The Man Who Wears No Label
With his hybrid ideology, Gary Hart resists classification
(Time; March 12, 1984) -- Gary Hart embodies a lot of contradictions, and he knows it. He casts himself as the political avatar for younger Americans, yet he was born a decade before the baby boom, and turned 30 in the 1960s, just when people over 30 were not to be trusted. The presidential candidate whose campaign he managed in 1972, George McGovern, ran against the Democratic Establishment from the hard left; now Hart is running against the party Establishment, not exactly from the right or the left, but from off center. "Our task," says Hart's Southern coordinator, David Garrett III, "is to show that Gary is an atypical politician who can't be characterized as liberal, conservative or moderate."
There are personal paradoxes as well. Hart can come across as chilly and passionless, but he turns angry -- passionately so -- when news stories describe him as "cool and aloof." He has a reputation for humorlessness -- and jokes about it. "I do have a sense of humor," he says. "But if you have to tell someone you have a sense of humor, I guess you're in trouble."
If it were up to the candidate, such questions of personality would be kept out of the election. Indeed, Hart might prefer a campaign battle between position papers: his policy schemes vs. Walter Mondale's and John Glenn's, and may the best ideas win. Presidential politics is never so neat and bloodless, of course. Nor is Hart's appeal strictly intellectual. His political successes are due in some measure to his rugged good looks, about which he is a bit vain. But by and large Hart has staked his candidacy on the premise that he takes undoctrinaire policy approaches, that among the Democratic contenders he alone offers "new ideas and a new vision for this country's future."
The claim is a cheeky one. Because campaign positions are inevitably reduced to sketchy impressions and short-hand phrases, Hart has been vulnerable to caricature as the candidate who merely espouses the idea of new ideas. In fact, he bristles with notions about how Government should be run. Some sound sensible and promising, some trendy and impractical. Cynics say that Hart simply rediscovered an old marketing trick. "New faces, New Frontier, New Deal, new horizons," chants Illinois' Democratic state chairman, Calvin Sutker. "It's always good to say something is new."
But Hart's freshness seems more than packaging. Many of his ideas have never been exposed on the national political stage. His emphasis on newness means, in many instances, that he will abandon liberal totems that have been outworn or misshapen. "The pragmatism of the New Deal has become doctrine," he says. "We have saddled ourselves with expedients."
Still, he is usually on the left. The liberal Americans for Democratic Action gives his Senate record a rating of 80 out of 100; Mondale gets a 92, Glenn a 65. Like almost every other Democratic presidential candidate, Hart favors a cutoff of aid to El Salvador unless its leaders put a stop to quasiofficial political murder of civilians. Domestically, Hart says, "I see Government as a problem solver." For him that includes aggressive efforts by Washington to remedy racial and sexual inequities. He has even endorsed the problematic feminist principle of equal pay for comparable work.
Yet Hart's liberalism is not automatic. He is probably more of a "neoliberal." He respects the primacy of market forces and thinks business growth is generally a good thing. He voted against imposing a windfall-profits tax on newly discovered U.S. oil. Nuclear power, he believes, cannot be phased out until the next century, when conservation and "renewable energy technologies" might pick up the slack. Nor is he reflexively sympathetic to labor unions; they are skeptical of Hart but supported him in both his Senate races.
To shrink the budget deficit. Hart has said that social- welfare "entitlement" such as Medicare ($59.8 billion this year) and Medicaid ($20.8 billion) must be reduced. Typically, though, Hart does not advocate simply cutting back medical aid to the poor. He would change the way government-subsidized medical care is delivered, emphasizing preventive medicine and expanding coverage for treatment at home. Indeed, Hart's fundamental "new idea" is that Washington policy debates too often turn into deadening arguments between fiscal generosity and fiscal frugality. To Hart, the more important question is how Government money is spent, not simply how much.
