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 […] Continue Reading…

Crossing the Line

Author: Gary Hart

These tumultuous times, encouraged by a chaotic president, have been a reminder of the best advice I ever received and have previously written about.  The late Senator Mike Mansfield, then Majority Leader of the Senate, approached me on the Senate floor and without prompting said this: “Draw a line.  Never cross it.”

It took little reflection to know intuitively his meaning.  If confronted with a choice between doing what is politically expedient and doing what is right, always do what is ethical and moral regardless of the cost.

I’ve thought much about this over the many years since.  He was saying at least two things.  Like much of life, politics is fleeting, but your conscience always remains.  And a political career, holding high office, is nothing if you lose your moral compass.

“Profile in courage” votes do not happen often.  Many votes do not have a moral or ethical dimension.  They are […] Continue Reading…

Memories of Days Gone By

Author: Gary Hart

In a recent talk to a large Colorado political group, I indulged in memories.

I remembered President Ford offering me a ride in Marine One from Andrews Air Force Base to the White House.

I remembered calling President Ford’s chief of staff, Dick Cheney, on behalf of the Director of the CIA, on Christmas Eve to request Presidential approval to have Richard Welch, station chief in Athens, to be buried with honor at Arlington after having been killed by terrorists.

I remembered becoming close friends with John McCain during Navy travel and participating in both his wedding and his funeral.

I remembered Vice President George H.W. Bush offering me the use of his home in Maine during my 1984 presidential campaign and then reminding him that I was running against his administration.

I remembered Senator Barry Goldwater coming to Colorado in 1980 during my re-election campaign in 1980 and telling the press I was […] Continue Reading…

Deviance

Author: Gary Hart

My late friend and former colleague, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, was a man for the words.  One of the many phrases for which he was known had to do with his pithy summary of the trend toward avoiding responsibility and accountability.  “Defining deviance downward” was his phrase for this trend.

In less colorful language, this meant reducing blameworthy conduct.

Inevitably, there would be a president that would represent this tendency in the White House.  And here we are.

Decades from now the Republican defense of Donald Trump will be a classic case of defining deviance downward.

“He did nothing wrong,” is the creaky foundation upon which his defense for seeking to suborn an ally head of state, by withholding duly authorized American assistance for Ukraine’s defense against Russian encroachment, to further the Trump re-election.

By any standard of statecraft, this behavior was about as deviant as you can find.  And yet, “he did nothing wrong.”

As […] Continue Reading…

America On Trial

Author: Gary Hart

The incumbent president now faces trial in the Senate of the United States.  Donald Trump will either be convicted or not.  Having been Impeached by the House of Representatives, it is too late to be exonerated.  A majority of Senators of his own party cannot erase the impeachment.

But historically much more is at stake.  Members of Congress, House and Senate, are all judged politically by many votes.  On rare occasions, such as this one, each is judged morally as well.

Now each Senator, including those who claim already to have made up their minds, will be judged by their final judgment on whether or not to convict under the two impeachment articles.

For complex reasons, more comparisons are being made between the Trump impeachment and the threatened Nixon impeachment than the impeachment of Bill Clinton.  And increasingly focus is being placed on how Republicans in the House and Senate responded to […] Continue Reading…

The Real Economy: Rosy or Grim

Author: Gary Hart

Like many who occupy the periphery of American politics, I too readily accepted the conventional wisdom that presidents serving during a strong economy virtually always are re-elected.  Thus, predict the conventional wise people, Donald Trump will be re-elected.

Wrong, says my son John who knows a lot more about a lot of things, including economics, than I do.  Instead of insisting I take his word for it, he provides hard evidence, the kind conventional political journalists seem to ignore.

Most recently there is the Brookings Institute study that demonstrates the following facts (in this era where facts are dismissed by those in power): despite an official unemployment rate of 3.5% cheered to the rafters by the “base” (composed of those as ignorant of economics as I am), 53 million workers—44 % of all workers—earn barely earn enough to live on.  They are employed but scraping by.  Their median income is $18,000 […] Continue Reading…

Assassination Redux

Author: Gary Hart

In 1975, the Director of the CIA testified before a secret hearing of the Senate Select Committee to Investigate the U.S. Intelligence Community that there had been assassination plots against as many as six foreign leaders in recent years, several against the Cuban leader Fidel Castro.  I am now one of only a few surviving members of that Committee.

This became something of a turning point in U.S. foreign, military, and security policies at the height of the Cold War.  To say this revelation “shocked the conscience of the nation” is probably an overstatement.  But it did bring even the most hawkish Cold Warriors up short, and after discussion and deliberation, a popular consensus formed, reflected in the Congress itself, that assassinations aimed at foreign leaders violated unwritten moral codes defining American itself and serve no useful purpose in disabling communism or any other undemocratic ideology.

Legislation outlawing government sponsored assassinations, […] Continue Reading…

The Sleep of Idealism

Author: Gary Hart

Idealism, perhaps the highest function of conscience, is asleep now.  Idealism is a soft virtue.  It is not aggressive as is eagerness for wealth, or the scramble for power, or the need to be among the influential.  Instead, idealism suggests a search for a more noble vision and a sense that we have a duty of care.

No challenges to our collective conscience are heard from high places.

Most news stories are about conflict, violence, or traumatic events.  Families on our border are shattered and living in miserable conditions.  The corporate world leaves concerns about our future climate to young people.  Our nation’s capital is shrouded in anger and hostility with little if any motivation for public service.

Money, usually hidden in the corridors of power, now openly controls virtually all our public policies.  The guardianship of our public resources has been blatantly turned over to those who seek to privatize them […] Continue Reading…

Greetings for This Season

Author: Gary Hart

Among the many things for which I am thankful, this small but persistent network of thoughtful people is one.  Decency and common respect in the expression of opinions, especially on highly volatile subjects, is now more rare than it used to be.

Even our friendly virtual neighborhood is a blessing in a world that seems occasionally inclined to tear itself apart.  Perhaps this is where society is headed, not to the arenas and grand ballrooms of the like-minded but to places where thoughtful people with shared concerns can find a forum to discuss those concerns with respect and civility.

There is much these days to make sensitive and sensible people sad.  But there are enough lights in enough windows to give us direction and even hope for a better tomorrow.

In an age of diversity, we are people of different faiths, or no faith at all, different histories and cultures, and different […] Continue Reading…

Democracy in Peril

Author: Gary Hart

Across several weeks our colleague Michael has raised serious questions about the future of democracy in America and elsewhere.  The questions he has raised and arguments he has made deserve equally serious consideration.

Increasingly the media are focusing on the rise of disinformation in campaigns, the challenge to factual narratives by false ones, the erosion of truth itself, and the use of social media to undermine and replace traditional reporting by “fake” media.

All this may or may not be “populist”, but it is most certainly authoritarian, the acquisition and concentration of power in the hands of the few by undermining the world of facts and truth.

There are many examples of this process throughout history, but none better than Germany and Italy in the 1930s.  Uncouple political narrative from truth and the train of authoritarianism is well down the track.

This process is enabled when there is widespread distrust of government, encouraged […] Continue Reading…