The public discontent, now being commented on so extensively in political circles, did not suddenly emerge in the last year or so.  It dates at least to the mid-1970s when the first waves of globalization and automation began to wash up on our shores.  Everyday citizens, especially in traditional manufacturing jobs, began to make their concerns known to office holders and office seekers.

The recurrent theme, often unstated, was: I’m losing control of my life.

There was, and still is, a sense that our national government either did not know how or did not care to deal with the seismic shifts being felt not just in Detroit and Buffalo but in the heartland and the West as well.

With apologies for the personal references (and the “I” references that dominate the opinion section of the New York Times), my reaction to this building disquiet was to re-examine our Constitutional structures for evidence […] Continue Reading…

Technology and Its Discontents

Author: Gary Hart

A word to all concerned, especially the faithful commentators:  In its wisdom, the host of this website, tierra.net, has chosen to “upgrade” the server for this site.  When this happened a week or so ago, I was unable to access the site myself.  So, predictably, I contacted tierra.net’s Support office to ask for help.  It turns out I have to coordinate my php with their php, then stand on my head, then wander off into a bizarre tech world I don’t begin to understand, then I can access my own “upgraded”  website.   When I explained to Support that I was of the pre-technology generation that came along just after the invention of the electric light bulb and thus could not implement the crazy procedure required by the “upgrade”, Support recommended that I hire a webpage designer.  Being a man of modest means, to say the least, I’m not […] Continue Reading…

In Praise of Modesty

Author: Gary Hart

One of my most admired friends, Billy Shore (founder of Share Our Strength), has a kind habit of sending me books.  Most recently it was American Ulysses, a new biography of Ulysses S. Grant.  Upon his death, movingly described at the book’s conclusion, his funeral procession in New York City stretched nine miles.  As the Union’s general-in-chief and later President, he was proclaimed by the press as inhabiting the pantheon with Washington and Lincoln.  His memoir, concluded as he was dying, is considered a classic.  Yet today, he is seldom spared a thought.

Grant possessed that rare combination of inner self confidence and modesty seldom witnessed in today’s era of self-promotion and self-aggrandizement.  In recent times Dwight Eisenhower and Harry Truman also come to mind in this respect.  Like Grant, they had inner strength but enough self-awareness, including about their own faults, not to lapse into self-promotion.

Perhaps the entertainment industry, […] Continue Reading…

The Center Must Hold

Author: Gary Hart

In The Second Coming, W. B. Yeats wrote: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold: mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

He did not have in mind the kind of centrism so popular in recent political history, the avoidance of hard choices and strong leadership.  He had a more important center in mind, the kind of center that is hewn out of the marble of human experience, the garment woven of sacrifice and honorable compromise, the foundation upon which a viable and noble society might be built.

And he did not dismiss the chaos of anarchy; he diminished it as the alternative to the hard business of governing a complex community.  Anarchy is easy if you do not care about its results.

The center for early 21st century America, as Yeats would have it, is composed of years of struggle to control the spread of nuclear weapons, two decades of debate […] Continue Reading…

The new year and those thereafter offer many unfamiliar tests.  First and foremost is the test of the resilience of the United States.  Based on recent evidence, the new President will take dramatically different courses at home and abroad.  The Rooseveltian consensus on a social safety net and more recent progress on a variety of other public programs will be tested.  The post-World War II world order based largely upon the Atlantic Alliance is also being seriously challenged..

Nominations for cabinet offices in Departments having to do with public housing, environmental protection and climate change, health care, education, and energy, among others, have gone to those with outspoken antagonism to current law and policy and more enduring traditions such as public education.  These nominees are committed to reverse course and destroy the respective consensuses that brought us to today.

Our commitment to broad based public education traces to Jefferson who made […] Continue Reading…

The Last American Hero

Author: Gary Hart

In the 21st century is it possible for anyone to achieve the heroic status of John Glenn?  There are many reasons to think not.  Some years ago the so-called mainstream media, traditional newspapers and networks, abandoned any respect for privacy of public figures in an effort to compete with entertainment journalism, emerging social media, and advocacy networks for sensationalism.  Very soon, political leaders, and then even astronauts, were treated more or less as movie stars had been for years.

There is an old saying: No man is a hero to his valet.  Today we would say the same for a woman and her maid.  This isn’t simple an observation about the human body without clothes.  It is an observation about familiarity on the margin of intimacy.  Nothing like seeing a famous person performing mundane human duties to destroy any hope of extraordinary character.

Very difficult to locate a hero using a […] Continue Reading…

Getting the Shot

Author: Gary Hart

Some years ago as a national candidate I had the benefit of protection by the U.S. Secret Service.  To a person they were as professional and effective as the best uniformed Special Forces and I was, and am, completely convinced any one of them would have jumped between me and a shooter.

But, like all other national candidates, I also had virtual round-the-clock companionship (“coverage”) by the political press corps.  Contemplating the possibility I might actually be elected President, if not then possibly later, I once asked the head of the Secret Service detail, a great public servant Steve Ramsey, whether, once in the White House, I could periodically leave by a side door, take a three car motorcade to Andrews Airforce Base, and fly unscheduled to any one of hundreds of small or medium-sized American towns.  We would then drive unannounced to that town’s Main Street and I could […] Continue Reading…

Present at the Creation

Author: Gary Hart

In the past MattersofPrincipal has not been used as a book review forum.  What follows is an exception, one made out of respect for the literacy and concern for history of our small band of commentators.

One of the best, some would say the best, book on diplomacy and recent American history is the memoir of former Secretary of State Dean Acheson entitled Present at the Creation and covering in considerable detail and with splendid prose his responsibilities at the U.S. Department of State between 1942 and 1952.

I read it some years ago, have returned to selected sections from time to time, and am now rereading the book from the beginning.  Through one highly-placed man’s eyes, it rehearses the sweep of America’s transformation from fortress America to the world’s leading power following World War II.

Secretary Acheson knew and negotiated with everyone who was anyone on the world state, especially in […] Continue Reading…

Revolt of the Citizens

Author: Gary Hart

A tsunami of political analysis regarding this election has begun and will culminate in a series of books sometime next year.  There will be enough theories, most of them wrong, to accommodate a host of prejudices.  We are already accustomed to words and phrases like anger, frustration, alienation, forgotten working class, fly-over America, and so on.  Separate libraries will have to be constructed to house the dissertations in political science that will continue to be written decades from now about the 2016 political revolution.

A massive departure from traditional politics rarely occurs overnight.  This one traces from the mid-1970s when oil embargoes, foreign manufacturing competition, information revolutions, and mass migrations all collided.

While all this was transforming American economic and social structures, an even more significant change was occurring in Washington.  There was an explosion of special interest lobbying, campaign costs, and the evolution of a governing class composed of insiders […] Continue Reading…

A Prayer for America

Author: Gary Hart

Great Spirit, Creator of us all

We Americans continue to seek Your blessing.  We do so in our official events, in public forums, and even in our sports events.  But we seldom if ever provide evidence that Your blessing is deserved.  We take that for granted.  We assume we have earned a Divine blessing because we are entitled to it.

But now, at this critical point in our history, Your blessing is needed more than ever.  So, help us understand what we must do to deserve a blessing in this hour.

Help us learn humility.  Teach us that we are not always right and that others are always wrong.  Teach us to confess our errors and admit our mistakes.  Help us learn that we are human beings too eager to let our petty ideologies replace our nation’s principles.

Guide us in a path of righteousness.  Help us to reject the vain words of […] Continue Reading…