After nine years on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Hart is a specialist in military matters. He favors increasing the defense budget by 4% to 5% a year -- roughly what Mondale or Glenn would spend. But Hart, who co-founded the Congressional Military Reform Caucus, offers a whole range of proposals for reshaping the military. First he wants the U.S. to redefine explicitly its global security interests, then to reckon exactly what weapons are necessary to defend those interests. Unlike Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, who feels the U.S. needs highly sophisticated arms to keep up with the Soviets, Hart favors rugged and comparatively simple weapons. He would build squadrons of nimble F-16 jet fighters instead of expensive, oversophisticated F-18s. He would beef up the Navy in particular, implementing his "maritime strategy" by procuring many small conventional carriers instead of the two $1.6 billion nuclear carriers now on order. He would spend more on unglamorous areas such as pay and supplies, less on vast strategic systems.
His foreign policy is cautious, probably less interventionist than his main rivals'. He called for the withdrawal of Marines from Beirut in September 1982, long before Mondale or Glenn did. he favored the deployment of U.S. Pershing II and cruise missiles in Western Europe, but only reluctantly; NATO solidarity, he believes, is too much at stake to do otherwise.
On nuclear arms control, Hart has well-informed, unhysterical ideas about strategic doctrine. He endorses the development of small, mobile missiles with single nuclear warheads as cheaper and more stabilizing than the mammoth, multiwarhead MX. He favors a freeze on nuclear weapons, but only halfheartedly. "The freeze is a symbol," he has complained, "not policy." His newish wrinkle on arms control: a joint superpower "communication center" in a neutral country, staffed by U.S. and Soviet officers who would make sure both sides correctly understood each other's military moves.
Hart's "industrial policy" is more nebulous. Basically, he would coordinate disparate Government policies (banking regulations, tax laws, research-and-development funding) according to one grand strategy. Some of his specific economic plans are reasonable enough, but others seem almost too clever, as if the candidate acquired ideas wholesale from a think-tank catalogue. Hart recommends bold agreements between labor, industrial management and Wall Street. Fine, but he practically ignores the political and bureaucratic impediments. It might be a good idea to set up a presidential Council on Emerging Issues to address long-term economic strategy, but Hart's high hopes for such a council -- he thinks it could help guide capital into high-growth industries -- seem misplaced.
Yet he can be clear-sighted in the face of political pressure. He opposes protectionist measure like the pending "domestic content" bill, supported by Mondale and organized labor, that would effectively require Japanese auto companies to manufacture cars in the U.S., creating jobs but raising prices.
In his personal life as in his politics, the past recedes almost to the vanishing point. He was born in Ottawa, Kans., in 1936. Some years ago, curiously, his official biographies began listing the year as 1937; when reporters pointed out the discrepancy, Hart restored the lost year. "I never felt it was an obligation of mine," he says, "to go out and correct it." More curiously still, he was christened Gary Hartpence; in the late 1950s the family dropped the second syllable of its surname. Hart, he says, had been the original, 18th century family name. His parents "decided to go ahead and do it. Lee (his wife) and I agreed."
Hart's father was a farm-equipment salesman, his mother a Sunday-school teacher. At age ten, says Uncle Ralph Hartpence, "Gary could talk to adults and make sense." His boyhood was wholesome and placid: small-town Kansas just before rock 'n' roll, lazy evening drives up and down Main Street, hanging out at the Dairy Queen with Best Pal Duane Hoobing or reading at the library. "He was good-looking and could have been very popular," says Hoobing, who teaches citizenship at a junior high school not far from Ottawa, "but he wouldn't pursue popularity for its own sake." He was clearly in hot pursuit of something. He tried four sports, acted, edited the paper, played drums in the band and participated in student politics. "Gary was always worried that at the end of his life he might not have made a contribution," Hoobing says. "There was a fire burning inside him."
Summers he worked on the railroad alongside blacks and Chicanos, acquiring populist convictions. Hart spent four years at Bethany Nazarene College in Oklahoma, a conservative Methodist school, where he was not allowed to drink (he likes margaritas nowadays) or see movies (he is a compulsive filmgoer). After graduation, he went east with his new wife Lee, now 48, whom he met at Bethany. At Yale, Hart was a divinity-school student, then earned a law degree. His missionary instincts took a political turn in 1960, when he volunteered for John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign.
