Identity

Author: Gary Hart

Many people, in America and elsewhere, are searching for identity in a world that is disrupting if not destroying historical identities.  Globalization, mass migrations, ubiquitous media, and disintegrating borders are pulling up the roots that most of us have taken for granted.

As in other Western democracies, the face of America is changing.  From its beginning we have been a white, Protestant nation, even after waves of immigrants from Europe.  Now immigrants are coming from the South, and black, brown, and Asian peoples are literally changing the face of the nation.

Another pillar of identity, work, changed dramatically at the same time.  Manufacturing, as the basis of the national economy, shrunk under pressure from less expensive imports, and the new technology sector hired only young people, and trained immigrants, with tech skills.  A generation of manufacturing workers not only lost their income, they lost their identity.

Geography used to play a key […] Continue Reading…

Government Schools

Author: Gary Hart

The State of Kansas now calls its public schools “government schools.” Thomas Jefferson, who linked public schooling to democracy and vice versa, now has yet another reason to roll over in his grave.

So, I guess we now have government highways, and government parks and wilderness areas and government forests, and government libraries, and government State boundaries, and a whole lot of other government things. Before Kansas enlightened me I though these were all facilities that belonged to the public, all the people of America, and that we administered them on our behalf by electing a government to do so.You have to ask yourself whether federal farm subsidies to Kansas farmers also makes them “government farms.” It would be interesting to know how many Kansas farmers send the subsidies back.

But now Kansas tells me all these public assets and resources belong to the government, not to the American people. I […] Continue Reading…

People of Paradox

Author: Gary Hart

We Americans imagine ourselves to be progressive…that is to say, embracing change, experimental, imaginative, and creative.  At the same time, however, we are much more conservative than we consider ourselves to be.  We are cautious about adapting to new processes and institutions.  We protect past practices and traditional ways of doing things.

We want better public service, but are reluctant to pay for them.  We want better transportation systems, but do not want higher taxes.  We want a stronger military, but do not want a draft and do not want expensive weapons systems to be counted as part of the budget deficits.  We want better schools, but do not want to pay teachers what they deserve.  We want a strong foreign policy but do not want entangling alliances.  We want the benefits of foreign trade, including the jobs created by our exports, but do not want the competition trade involves.

Much […] Continue Reading…

Party Loyalty

Author: Gary Hart

“Sometimes,” John Kennedy once said, “party loyalty asks too much.”  Let’s imagine a situation in which lifelong members and leaders of a political party, strongly motivated by its ideology, its beliefs, and its culture, find that fellow party members have selected a leader of that party who claims to share those motivations but whose words and behavior are antithetical to the principles of that party.

Further suppose many of the party voters in the leadership contest had only recently been attracted to the party by calculating “strategists” who promised that the party would endorse and support, especially in Congress and the White House, the particularly narrow issue or issues which had radicalized them and caused them to support the leader who identified with their radical notions.

Whether consciously or not, those supposedly smart “strategists” sold out the party’s traditional principles for the immediate expedient of broadening the party’s “base” by taking […] Continue Reading…

Lines on a Napkin

Author: Gary Hart

In the mid-1970s, Dr. Arthur Laffer became famous for drawing a curve on a napkin.  It represented his theory that tax cuts would more than pay for themselves in new revenue returned by economic growth stimulated by the tax cuts.  In short order the Laffer curve became Republican dogma, principally because it gave tax cuts, a standard conservative hallmark, economic dignity by promising growth with balanced budgets.  It is a beautiful theory murdered by one ugly fact: it has never worked.

About the same time, I began to use restaurant napkins to draw a different picture.

As long as anyone can remember, political journalists have seen the world on a one-dimensional, horizontal line with liberals on the left and conservatives on the right.  Then came Mr. and Mrs. Clinton, as Republicans dispelled their moderate members and began their steady march to the right (ending up in the mess they are in […] Continue Reading…

Beacons in the Storm

Author: Gary Hart

Nothing in the U.S. Constitution guarantees that we will have strong leaders or, for that matter, uninterrupted progress.  Someone recently pointed out that we had very flawed or mediocre presidents between Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln and then between Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.  So, historically, the nation does muddle through as often, if not more so, than it takes a principled stand.

Observing the history of America’s lurches from one side to the other and forward and then backward, Winston Churchill said: Depend on the Americans to do the right thing…after they have tried everything else.

This history of lurching offers some comfort in today’s strange political culture.  We have had, in that history, periods of isolationism, anti-immigration, intolerance, bigotry, racism, gender discrimination (women could not vote until about a hundred years ago), and a litany of bad cultural behavior.  In almost every case such behavior occurred most prominently in periods […] Continue Reading…

The Death of Civility

Author: Gary Hart

Civility is the name we give to mutual respect, decency, and honor among men and women.  Like civilization itself, civility evolves over time.  It is utilitarian in that societies function best when civility is the norm.  But its deeper meaning has to do with the nature of humanity.  When civility breaks down, societies fall apart.

Incivility in American politics did not occur overnight and it is not solely Donald Trump’s contribution.  The decline of civility began sometime back and has been increasing in momentum in recent months.

Books are being churned out analyzing this development and isolating causes.  The coarsening of popular culture—movies, music, television, and so on.  The conversion of big banks, under the liberation of deregulation, from sober temples of caution to casinos.  Trade, technology, and immigration shrinking opportunity for advancement.  Multi-culturalism eroding the dominant position of middle (white) Americans.  The rise of women in the workforce, in competition […] Continue Reading…

Brief Retreat

Author: Gary Hart

As used here, retreat means to withdraw from the noises of the day to reflect and meditate.  There is currently too much static and dust to be able to reach any thoughtful analysis of the nature of the historic corner the United States seems to be turning.  Retreat means to step back and to step up, to obtain distance, to achieve perspective.  For the hardy band of followers, readers, and commentators on this site, look for a new post mid-May or thereabouts.  GH

Fairness and what is now called transparency are central to democracy.  Any political process that seems unfair, concealed, or manipulated creates distrust in the system.  And distrust predictably yields to anger and hostility.  Political parties often lose track of this truth in their efforts to perpetuate their own power.

All this comes to mind with the building anger within the Democratic Party’s system of so-called super delegates.  By and large to be “super” one must be an elected or party official, a Senator, Representative, Governor, or Mayor, or a precinct chair, county chair, or state party official.

In brief, the history is this: following an angry Democratic convention in 1968 in Chicago, a Democratic Party reform commission opened up the nomination process of primaries and caucuses to women, young people, minorities and others historically left out by big city party bosses. This led to many elected and party officials being left […] Continue Reading…

The Media and the Demagogue

Author: Gary Hart

Conscience-striken political journalists are now falling over each other with mea culpas for helping create Donald Trump, the likely Republican nominee for president.  Unquestionably, Mr. Trump has received far more unpaid media attention than any of his several rivals.  This is particularly true in the realm of cable political talk programs.

It was virtually inevitable with the amount of time these programs have to kill (and they more often kill time than not), that a flamboyant, over-the-top product of those same show business networks would appear at or near the top of the political pyramid.

What else can a cable television producer do, when confronted with the need to fill empty hours of mostly empty talk, than turn repeatedly to the most controversial, least constrained, most bombastic figure in the litter.  He does what most true entertainers and few traditional politicians do.  He draws eyeballs to the screen.

In case there is […] Continue Reading…