One side sees the U.S. government as a barrier to economic opportunity and individual freedom, and the other side sees the same government as the instrument by which social justice is achieved. Since it is the same government, the difference must be in the preconceptions of the antagonistic sides.

From the early division between the Federalists and the Republicans onward, this confrontation has continued, abated only during times of national danger—depression or war. Without the external danger of an attack or collapse, however, we’ve proved unable to coalesce and reach any kind of durable consensus on what kind of government we want and what kind of society we want.

Late in life I’ve lost hope that we will ever agree on these fundamental questions, that we will ever become a mature society, that we will ever, in a word, grow up. Perhaps it’s in the American character always to want to re-litigate every question, to never accept a decision as final, to presume that every policy, even those agreed to by a large majority, ought to be challenged repeatedly.

Central to this characteristic is the notion that conservative presidents and Congresses seriously intend to diminish the size of government. They never do. They never have. The common response to this truth is that “liberals won’t let them.” That is nonsense. Who won’t let them are the American people, the very people who vote for conservative candidates believing that the government they intend to shrink is a different government than the one that provides the services they want and demand.

This kind of profound immaturity leads its believers to accept totally fallacious notions that eliminating “waste, fraud, and abuse” or plundering discretionary programs alone will balance the budget. The same people are outraged when spending is reduced and they are required to wait for attention to receive the benefits from program they like.

All government programs are enacted by Congress and approved by the president, both elected by a majority of the people. Those who may not like or want those programs have a quarrel not with “the government” but with their fellow citizens. But wait, aren’t some of those programs and policies the product of special interest pressure (Wall Street, etc.) and a corrupt campaign finance system? You bet. And the Constitutional remedy for that is to organize opposition to Members of Congress who support the special interests. Yet, more often than not, those angered by “big government” and special interest politics persist in returning those same Members of Congress to repeated terms.

All of this is, or should be, pretty obvious. But the deeper question raised at the outset really is about how we see our country: Are we a collection of individuals out for ourselves, or are we a society, a nation of people with common interests? There is something economists call “economic man”, the individual who makes all important decisions based on self-interest. I believe there is also something called spiritual man and woman, human beings who care about each other, who share concerns for fairness and justice, who are unwilling to accept poverty among children, unemployment among the healthy, sickness among the elderly.

Sooner or later we’re going to have to decide which we are. Or perhaps we never will.

20 Responses to “Which Will It Be: The I or the We?”

  1. Pat Boice Says:

    What can I say?…Wow!!! You’ve done it again and hit the nail squarely on the head. I’m older than you are (78) and I too have become discouraged. Your blog today should be required reading for every voter as a condition to voting…well, maybe not the last part, but why, oh why do voters keep sending the people back to Congress to continue facilitating what the voters supposedly oppose?

    It would also be helpful if voters had some viable options at the polls…here in Idaho, particularly eastern Idaho, we have few choices.

    I’m forwarding your blog to our local newspaper.

  2. Paul G Says:

    Well, the senator asks a simple but powerful question, is it “I?” or “We?”

    Here’s an answer by hard-working and dedicated students who believe Senator Hart is one of few true leaders in our beloved republic to credibly lead US away from the abyss.

    We cannot afford another 4 years like the 4 we’re having right now!

    Who among today’s leaders, of either of the major parties, can credibly say they have not accepted “special interest” big money and therefore serve solely in our public interest?

    Who among today’s leaders, of either of the major parties, can credibly say they’ll “fight” Wall St. gamblers and banksters who still ‘oversee’ $700 Trillion derivatives and push their bailed-out stocks higher as they continue to rob homeowners, workers and students of livelihoods, liberties and lives with unnecessary wars?

    Who among today’s leaders, of either of the major parties, can credibly say to any but their blissfully blind supporters and career-seeking or job-saving followers, that they’ll lead our country with principled, single-minded focus solely on our republic’s future?

    Who among today’s leaders, of either of the major parties, can credibly speak to, let alone lead the growing worldwide “Occupy Wall Street” movement?

    We believe – several students and yours truly – that Statesman Gary Hart has the proven credentials to lead our republic away from the abyss through his growing wisdom of decades of accomplishments and his honorable refusal to be bought even at cost of the presidency.