A taste of Washington came next, first at the Justice Department and later at Interior. The Harts moved with their two children (Andrea, now 19, and John, 17) to Colorado, and for a few years he practiced and taught law. But the pull of presidential politics was stronger. First came a heady few months in the Robert Kennedy crusade. Then, in 1970, he took over the campaign of an obscure South Dakota Senator with powerful feelings against the Viet Nam War -- "a one-issue candidate," Hart said, "with no charisma" -- and miraculously engineered McGovern's nomination.
Hart in 1984 is just the opposite: he has charisma, a sheaf of issues. But even back then, he was drifting to the right of his colleagues. Hart wrote in 1973 that the Democrats' "liberal wing . . . was running dry. The traditional sources of invigorating, inspiring and creative ideas were dissipated. American liberalism was near bankruptcy." When Hart first ran for the Senate, ten years ago, he virtually disowned McGovern, and relations between the two men remain strained.
Hart's sharp-edged intelligence has led him naturally to a campaign that flaunts policy ideas. Yet he has not surrounded himself with issues advisers. Hart is self-obtained. Loners seldom accomplish much in the clubby Senate, and Hart's legislative achievements are few. But he is respected by Republicans and Democrats for his conscientiousness and depth. "If I was in the horse-trader business, I don't think I'd hire Gary Hart," says Senator James Exon, a Nebraska Democrat. "He's not a wheeler-dealer. But I like him." So do most colleagues, it seems, despite Hart's shy standoffishness. "I'm not gregarious," Hart admits. "I don't go around slapping people on the back."
His maverick astringency serves to distinguish Hart from Mondale. But governing can seldom be an antiseptic enterprise. According to Lawrence Smith, his former legislative aide, Hart despises "the jukin' and jivin' phoniness of politics." Of course, he has lately realized the value of campaign theatrics. In New Hampshire, he put on red suspenders for an ax-throwing contest, slurped chocolate ice cream with three boys in a shopping mall, shook hands with a store mannequin for a laugh. Some of his campaign mannerisms resemble President Kennedy's, a likeness Hart is happy to encourage.
What really fuels Hart? More powerful than even his hatred of "phoniness" is his supercharged ambition. "He would do anything, including putting out contracts on all his opponents, to get himself elected President," says one friend hyperbolically. Indeed, Hart's self-confidence is astonishing. He believes he is destined to lead. "The more I'm in public life," he said last year, "the more I'm convinced that I'm ideally suited to governing." Steely ambition disqualifies no one for the presidency. "I know I'm going to be President," he said recently. "I just know."
Hart, wearing black cowboy boots and an ersatz Cartier watch remains something of a mystery man, a cross between brooding Jay Gatsby from the West and Star Trek's ultrarational Mr. Spock from the future. "I never reveal myself or who I am," he said in 1972. Hart once suggested his relationship with Lee was "a reform marriage": they have separated twice, and reconciled most recently in the spring of 1982. In public they seem distant, rarely glancing at each other or touching. Hart is an avid reader. Not long ago, a reporter suggested he read Ironweed, William Kennedy's prizewinning novel; Hart did. He has been plowing through a biography of Lyndon Johnson and a dissection of Henry Kissinger. Since 1980 Hart and Maine Senator William Cohen have been writing a novel about international terrorism.
In his 1983 book, A New Democracy, chapter epigraphs are pulled from Democratic heroes (Kennedy and Franklin Roosevelt) but also from free-market Economists Adam Smith and George Stigler. Hart's hybrid ideology is bracing. Others on Capitol Hill and elsewhere are rethinking liberalism, but Hart is a bona- fide leader in military reform, and is making a point of becoming thoroughly knowledgeable about other issues. Is he remote, too tightly wound, cold-blooded? 'Emotion in nomination politics," he said before Iowa and New Hampshire, "is the product of success. The day I win my first primary, this will be the most emotional campaign of all."
-- By Kurt Andersen.
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