bill Pruden Says:

    We do indeed need new ideas and happily there are provocative and creative thinkers–like Senator Hart–out there, ready to engage us with their efforts. And yet all the ideas in the world will be of no value if we cannot get away from the shrieking pundits whose ideologically driven efforts pass for discussion and analysis in the modern world. Ideas need to be reflected upon, received and considered with appropriate respect. Their development requires thoughtful and reasoned exchanges and discussion, the likes of which we too seldom see in a society in which a political debate now takes the form of trading sound bites. We need a return to thoughtful and civilized discourse. Ideas treated with the respect that such an approach entails can help achieve meaningful change, and that, as Senator Hart’s career has demonstrated, must be the ultimate goal.

  5. Mike Galvin Says:

    We need someone to stand up for the middle class. Change the national debate.

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