    “We,” therefore, ask all Ye of Good Will Who Enter Here to sign our Petition to Senator Hart to join the debate and win the nomination; and to begin the change in direction our troubled republic desperately needs right now:

  3. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Required reading, Pat? More like required listening.

    No, this should form the basis of one in a series of oval office addresses to the nation that the POTUS should be required, if not inspired, to give, often and at length . . . ad Bidenitum. That’s a little joke.

    In other words, all we need is a healthy dose of mature presidential leadership, even if it may mean one term only.

  4. Gary Hart Says:

    You win the laugh prize, EM. “ad Bidenitum!” My friend and former colleague, VPOTUS, could deliver it well…and often.

  5. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Senator Hart,

    I accept that prize with great pleasure. 🙂

    Soon after Senator Biden made it known that a run for the presidency was in his future again, around about 2005, I began touting a Biden/Hagel ticket. Even after the Fiasco in Iowa, 2008 edition, I dreamed about a third option and fusion ticket. Then, of course, you couldn’t shut me up about why Senator Obama needed to select Biden as his number two.

    Lately, I’ve been thinking more about what might have been …

  6. Elizabeth Miller Says:


    I think it has something to do with lizard brains …

    >>> … why, oh why do voters keep sending the people back to Congress to continue facilitating what the voters supposedly oppose?

  7. Gary Hart Says:

    Most of us, EM, have reason to think about what might have been.

  8. Chris R. Says:

    “There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”

    RFK, paraphrasing George Bernard Shaw.

    Senator Hart,

    Is it not better to light a candle than to curse the darkness?

    Should we consider what yet may be in 2012, and January 20, 2013?

    The loyal Hartistas are ready to ride again!

  9. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    >>>Most of us, EM, have reason to think about what might have been.

    Well, Senator Hart, President Obama could put a stop to that kind of wasteful thinking and keep hope alive by making the case that you so eloquently outline here and putting that stark choice before the American people, at every opportunity, in every speech. He could also call out the nonsense emanating from the Republican cult of economic failure in each one of his remaining weekly addresses, from here until the election, and still not repeat himself!

    I wonder if it would make any difference if President Obama would take the bold step of asking voters to consider the proposition that divided government has become the equivalent of dysfunctional government, considering that the stated primary objective of the Republican leadership in Washington is to limit this president to one term, at all costs.

    It would be refreshing to hear President Obama ask voters, specifically and often, for their support and their vote in terms of ensuring that the outcome of the 2012 elections will seat a Democrat majority in the House and a filibuster-proof Democrat majority in the Senate, even if that is not mathematically and/or politically possible. He might also start harping on why a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate has become so essential to solving the enormous challenges facing the country.

    Why would the president not highlight all of the ways in which Republicans are obstructing important legislation that would benefit the country as a whole just because they don’t want to do anything that would benefit this president? Why, for example, does President Obama not make a public issue out of what the Republicans in the Senate are doing to prevent the important work of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from going forward?

    It seems to me that President Obama has a great opportunity to mobilize the floundering Occupy Wall Street “movement” by supplying them with the information they apparently need to understand how Republicans in Washington are doing everything in their power to stymie any progress this administration is attempting to make to address the protesters’ understandable concerns and to make the financial system more equitable and capable of weathering future financial crises without having to rely on taxpayer bailouts ever again. I hope it won’t be another failure to communicate and opportunity squandered.

    You know, the very last thing I thought I would ever have to worry about once Obama/Biden were elected was a failure to communicate coupled with so many squandered opportunities.

  10. Elizabeth Miller Says:


    >>>The loyal Hartistas are ready to ride again!

    That’s great! Because Obama/Biden/Geithner are going to need all the support they can get.

    That is what you meant, right?

    “Progress is a nice word. But change is its motivator. And, change has its enemies.”

    One good RFK quote – paraphrased or not – deserves another, I always say …

  11. George Harben Says:

    Sen. Hart, unlike all the other people commenting, I am disappointed. You sound like a defeatist or that you are defeated. You were too fine a public servant for that. The books you wrote that I read indicate a different, more thoughtful and hopeful man.

    You figured out how to nominate Sen. McGovern in 1972 against incredible and long odds given the rules of party back then. You did not give up then, so why now?

    I also disagree with your premise. The question is do you believe in wealth creation or wealth redistribution? The answer is central in what you expect a government to do. If you think wealth creation is the central question, then entrepreneurship is important, exporting is essential, the government should provide a strong K-12 basic education and other key services. Services like infrastructure, security, etc. It is when a government unit deviates from the core mission that conservatives question the expenditure and reasoning.

