It's Gary Hart's turn to tell "us" what we believe

T.A. Barnhart

Gary Hart has written a book to tell the Democrats what they should believe. He got the message the rest of us missed. He has seen the light, has spoken to the burning bush, was home when ET phoned. He knows what the rest of us either forgot or never did learn. He has the Message of Truth to replace what must be the lies we've been telling ourselves for years.

I'm wondering how much of his message involves daring reporters to catch him cheating on his wife and then going off to cheat on his wife? In public?

What I'm really pissed about is not Gary Hart, whose personal mistakes do not take away from his valuable insight into the great issues that face this world. It's quite likely his new book is a vital read that will instruct and inspire. He might even be, for all I know, the best candidate for President.

But I am so frikkin' tired of being told what "we" should believe. There is no "we" in the Democratic Party, not that kind of we. The party is bunch of us's, diverse and quarrelsome and passionate and totally impervious to the kind of unification Beltway-centric Dems and pundits demand of us. This kind of "we-ness" that Hart and so many others seem to believe the destiny of the party is a myth, but that doesn't stop them from flogging the poor, dead horse. The Republicans do that single entity borg thing very well, and look at the result. I'm perfectly happy being a member of Will Rogers' unorganized party.

Former U.S. Senator Gary HartHere is why Hart and the rest of the one-size-fits-all Dems piss me off so much: They keep trying to define our party and what we stand for, what we believe in, when the simple truth is, few Democrats need to be told anything at all. Why else would be remain in the party after all these years of decline? Year after year we're told we are irrelevant, traitorous, and losers, yet we stay in the party regardless. We do so because we know we follow in the legacy of Jefferson, Roosevelt, Kennedy and many other great Democratic leaders. Fools that we are, we've stayed in this party by the millions because we know that social justice is neither a dream nor a cheat, that peace is something to be desired, that while the rich are welcome to get richer, they are not free to do so at the expense of the most vulnerable: our children, our parents, our disenfranchised. We don't need Gary Hart to tell us this; we know it, we believe it, we act on it daily.

Hart's book is called "The Courage of Our Convictions," but I think writing to Democrats across the country was the wrong choice. It's those inside the Beltway who need to learn what we on the outside already know. (Perhaps a few more of them should shut up and listen to Howard Dean a bit more; he's an outsider, and he knows what it means to be that kind of Democrat.) We're scattered, we have varying and often conflicting priorities, we refuse to line up in nice columns and follow the leader, but we have our convictions — we've always had those convictions — and most of us have the necessary courage to live by them and work for them. Otherwise we would have given up long ago and registered as independents.

  • BlueNote (unverified)

    Your post is particularly timely in light of the Rhode Island primary results tonight. Lincoln Chafee is hated by virtually every Republican in DC and he is about as far from the Republican "core position" as you can be, but the Republican party held their noses and provided over a million bucks plus hundreds of campaign workers to help Chafee win the primary election. Why? Because Chafee is a Republican who has a strong chance of holding his seat in the Senate this fall, and the Republicans want to see Republicans win elections, regardless of their position on the issues.

    Contrary to the Republican strategy, I don't see progressive Democrats backing a candidate merely because of party labels. The progressives I know feel free to move their vote back and forth between the Democratic party, the Green party, the Socialist party or whatever, depending on the merits of the candidate.

  • (Show?)

    I agree wholeheartedly, T.A. However, I think when politicians talk about what Democrats should do, they mean "for the purpose of successful campaigning, Democratic CANDIDATES should ..."

    When politics speak to each other in such shorthand, though, they insult the largest most critical part of The Party.... us. There ain't a thing wrong with us. But Hart, despite being sharp on foreign policy, will never make a good Prez, simply because he always overlooks that politicians and even activists are just a small fraction of the party, and our larger part needs no changin'.

  • Eric C. Jacobson (unverified)

    T.A., your comments would have been better directed at the many empty-suited bloviators who pass for leaders today, those without any intrinsic leadership qualities except for an uncanny ability to successfully "dial for dollars" from the well-heeled donor class, and just coincidentally (of course) adhere to policies virtually indistinguishable from Republicans. For example, I just heard my own Representative, Jane Harman, on Tavis Smiley's local PBS tv program on September 11, 2006. Gallingly, she purported to tell us all we supposed to be scared sleepless about terrorists cells allegedly operating right in our own backyards, and happy to have tough pols such as herself acting as cops on the beat. She was singing right out of the W "be afraid, be very afraid" hymnal. Asked for a hopeful/look-on-the-bright-side statement on the fifth anniversary of 9/11 Ms. Harman could not muster a single sentence about the role of adopting a beneficent as opposed to belligerent foreign policy as a key ingredient of prevention of future embitterment of the world 1 billion Muslims, a small percentage of whom might otherwise resort to violent acts of vengeance against a perceived unjust Empire. This woman is a Southern California version of Joe Lieberman, and speaks for no one besides herself and the handful of centrist Dems and Republicans in our (overall) quite liberal-minded district. Yet she hubristically blathers on and on carrying W's water and telling us what to think in a manner that would do Leni Riefenstahl proud.

