Exclusive interview with 1984/1988 candidate Gary Hart

This morning I had the opportunity to speak with Gary Hart via telephone from law office. From 1975 to 1987, Hart served as a Democratic Senator from the state of Colorado. In 1984, he was the runner-up candidate for the Democratic Party's nomination for president and in 1988 was also a leading candidate.

During 1970-1972, Hart managed Senator George McGovern's insurgent campaign for the presidency, and most recently, he co-chaired both the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century, which issued three public reports forecasting the age of terrorism and outlined a new, post-Cold War national security policy, as well as the Council on Foreign Relations task force on homeland security, which recently released its report "America--Still Unprepared, Still in Danger".

To begin with, I asked Senator Hart to speak about 1972 and its relevance today.

Jonathan Singer: Senator Hart, thank you so much for joining me today.

Gary Hart: Sure.

Singer: In 1972 you ran the Presidential campaign for George McGovern, the insurgent South Dakota Senator. One of the things that aided you in your campaign garnering the Democratic nomination were the changes brought on by the so-called "McGovern Commission," which helped reform the primaries. With Senator Kerry garnering the Democratic nomination effectively after the first caucus in Iowa this year, is it time to think about changing the nomination process for the Democrats for 2012?

Hart: No. I don't think the nomination process should be changed just for change sake. Why it was necessary in '72 was the chaos brought on at the '68 Democratic Convention by protests against the Vietnam War, Civil Rights, equal rights for women, environmentalists and others who were shut out of the nomination process who had been activated by movements and causes of the 60s and could not find any room for participation or outlet within the Democratic party.

The party leaders understood that changes had to be made before '72 or it would blow the party wide open. So the commission was created with Senator McGovern as the Chair, but it was a broadly-based commission and it did seek to open up the process to those who wanted to participate and wanted support one of the Democratic candidates.

The very fact that Senator Kerry won what seemed to be fairly easily, but what was not, is not itself a cause for totally rearranging the rules. People did have a right of participation, there was a field of seven or eight candidates, all the candidates got a fair chance at the nomination and they simply did not succeed. So it wasn't a product of rules that shut anyone out.

Singer: Very good. As a Senator, you were very reform-minded and you accepted a number of unorthodox positions for Democrats, such as your position in forming the Military Reform Caucus. Do you think the Democrats need to reclaim the mantle of the "reform agenda"?

Hart: I do very much. What happened after the 60s and into the 70s was that Democrats fell into a more or less reactionary position of trying to protect the programs that had been achieved in the period between the New Deal and the Great Society: social progressive legislation in job creation, protection of the rights of workers, urban redevelopment and so forth. When the country began to rightward in the 70s in the pre-Reagan age, the Democrats increasingly found themselves in a position of fighting against change to protect the programs they had achieved in that 30-35 year period in the middle of the century.

What I trying to suggest was that we could use the forces of change--globalization, increased international trade, the information revolution, and other changes that were going on in society--to reform our political institutions and the programs and policies that had been successful in the middle part of the century. That is to say, we had to continue to adapt to change, and we could use that change to our benefit and the country's benefit. I think to a large degree, people in the party--particularly younger people--understood that message, and that's why I was able to challenge Vice President Mondale right into the Democratic Convention that year.

I think we find ourselves in pretty much the same position in the early part of the 21st century.

Singer: Now speaking about that 1984 run, again you were progressive on the idea of reform, in this case Campaign Finance Reform, not accepting PAC money. With vastly more money spent on campaigns this year, in the range of 3 billion dollars despite the changes brought on by McCain-Feingold, what more needs to be done?

Hart: McCain-Feingold was really a successor to the legislation I introduced in the early and mid-eighties, and it took twenty years to get even that passed, and it was half a loaf of what needed to be done.

The two major changes that have to be made are a certain amount of free media time to qualified candidates, both television and radio. That would substantially reduce the cost of campaigns because that's the bulk of where the money goes. And then an overall limit on expenditures for each campaign in exchange for the free media time.

If those two reforms were enacted, we'd be well down the road. But I think it's going to be very difficult because the television and radio stations and conglomerates fight against these reforms because they make an enormous amount of money on political campaigns.

Singer: How true.

Moving forward to the 1988 campaign, in your speech announcing your campaign you said, in effect, that the nation [did] not need to move either to the left or the right, but rather to recapture its basic principles, beliefs and values. With Democrats across the nation being attacked as "liberal" today, just as when you were running, how important is such inclusive language?

Hart: Well, I have always resisted the categorization, if you will, on a horizontal plain. This is Washington-speak and it's a journalistic conceit which says politics operated on a horizontal plain--left, center and right--when in fact life is lived on a vertical plain of the past and the future. If you diagram this, you would have a horizontal line that would be conventional political wisdom and then that would be bisected by a vertical line that would represent the future and the past.