    I note your reference to special interest. Isn’t every group a special interest? You name conservative leaning groups but is not labor unions, environmental associations and public employee unions also special interest groups?

    Is it that we cannot agree or that one side (when in the minority) stops legislation we agree with? That is our democracy.

    I seriously doubt we can even agree on what the first question should be. However, that is a reflection of at least two strong, vibrant and intelligent political parties with different solutions. Both parties have good and honest members. The issues are complex and diverse. And sometimes stopping legislation is just as important as passing legislation.

    Finally, if people decide to give up, fine. Please do not vote. I have not given up. By you not voting it makes my vote count for more. Giving up is easy, participating is difficult, but well worth the effort.

  12. Paul G Says:

    One of the most watched videos of all time has allegorical power even for those who still seem willing to accept 4 more years of “leadership” by those who banked $1,000,000.00 “donations” from the lions of Wall Street. [Perhaps this explains in major part why they’ve since remained conflicted about boldly fighting for our hopes, our livelihoods and our liberties?]

    The contrast between their unprincipled government non-leadership for most of their first 4 years and recent campaign-speak is dramatic in the extreme.

    It’s time for “The Battle of Kruger”

    “Where’s the beef?” asks the clever fox as Wall Street’s lions, media crocodiles and hidden hyenas wait for “We The Wildebeef” to scatter and give up.

    “Never Give Up!” says the Wildebeef bull as he leads his ‘people’ to overcome their fear and encircle the cowardly lions whose greed seeks to kill the next generation of all hope.

    But, unlike the bull leader, our human leader has run away time after time from our public interest needs whenever they conflicted with powerful special interest needs.

    Our “leader” did this by endorsing and continuing his predecessor’s policies even while leading majorities in both houses in his first 2 years!

    Now, he eloquently claims to feel our triangulated pain as the lions, crocs and foxes laugh all the way to our kruger bank!

  13. Gary Hart Says:

    In response to Mr. Harben, I am not defeated. Simply frustrated that a mature nation cannot resolve fundamental issues, such as the role of government in creating a social safety net for those left out. This has nothing to do with wealth creation. Our economy is capitalist and presumably always will be. But most mature democracies have resolved basic social issues and are moving on. Every group is a special interest and most of us belong to one group or another. But the lobbying-campaign finance system now operating in Washington is corrupt and everyone knows it. There is something called the national interest that is greater than all the special interests put together. Most Americans want our legislators to pursue that national interest even when special interests (campaign contributors) put themselves first.

  14. Forest Book Says:

    “Nothing future is quite secure; states enough have inwardly rotted; and democracy as whole may undergo self-poisoning. But, on the other hand, democracy is a kind of religion, and we are bound not to admit its failure. Faiths and utopias are noblest exercise of human reason, and no one with a spark of reason in him will sit down fatalistically before the croaker’s picture. The best of us are filled with the contrary vision of democracy stumbling through every error till its institutions glow with justice and its customs shine with beauty. Our better men shall show the way and we shall follow them; so we are brought round again to the mission of the higher education in helping us know the better kind of man whenever we see him. > The notion that a people can run itself and its affairs anonymously is now well known to be the silliest of absurdities. Mankind does nothing save through initiatives on the part of inventors, great or small, and imitation by the rest of us – these are the sole factors of human progress. Individuals of genius show the way, and set the patterns, which common people then adopt and follow. The rivalry of the patterns is the history of the world. Our democratic problem thus statable in ultra-simple terms: Who are the kind of men from whom our majorities shall take their cue? Whom shall they treat as rightful leaders? We and our leaders are the x and the y of the equation here; all other historic circumstances, be they economical, political, or intellectual, are only the background occasion on which the living drama works itself out between us.” ‘The Philosophy of William James: The Individual & Society – The Function of Education in a Democracy’

  15. Chris R. Says:

    “I do not run for the Presidency merely to oppose any man, but to propose new policies. I run because I am convinced that this country is on a perilous course and because I have such strong feelings about what must be done, and I feel that I’m obliged to do all I can.”

    RFK statement of candidacy for the Presidency of the United States, March 16, 1968


    RFK was Senator Hart’s hero. I hope you like this quote too.