    Gary Hart, on the other hand, when he came through Los Angeles during the latter weeks of the 2004 presidential campaign, appearing at Dutton's bookstore in West Los Angeles, made it a point to say that one of the important distinguishing features of our party, as opposed to Republicans, was our pluralism and mutual respect for various shades of opinion -- precisely the point you made in your piece T.A.! I have not yet read his latest book, but I would be very surprised if anything whatsoever in it contradicts that sentiment, one that you and Hart firmly share. Whatever he has to say, I'll wager, is offerred with his customary midwestern humility as one man's views of the current deplorable moment and what is to be done. At the same time, if he weren't a resolute leader he would not have had the gumption to first run for president in 1984 and gain acclaim for his progressive ideas and would not have become the positive alternative to Ronald Reagan that Dems did not appreciate enough then, nor in 1988 after he rejoined the Democratic race. Let's not make that same mistake now.

    Eric C. Jacobson Public Interest Lawyer Culver City, California

  • KISS (unverified)

    Gary Hart has/is such a disappointment. His hubris is glaring in his inability to see the pieces of the puzzle, yet he defies any who point out his weaknesses. Another of those that have feet of clay. lol I have read and heard his lecture's and He Just Doesn't Get It. He had all the tools but didn't know how to use them.What a waste and pity.

  • Tom Gee (unverified)

    I'd suggest anyone interested in this issue read Senator Hart's book first.

  • William Neuhauser (unverified)

    Uh ... T.A.: did you read the book? I've been reading it and in fact he takes the beltway DC democratic "leadership" to task, not grassroots democrats. It is them he sees needing to get this message, not us.

    But the only way to give them a message is for us to do it.

    Hart's book is good.

  • askquestions1st (unverified)

    First a partial factual correction on Eric C. Jacobson's comment:

    Whatever he has to say, I'll wager, is offerred with his customary midwestern humility as one man's views of the current deplorable moment and what is to be done.

    Although he was born in Kansas, he left the Midwest at the age of majority. His political career was as an inside-the-way beltway pol and then a Senator from Colorado. He has little "midwestern humility", either de facto or in his actual public life.

    I had the chance to meet Gary Hart at a private gathering in a major Southeast city early in his 1984 primary campaign. I vividly remember my reaction at the time as I was shaking his hand, which I have recounted to many folks in the years since when Gary Hart came up in political conversation, because it was so immediate, and so strong: Up close at that time, this guy made it shockingly clear that he that was too contemptuous of average working folks to win. And, depressingly, he was representative what the Democratic Party was going to become. That the sociopathic right-wing has managed to actually win the vote of working folks since then, even as they are out front that they are out to destroy the middle class, makes it obvious what has gone wrong.

    So TA, I think you are reacting justifiably to that arrogance that Gary Hart has always had and exhibited at the oddest times. Remember, this guy dared reporters to try to catch him in marital infidelity during the primary campaign. Talk about having stones.

    Picking up on TA's more general theme, anyone who hopes as I do that the Democrats will retake the House or Senate this fall, and who hasn't read this article, needs to now:

    In a Pivotal Year, GOP Plans to Get Personal Millions to Go to Digging Up Dirt on Democrats

    Folks who whine about negative campaigning, and in the NW we seem to have more than our fair share, need to grow up. And they need to grow up now. This is real life in politics: Negative campaigning works, it works well, and there is quite good reason to believe it has a legitimate place in politics. People vote for leaders they believe will fight for their values. Period. If you are too much of a wimp, or too arrogant, to get down and in the dirt and fight with everything it takes, you don't deserve political power and you won't get it. And I'm not talking here about slinging lies or being genuinely unethical, I'm talking about getting right back in the face of those lobbying accusations with everything you have about them.

    The fact that Gary Hart isn't a wimp is why he got as far as he did in elected politics. The fact that he, and the immature whiners about negative campaigning, haven't gotten any further, is because of a communicated sense they feel no need to show they care enough to actually get out there and fight for average folks. Why do you think our dry-drunk war-criminal-in-chief is getting a polling bounce right now for blustering about security, even as he actually makes us less secure in reality?