What I've always argued is that the Democratic party has to be the liberal party or the party of the left, if you will, but it also has to be the party of the future. And in fact how you achieve the progressive agenda of the liberals is to be a party of change, and if you stagnate and do not become a party of change--that is at the top of the vertical line--then you begin to lose, and that is what's happened to the party in the past 25 or 30 years.

Organizations like the DLC buy into the vertical argument and they say you have to move from the left to the center. What I say is that you have move from the past to the future in order to achieve progressive and liberal goals.

Singer: Now one state that really embodied the successes of the Democrats this year, kind of bucking a national trend, was your home state of Colorado. There was great article in The Washington Post about two weeks ago by T.R. Reid in which he talked about the fact that despite the fact that the Republicans have a large advantage in registered voters and President Bush carried the state, your seat was in fact reclaimed this year by Ken Salazar, Salazar's brother John Salazar won a House seat, and the Democrats picked up both houses of the legislature. What do you see in Colorado that maybe bodes well for the Democrats nationally?

Hart: Well, I have also been unorthodox in the sense of challenging the conventional wisdom about the North and the South. In the east coast corridor, all the analysts and the commentators and pundits talk about what the Democrats have to do to recapture the South and "NASCAR Dads" and all this kind of nonsense.

I've argued for an East-West strategy for the Democratic party in which the Democratic states east of the Mississippi combine with potential Democratic states in the west, and I think Colorado is a prime example of what can be done out here. Now we win California and often win Washington and Oregon, but you can combine with that New Mexico, Colorado, possibly Arizona--which is a winnable state for Democrats--and then recapture Montana, which we used to win, and make gains in other parts of the Midwest and the West.

I think in the contest of '84 in the Democratic party, I carried every Western state, and it was because I was from this region. The issues here are different from those of the North and the South, particularly the South, which often have a hidden racial agenda behind them. Race is not the issue it is in the South. We're more concerned about energy, about environment, about issues of growth, about how you accommodate growth and opportunity with protection of the environment and the outdoors and conservation of resources. It's a whole different set of issues which Democrats can address in a progressive way.

Republican attitudes towards the West have always been pro-military and development resources--plundering of the nation's heritage. I think the Democrats can offer different security ideas--ideas for securing America in the 21st century--and a balance between growth and protection of the environment and resources. I think that's what is happening again in Colorado as it did in the 70s and 80s, and Colorado can offer a kind of prototype for the Democratic party, if people in the East will pay attention.

Singer: I know you have to run. Can I ask you one more question? Do you have time for that?

Hart: Sure.

Singer: Thanks. You just brought up the idea of Democratic strength on defending America. Throughout your career you've always been a proponent of strongly defending America; you co-chaired the so-called "Hart-Rudman" Commission, the U.S. Commission on National Security in the 21st Century. What can the Democrats do to reclaim the mantle of being stronger on defense? The Democratic party was the anti-Communist from Truman through Humphrey, and some viewed it later on as not as strong on defense. This year John Kerry was attacked by 527 groups as not being strong on defense. What do the Democrats need to do to reclaim this mantle?

Hart: I think first of all redefine what security means in the 21st century. It doesn't mean what it did in the 20th, in the age of ideology and the contest between Democracy and Communism. It means a much different thing now, and we have to redefine the nature of security and then address how to achieve it.

Part of that agenda includes:

  • Military reform--changing the structure of our forces, the personnel policies, officer training and advancement, unit cohesion--and then address our strategies, tactics and doctrines in the conflicts of the 21st century.
  • Recognize that the conflicts of the future are probably going to be urban warfare--low intensity urban warfare such as Fallujah and Mogadishu--then armies meeting in the field, and train and equip our forces for that kind of conflict.
  • Greatly increase Homeland Security against the terrorist threat by training and equipping the National Guard and Reserves for that mission.
And a whole host of other things the Bush administration is not doing in the area of Homeland Security, and then there's a long list of other initiatives we can take.

Singer: Terrific. Words can't express my gratitude. I really appreciate you taking your time.

Hart: It was my pleasure.

Singer: Have a great day.

Hart: Good luck to you.

Singer: Thank you very much.

Tags: Interview (all tags)

Comments

2 Comments

nice
You're so lucky.  That reminds me I need to wait and get home to find his autograph in the mail.

I suggest getting haloscan on your blog.

by kydem 2004-12-07 11:26AM | 0 recs
Nice interview.
I particularly liked the "vertical vs. horizontal" way of looking at things. Being the party of the future sounds very positive, of course.

Good read, good questions.

by Green Irishboy 2004-12-08 02:26AM | 0 recs

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