    I don’t recall Mr. Geithner being elected serve in his present job in the Obama administration. In fact his presence does not square with President Obama’s mantra of change in that election. I wise man had counseled President Obama to make a clean break with the past administration. President Obama clearly choose not to heed that advice. Obama/Biden now needs “all the help they can get”, as you stated, because they choose to continue with Mr. Geithner and Mr. Gates rather than truly embarking on a new course.

    Change does indeed have its enemies, and also its antagonists. Those people would not be occupying Wall Street and other venues if the administration had acted previously to address their problems, and harnessed their energy. The administration has appeared to be too timid to do what the electorate had voted for in 2008 and that has been reflected in an unemployment rate stuck above 9%. Considering that the big banks got bailed out but not middle and lower classes, it is not surprising that President Obama’s personal approval rating is now under 40% while his disapproval rating now over 50% in the latest Gallup tracking numbers. With the Democratic Caucus holding 23 of the 33 Senate seats up for reelection in 2012, President Obama could very well lose the Senate if the present trend continues on election day. Senator Hart survived the 1980 Republican landslide, but the nation lost some very distinguished Democratic Senators in that election. We can’t afford to see that happen. This election is just too important.

    Lastly, as Joe Biden might say, “the bloom is off the rose” for this administration. I have met VP Biden, and while I respect his service, he perhaps represents much of what is wrong with the modern Democratic Party in that he accepted too much money from big banks like MBNA and Capital One for too long. IMHO, it is time for a change in the U.S.A. which must first start here in the Democratic Party itself. I am waiting to join Senator Hart’s “Party of Patriots” in the Democratic Party, which, as he wrote, is “just over the horizon”. Any day now, we will see what is over that horizon, and the loyal Hartistas will follow him!

  16. Paul G Says:

    We the People deserve a man of the people to bring us ”To a just society that protects its children, elderly, and disabled; all are entitled to a healthy environment; the able-bodied should have the opportunity to work; corporations and banks should deal honestly with consumers; workers’ safety deserves protection; quality public education is crucial to democracy; special interests should not finance campaigns; our foreign policy should reflect our highest principles; judges should be appointed on merit not ideology; foreign oil is not worth American blood; our government should protect our Constitutional rights.”
    Gary Hart, September 4, 2011

    These are perilous times indeed that not even the “Oz” TV-masters can hide.

    It does not matter what anyone says, no matter how eloquently spoken, if they’re actions consistently contradict their words. Such people are not people of honor.

    Candidate Obama ’08, sounded like Hart, and, as 2012 nears, Candidate Obama is beginning to sound like it again. But too many of his major decisions during his years as president have been exactly opposite to our interests. Can we blindly trust the Candidate Obama 2012 to not to repeat 4 more years of the same?

    In good faith, like most of us, Hart endorsed the “transformative” Candidate ’08.

    But that was before Obama broke his first of many pledges to the American people by accepting “big money” from Wall Street. Then, as president, he not only failed to hold them accountable for gambling on our homes and livelihoods, he put their alums in charge and asked us to “sacrifice” tax cuts for the wealthy.

    Stunningly, the president appointed one of our country’s top outsourcer of money, the former Republican chief of the NY Fed, Tim Geithner, as Treasurer and chief advisor on … our money Follow-the-Money, and Larry Summers as his top economics advisor Crash-the-Barriers.

    All this occurred during his first 2 years while he enjoyed Democratic Party majorities in BOTH Houses.

    Then, as the Republicans took over – typical of the few, the cowardly and the weak – the bully billionaires showed no gratitude as they insultingly demanded not only the cake on the table but our slender slice too: Social Security and Medicaid cuts, which the president offered BEFORE they formally demanded it! Luckily, their greed exceeds their irrational exuberance as they rejected a “grand bargain” that included $4Trillion cuts. Still, as the insanely avoidable “Debt Ceiling” debate proved, our republic is at grave risk with such budgetary cowardice that ignores our primary needs until re-election time: Jobs – gainful employment to maintain our homes, our livelihoods, lives and liberties.

    Stunningly, the president then appointed one of our country’s top outsourcer of jobs, the Republican CEO of GE as his chief advisor on … jobs. Making-Wall-Streets-Ideas-Obama’s-Ideas

    So much for the “just society” Gary Hart has consistently spoken of and accomplished on our behalf over 4 decades. Now, we find Obama’s dream of re-election is fast becoming our nightmare.

