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…


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…

The Anatomy of Courage

Author: Gary Hart

“It takes courage not to be discouraged.”  That was Benjamin Ferencz, the last surviving Nazi war crimes prosecutor who, at the age of 27, prosecuted two dozen death camp supervisors and who, now age 97, was interviewed on 60 Minutes.  He was responding to questions as to how and why his experience had not left him bitter.

But it is also a message for those of us watching a lifetime of effort–to move our nation forward, to improve the lives of those left behind, to leave a healthier environment for our children, to control weapons of mass destruction, and many other standards of progress–being swept away.

There are many reasons to be discouraged.  Energy policy is being turned over to the energy industry.  Environmental programs are being dismantled by climate change deniers and anti-science zealots.  Public education is being privatized.  Affordable health insurance now finances tax cuts for the wealthy.  Federal […] Continue Reading…

One Man’s Compass

Author: Gary Hart

What follows breaks an unwritten rule I’ve tried to follow on this site, and that is to minimize self-referential essays.  In an age where almost every spoken or written word begins with the first person singular pronoun, it is possible to make observations and assertions as direct statement without “I think” or “It seems to me”, etc.  Nevertheless, recent political upheavals have caused many to revert to basic principles and to establish foundations for why we believe what we believe.

In my case [here we go into the self-referential mode], there were two reasons I gravitated toward the Democratic Party: family and religion.  My parents were working class people from large families (Mother 13, Dad 8 children) who were unable to finish high school because they had to work early.  They raised me in the Church of the Nazarene, an off-shoot of Methodism, and I attended Bethany Nazarene College (now […] Continue Reading…

The Center

Author: Gary Hart

We are frequently reminded of W. B. Yeats’ quote: “The center cannot hold.  Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”  For those immersed in political ideology this reference to the “center” conjures up Clintonian refrains regarding triangulation and even Jerry Brown’s great response to a question about whether he was liberal or conservative: “I paddle a little on the right,” he said, “and I paddle a little on the left.”

For those of us in public service who were repeatedly being analyzed as to whether we were liberal or conservative, the traditional lateral construct of left to right became sufficiently tedious that, at least in my case, I created a contrasting vertical pole that went from the past at the bottom to the future at the top.  I’m not sure I ever sold it to a political journalist because that industry is totally wedded to traditional left-right, liberal-conservative categories so […] Continue Reading…

In an era of radical change such as ours, comfort is often sought in reconstructing conditions that existed before the change began.  That seems to be the central organizing principle, to the degree there is one, for the current U.S. Administration.  “Make America Great Again.”

I am unable to identify any instance in human history where an effort such as this has been successful, for the very obvious reason that economic, political, and security conditions that existed two or three decades ago, or more, simply cannot be recreated.  Building walls, dismantling international markets, authorizing pollution, privatizing education, and much else will not restore “greatness”.  While we return to the 1960s, the rest of the world moves on following rules we are choosing to ignore.

Furthermore, the basic premise of the stop history movement is wrong.  Despite his efforts to create conditions of disaster, President Trump inherited a country that had the […] Continue Reading…