  • Chris (unverified)

    "...Why do you think our dry-drunk war-criminal-in-chief is getting a polling bounce right now for blustering about security, even as he actually makes us less secure in reality?"

    Because people in general are over weighted in emotion and prefer the role of spectator to participant. In short, they are fickle and will just as quickly shift to any other position depending on how they feel at the time.

    As far as Gary Hart, we need more real peacemakers and less public fornicators. And that is why I am a registered Independent.

  • (Show?)

    What, precisely is the difference between Hart giving his opinion on what Democrats should do, and you doing the exact same thing right here, Mr. Barnheart?

    Last time I checked, offering a book for sale is not the same thing as pointing a gun in your face and waterboarding you until you agree. So if you're really "so frikkin' tired of being told what 'we' should believe", just don't read the damned thing! How hard is that?

  • Will (unverified)

    In response to BlueNote's comments about Chafee:

    I think that the Republicans definitely pursued the right strategy in the RI primary. Allowing Laffey to win would have ensured a Democratic Senate pickup in that state.

    Democrats should adopt the same strategy when it comes to endangered Democratic incumbents, especially ones who may be too conservative for many in the party. Control of a legislative chamber is far more important than ideological perfection in a particular seat. I think that party leadership already understands this, but I hope that rank and file "progressive democrats" also look to the larger strategy in deciding who to support in such an election.

    As for progressives moving their votes back and forth between the Democrats, Greens and Socialists: this is exactly why Democrats need beltway politicians to tell them what to do. Voting for leftist third parties only makes sense if you enjoy watching Republicans control Washington.

  • (Show?)

    The problem is not that Democratic policymakers don't know what they believe, it's that they don't STAND UP for those beliefs. The convictions part they get, mostly--it's the courage part of the book they should read.

    I don't care if Gary Hart is arrogant or contemptuous in this regard; any additional voice that tells Democrats to STAND UP is doing the right thing, in my opinion.

  • LT (unverified)

    Thanks Eric T.A., your comments would have been better directed at the many empty-suited bloviators who pass for leaders today, those without any intrinsic leadership qualities except for an uncanny ability to successfully "dial for dollars" from the well-heeled donor class, and just coincidentally (of course) adhere to policies virtually indistinguishable from Republicans.

    In 1984, the Democratic "establishment" was SO sure that Mondale would win the primary in Oregon and were really angry when Mondale didn't come to Oregon but Hart did. I was one of the planners of the event here in Salem where Hart spoke on the county courthouse steps ("new idea" all right, speaking in Salem instead of just Portland and maybe Eugene).

    For those concerned about issues like treatment of veterans, Hart did more than lots of Democrats did back in earlier decades when Vietnam vets were not being treated well.

    Hart won 59% of that primary vote. We did it the old fashioned way--volunteers organized in a structure not often repeated, grass roots campaigning, talking about issues. Our local campaign office was in donated space, we had a mix of seasoned professionals and volunteers excited enough about the candidate to volunteer for their first campaign (not all of these first time volunteers were under 30, either). Some of the college Democrats involved in that campaign are still active in politics.

    But after winning that primary and becoming national convention delegates and activists inside the party (that is how I became a member of the State and District Central Comm. and a member of the Organization Comm.) we weren't treated as a fresh breeze. We were called "not real Democrats", more often than I care to remember.

    TA, you have the right to believe whatever you want. No one is forcing you to agree with Gary. But thanks for the heads up. I always relish reading Gary's books. You might enjoy A Good Fight, an older book he wrote. It is partly autobiographical and partly his view of history. The Foreward begins by talking about the process of reform and how difficult it can be. Anyone who has ever worked on reform measures (institutional reform, reform legislation, reform movements) knows it can be a long hard slog.

    And Steven Maurer is right. If you don't like the book, don't read it.

  • Ed Bickford (unverified)

    The Honorable Ann Richards passed away from cancer. She truly epitomized all that is grand about Texas, unlike her successor as Gov.

    She gave a good description of what it means to be a Democrat; sorry if some want to deny it means anything, but it transcends narrow agendas and rings true. From her July 1988 Keynote Address to the Democratic Convention:

    "'To Be All That We Can Be' Now, we Democrats believe that America is still the country of fair play, that we can come out of a small town or a poor neighborhood and have the same chance as anyone else and it doesn't matter whether we are black or Hispanic or disabled or a woman.