    We must find a new direction from this perilous course.

  17. Gary Hart Says:

    Here I disagree with Paul G., especially when we contemplate the options to President Obama next fall. Even as many wish the President would be more bold and transformative on many fronts, it is always necessary to remember the country he hoped to govern was not the country which he inherited. The American people are ahead of their (elected) leadership in many areas, though when faced with real transformation they often shy away. For myself, I’ll do all I can to secure a second Obama term.

  18. Paul G Says:

    Greetings & Farewell …

    First, let me address web-link issues in my recent post (I’ve just learned that using ‘select link’ does not work when transferred to the web):



    Second, I believe that something far more important than the presidency is at stake here; it is the unjustly hidden value and legacy of one of our country’s most noble statesmen, Gary Hart, whose wisdom and often prescient insights combined with his timely actions have enlightened and benefited our people and world more than most will ever know.

    Our belated encouragement effort as “We The People” – about 7 students and a few working adults – was prompted by a string of outrageous give-aways that began last December with Obama’s tax-cut extensions to the super rich. But we kept hoping he’d overcome his chains of concession … until his mid-August, Dacora, Iowa, remarks when he hit the final nail with a “backlash” attack on our need to reduce public workers’ benefits.

    Third, as our 6-weeks’ humble Petition effort revealed when talking with people around Boston’s neighborhoods, and, as many Matters of Principle commentators likely know, Gary Hart’s true legacy remains hidden from the public. If even his pre-9/11 heroics were not allowed the light of day in our 10th. anniversary remembrances, what chance any of his other accomplishments would be credited and passed on to our next generation?

    But the willfully-blind leaders and those with the dread disease, “ambition connivance,” ensure our hero’s heroics remain hidden. Even the BU Dean of Communications resurrected the crazy “challenge” story he first used but later recanted [his stakeout was based solely on a tip from one of Murdoch’s News of the World tabloid ladies who – by incredible coincidence – brought down the British War Minister a mere 24 years earlier]. Now, he’s bragging to his students that his stake-out was the 1987 “campaign-killer.” In fact, it was, as only he knows so well, only a temporary knock-down. Boston students, including BU, protested against unethical journalism, calling for “Democracy; not Mediaocracy!” and for Hart to rejoin the race; to “Let The People Decide!”

    Hart – the first ever in 200 years of US presidential election history – did re-enter the race with only his modest credit card as his campaign fund, and topped the polls again! As his numbers increased over the ensuing weeks, but just before the Iowa caucus vote, the current BU dean wrote what Harvard Dean [Kalb] called “a grossly exaggerated” story that suggested Hart “knew or should have known” about a contributor exceeding fund limits in a former campaign. The knock-out story was the “campaign-killer,” not the Miami model stake-out story.
    Why won’t he brag about that story … that no one remembers … that killed far more than a campaign … it emboldened the powerful to fool the public all of the time.

    Finally, we weep for the republic we could have had; that we’ll never know again.

  19. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Just for the recod …

    Senator and VP Biden and Secretary Geithner happen to be two of the finest statesmen and hardest working public servants in the US today, having devoted the bulk of their adult life to public service.

    I guess the appreciation and praise for all of their tireless efforts – on behalf of a largely ungrateful nation, I might add – will come in another lifetime …

  20. Kevin Worden Says:

    Folks, as we lament the lack of statesmen/women-ship in our nation, we must not neglect the catalyst between having the knowledge of what needs to be done and the achievement of tangible results: leadership. Precious few are those, even among statesmen, who can both correctly ascertain the needs of the future, contrast it to the current zeitgeist of the body politic; and then successfully nudge our nation in the direction we need to go.

    If a leader pushes for change too far, too soon, or speaks over the heads of their constituents, they will fail. Judgment, empathy, and exceptional communication skills are necessary to bridge the chasm between intentions and marked improvement. Incremental, continual efforts to improve the status quo without exceeding a change absorption threshold, which itself evolves, will result in “a more perfect union.”

    FDR was perhaps our most effective public leader ever at this. Among many examples, he skillfully used the metaphor of helping a neighbor whose house is on fire as a way to bring the public along in support of the lend/lease program with Great Britain.

    Everything rises or falls through leadership.

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