The Speed of Governance

Author: Gary Hart

William Becker, the Executive Director of the Presidential Climate Action Project and a former colleague at the University of Colorado, raises an interesting and important question: is the speed of change generally and technological change particularly outrunning our ability to respond with public policies when required.  In other words, is governing too slow when the world all around us is experiencing revolutionary change.

Here are some examples Bill provided with his question:

“Regulators and electric utilities are scrambling to keep up with the rapid growth of rooftop solar energy. Several states are embroiled in controversies over how to compensate customers feeding energy into the grid.

“One or two ideas on how to address the lag-time problem. For example, lawmakers could give more discretion to elected leaders to make policy adjustments when the need arises. If Congress or states decide to price carbon, they could give public officials the power to adjust carbon […] Continue Reading…

Protecting the Boats

Author: Gary Hart

Dunkirk is a haunting movie on several levels in the sense that it stays with you and its scenes recur during the long nights.  What follows is not a movie review but rather a review of why it has that quality.  Many will see it as a war movie, albeit one of the best, but others like me cannot let it go because of what it says about humans in combat and the moral lessons derived from them.

I’ve known many military men and women of all ranks and stations.  None is more distinguished than an Air Force pilot I am privileged to know who, after serving too many years in a Vietnamese prison, returned to achieve the rank of General.  I thought of him while watching the movie and afterwards sought his response to it.

Not surprisingly, he observed the scenes of a few British Spitfire planes trying to hold […] Continue Reading…

Distraction as a Strategy

Author: Gary Hart

There are not many reasons why a leader creates chaos.  One might be that he thinks it encourages creativity.  Another might be that he doesn’t know how to manage in any normal or systematic fashion.  But the only rational reason for the purposeful and continuing chaotic turmoil around a national leader is to create distraction.

Assuming this national leader is rational, what is he seeking to distract the public and the media from?  The obvious answer is Russia and the several investigations underway to discover how and why the Russian Government meddled in the U.S. national election last year and whether there was collusion, to use the favorite word of the day, between the Russian Government and the Trump campaign.

As bizarre as it seems, giving a political speech to the Boy Scouts of America, demeaning his own Attorney General, ranting about the failure of his Party to destroy the Affordable […] Continue Reading…

Aberration or New Reality

Author: Gary Hart

Though it is far too early to consider whether America’s current political circumstance is an aberration or a new reality, it is instructive to contemplate both alternatives.

Aberration: the Trumpian era, whether four or eight years long, is a frolic and a detour, signifying nothing historic except the result of accumulated anger by a significant number of Americans at immigration, globalization, the seismic shift of our economic base from manufacturing to information, a cultural revolution, and perhaps most of all the widening gap between the urban elites of wealth, education, and power and virtually everyone else including a stagnant and eroding middle class.

As with populist eras in our past, this one will run its course when a dispossessed generation has shuffled of this mortal coil, technology creates even more new economic opportunities for the successor generation, the middle class stabilizes and recovers, and optimism regarding the future returns.

Central to the […] Continue Reading…

Gresham’s Law of Politics

Author: Gary Hart

Several decades ago, three to be exact, I forecast that destructive changes then taking place in the media and their treatment of politics would come back to haunt us.  Particularly, the erosion, then elimination, of any personal privacy for candidates and office holders would have the affect of driving better qualified candidates out of contests for public office and would leave a vacuum to be predictably filled by those without governing experience, knowledge of history, and even familiarity with the workings of our system of government.

In a word, the tabloidization of even reputable news outlets would inevitably lead to a Donald Trump-like president.

Gresham’s Law says bad money drives out good money.  Similarly, bad politics drives out good politics.

Men and women with self-respect, dignity, and character will not seek office if the price to be paid is destruction of all three.  Anyone under the age of 40 or so will […] Continue Reading…

The Future of Anti-Government

Author: Gary Hart

In the Western democratic world, and especially in America, the deepest divide exists between those who view a national government, perhaps all governments, as the indispensable instrument for achieving fairness, opportunity, and social justice and those who view government as a barrier to free enterprise, entrepreneurship, and even freedom itself.

For the former group, who governs and how they govern is vital.  For the latter group, who governs and how they govern doesn’t matter so much so long as the government leaves them alone.  The former group focuses on the inclusiveness of domestic agendas and a positive role for America in the world.  The latter group focuses primarily on national security, military strength, and increasingly on rigid borders.

Looking at the last few months through this lens, little the Trump administration has, or has not, done is surprising.  It doesn’t really matter if the sub-cabinet level of political appointees, the deputies, […] Continue Reading…

Anger Management

Author: Gary Hart

Any search for a pattern to Donald Trump’s behavior to this point would reveal only one serious thread—anger.  For someone used to getting his way or confronting those who will not give him his way, the presidency of the United States is not the position in which to be.

One of the reasons, at least up to now, we have wanted presidential candidates to have governing experience is to determine if they have learned the mature lessons of conciliation, concession, and compromise, the art not of the deal but of consensus by negotiation.  Being head of state of the most powerful nation in history does not guarantee that everyone necessarily gives you everything you want the way you want it.

It took World War II to teach us two lessons: we could not go it alone, and we needed the cooperation of other nations of good will for security but also […] Continue Reading…

Enough

Author: Gary Hart

Future generations of Americans will consider with wonder a President of the United States whose sole unifying principle was to erase every achievement of his predecessor.  It may require some time, but surely psychological experts in the not too distant future will find some explanation for behavior which is almost entirely negative and destructive.

As a continuing student of American history, no precedent for this angry and insolent behavior comes to mind.  Could it be that he has absorbed all the years of vitriolic right-wing attacks on America’s first African-American president?  Is it possible that he truly believed the idiotic birther nonsense that launched his political career?  Can he possibly believe that leadership is demonstrated by behaving like a child with a hammer in a china shop?

It may take quite a long time, but sooner or later even Republican Members of Congress must admit that this misguided individual is tearing […] Continue Reading…

The Disaffected

Author: Gary Hart

Political insiders, practitioners and the media, treat America as a nation divided between two Parties, Democratic and Republican, and two ideologies, liberal and conservative—though those latter terms mean very little any more.  This simplified view makes analysis easier, if not also clearer, and lends itself to sports analogies, winners and losers, and even religious analogies, good and evil.

The difficulty, of course, is that it leaves out upwards of a third or even forty percent of the nation, those who list themselves as independents or who don’t bother to engage in the political process, even by voting, at all.

Political scientists spend time and money trying to profile these non-participants and Parties try to sign them up for membership, largely to no avail.  Discounting the laziness factor and the “plague on both your houses” mentality, it does seem worthwhile, especially in an era of disaffection and disillusionment, to seek some understanding […] Continue Reading…

Decline of the Presidency

Author: Gary Hart

For many years it was common, at least for boys then, to hear that “in America, anyone can become President.”  We now know that to be absolutely true.

For those of us who take such matters seriously, however, there was some preparation required.  A serious candidate for President had to know something about how the national economy worked and the basic principles of public finance, diplomacy and foreign policy, and national defense, the three Constitutional duties of a President.

In modern times, from Franklin Roosevelt through Richard Nixon Presidents met those standards to greater or lesser degrees.  Private morality was assumed.  But when that assumption failed with Nixon, we then elected a moral President, Jimmy Carter, but even he had traveled the world a bit, served in the Navy, and had been Governor.

But then the standards began to slip.  Though they had been Governors, Reagan and George W. Bush had little […] Continue Reading…