    We believe that America is a country where small business owners must succeed because they are the bedrock, backbone of our economy.

    We believe that our kids deserve good day care and public schools. We believe our kids deserve public schools where students can learn, and teachers can teach.

    We want to believe that our parents will have a good retirement - and that we will, too.

    We Democrats believe that Social Security is a pact that cannot be broken. We want to believe that we can live out our lives without the terrible fear that an illness is going to bankrupt us and our children.

    We Democrats believe that America can overcome any problem, including the dreaded disease called AIDS.

    We believe that America is still a country where there is more to life than just a constant struggle for money.

    And we believe that America must have leaders who show us that our struggles amount to something and contribute to something larger, leaders who want us to be all that we can be."

  • Steve Zemke MajorityRulesBlog (unverified)

    People should read Hart's book before making judgements. Democrats need to be open to ideas of how to get back into running this country. Hart talks about returning back to the base of the Democratic party and that is caring about people.

    Democrats do need to unify and rally around a common vision. Being all things means just that. You have no priorities, no vision, no rallying point.

    Republicans have their rallying points, visions and all the rest. And they are showing with the Chafee race that in despiration they can rally to win. Can the Democrats say the same?

    I have been reading Harts book and while it is not an huge eyeopener with new visions, it still is an attempt to bring Democrats together so we can again be the winning majority party.

  • Bubba (unverified)


    You're not criticizing Gary Hart for having an adulterous affair, are you?

    He's still a Democrat, right? We're not supposed to care if Democrats have a little harmless liasion with power groupies. Right?

    Everybody needs a little love, especially if you're running for President. I mean, the fact the yacht was named "Monkey Business" is no worse than when I saw Monica on the rope line (Red Beret, Big Smile, Bright Red Lips)...I think I'll shake hands with the fellow standing two feet behind you....I'M SORRY DARLIN'...I just groped you on National T.V. didn't I? My bad...

    You like pepperoni? How 'bout you bring me a slice of something hot and spicy to the oval office?

  • LT (unverified)

    Bubba, what you are saying is that the only thing which matters in politics is that politicians lead a clean life--right?

    So I am assuming you were a strong supporter of President Carter, who has published a volume of his lessons to his Baptist adult Sunday School class.

    Or are you a Republican who supported Reagan, the first divorced/ remarried man to serve as President?

    Or did you vote for former Evangelical Layman of the Year John Anderson in 1980?

    Perhaps you aren't old enough to remember back that far and are just taking partisan potshots.

  • LT (unverified)

    Negative campaigning works, it works well, and there is quite good reason to believe it has a legitimate place in politics.

    For that to be true, Terry Kay would have been elected State Senator in 1990, Denny Smith's "voice of Hitler " commercial would have won him another term that year, and in 1992 Les AuCoin's negative strategy would have been so successful that he would have won that primary without a recount and led a united Democratic party to victory over Bob Packwood in the fall of 1992. Not to mention "we're all real tired of career politicians" electing Gordon Smith in Jan. 1996 over the 100% positive campaign of Ron Wyden.

    Except that none of that happened, and there are those still angry about those tactics.

    Studies show that negative campaigning: can be useful for a "known" to attack an "unknown" (but not vice versa) can depress turnout (if it doesn't motivate friends/ supporters of the candidate to redouble their efforts) *can be unpredictable (ask rural voters about a mailer supposedly "for " them, dreamed up by big city people, motivating undecided voters to vote for the other candidate in disgust).

  • Rathman (unverified)
    <h2>Gary Hart was on the senate approval committee in 1976 and one of the key critics against George H. W. Bush being appointed Director of the CIA. At the time, the idea of a CIA director who was previously the GOP Chairman was ridiciculous, but in the aftermath of Watergate, the Kissinger-Haig-Bush-Rumsfield-Etc sought to push its agenda though. Nelson Rockefeller became Vice President (before a rather embarassing demise I invite people to Google up) and long-time crony, Gerald Ford ascended to the Presidency. Somewhere after that, Gary Hart fell into the CFR crowd--the same august group of scholars and statemen who pelted ink to Foreign Affairs about the Ukrainean elections being invalid based on exit polling, but mentioned not a word about the exact same caliber of discrepancies regarding exit polling and official results in Ohio in 2004. Poor Gary Hart gets tapped for this pathetic reinforcement of dialectic conditioning via the Republican-Democrat punching bag (get the pendulum analogy?), when the American people deep down really don't give a damn about the New World Order and remain determinably nationalistic, whether they think of themselves as liberals or conservatives.</h2>

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