Where the New Democrats went wrong

Gary Hart says Clinton and Gore abandoned their base to expand the party, but says he'll support Gore anyway.

Topics: Al Gore,

Colorado Sen. Gary Hart was the original New Democrat when he ran for the party’s presidential nomination in 1984 against Walter Mondale. Hart was ahead of his time in another way: He got derailed by a 1987 sex scandal, his affair with model Donna Rice, which would later seem tame in comparison with the Monica Lewinsky drama.

Hart spoke to the Shadow Convention on Los Angeles this week about how the new New Democrats lost their bearings. He told Salon that, despite some reservations, he’s supporting Al Gore and says, “The Democratic Party is not beyond redemption.

You were seen as the original New Democrat in 1984. What were you about, and how did it differ from the Clinton-Gore version of “New Democrats”?

Our goal was to move the party forward without compromising its principles. These guys have gained power, but I’m not sure they maintained the principles.

What I had in mind was to expand the party beyond a shrinking New Deal base of basically organized labor, some minorities and old traditional Democrats. It wasn’t to abandon those people, by any means. But it was somehow to appeal to young people and independent voters. I believed that there was an emerging new economy. We sought to capture people who understood that the economy of America was shifting away from processing raw materials into manufactured goods, and towards information technologies, communications and so forth.

What was your basic critique of Mondale?

That he simply represented the old elements of the Roosevelt coalition without more. And it wasn’t a critique that this was wrong: It was just not enough. Organized labor’s big issue of the day was legislation called domestic content, which required that a certain percentage of all manufactured goods be manufactured in the United States. It simply was heavy-handed and mechanical and it wasn’t going to work. I was against it, and Vice President Mondale was for it. And that was a big watershed with labor. And I was for a different defense. I was for military reform. And I wrote a book called “A New Democracy” with a lot of so-called “new ideas,” such as individual training accounts giving workers training money as they shifted jobs. We were progressive pragmatists, trying to bring the Democratic Party into the future.

How does your version of a “New Democrat” differ from Bill Clinton and Al Gore today?

Well, I had my own version of the napkin. Arthur Laffer and Jack Kemp had a napkin curve that was supposed to correlate tax cuts and economic growth. I had one that overlaid the left-right spectrum with a vertical future-past spectrum. I think those of us who were trying to find a new way were on the left. We were redistributionists in a sense, and government activists. But we also thought we ought to be exploring new ways of doing things, and not simply holding on to the old programs. But I think the so-called New Democrats today are a different breed of cat. What they did was operate on this left-right spectrum, rather than future-past as we tried to do. I think President Clinton moved the party back here to the center of the left-right spectrum, as on welfare reform. I think that gave away too much what we stood for, our principles; I don’t say he was unprincipled, just that I wouldn’t have taken that approach in welfare reform. I saw a story in the New York Times about the first county in America to eliminate welfare. The welfare officials of that county put enormous effort in understanding each individual welfare person’s problems. They went to a great trouble to put that person together with an available job, and also provide the support mechanisms necessary. I would have made sure that happened on a national basis.

Do you have any major differences with Gore?

I think that this administration has had no defense policy that I can understand. The Defense Department needs desperately to be reformed. Not necessarily taken an axe to, but reshaped, reconfigured. I’ll be very blunt about it. The problem in reform in the Defense Department is one service, it’s the U.S. Army. If you and I were to go up to 30,000 feet, and look at political trends in the first quarter of the 21st century, and you were to ask how you would summarize the biggest political issue of this century, I would put it in one word. The issue is “sovereignty.” Nation-states are eroding. I am firmly convinced of this. And there is one key area that I think President Clinton should have provided more leadership: peacemaking. Right now we have three ways of dealing with conflict. One is, don’t do anything. That’s Rwanda. One is to put together coalitions of the willing. That was the Persian Gulf, Kosovo, the Yugoslav mess. The third is to go it alone. That was Somalia, Haiti. Americans don’t like to go it alone when they lose their lives. On the other hand, they watch CNN, they don’t want to let women and children be slaughtered without doing something. So what’s the alternative? I think an international peacemaking force. Peacekeepers can’t do that, because by definition they’re defense; they stand on a street corner and stop people from killing each other. But if they’re already killing each other, the guys aren’t equipped to stop that. You’ve got to have a combat capability.

Nader is arguing that it’s so important to build a long-term progressive movement that even if he cost Gore this election and Bush won, it would be worth it if it led to a long-term progressive movement. Do you agree?

No, no, because his rock is too small and too slippery right now. And the Democratic Party is not beyond redemption. I hold out hope, principally because of some of the young people coming up, that the Democratic Party can once again redefine itself in more progressive terms. Now I have to qualify my answer in saying this. I haven’t read the Green Party platform. If it’s simply a retreat to standard New Deal liberalism, it’s not going to fly. I definitely disagree on global trade. We’re not going to stop it. We’ve got to help regulate it, we’ve got to make it work for as many people as possible.

What’s your basic solution to campaign finance reform?

Well, scrap the laws and start over again. A combination of McCain-Feingold, free television and radio time for all candidates, abolish soft money and a low limit on special interest contributions to individual candidates. I would abolish PACs. And public financing has to be part of it.

What do you do about the primaries, since you can’t have public financing in the primaries?

I know. I don’t know the answer to that.

If Gore said to you, “Look, Gary, the only way I can get elected is to move to the right,” how would you respond?

I disagree, I disagree. Prove the case. That’s what Dick Morris would tell him. Or (Democratic Leadership Council chairman) Al From. But I just disagree.

What case would you make to him that he’s wrong?

I would say half the voters out there are waiting to hear some new message that’s courageous and bold and truthful, and that alienates the powerful interests. And that indicates that you’re going to govern in a bolder and more experimental way.

Some people say Gore is more progressive than he appears. But he’s afraid to be who he really is because he fears losing his electability, that that’s why he’s so stiff.

I have no idea if that’s true. I can’t peek inside his head. All I can say is that if somebody doesn’t know who they are, or hasn’t resolved fundamental core issues of their own character and principles, they shouldn’t run for president.

What was it like for you on a personal level to raise money for your various campaigns?

I hated it, I hated it.

What did you hate about it?

Because it was an act of ego. It was saying, “Give me money.” If I asked for people’s energy, time, money, I always put it in terms of the effort or the cause, because that’s the way I thought of what I was doing. I mean, I’m so different from Bill Clinton here. He likes to go in a room and say “Give me money, give me money!” He likes it! I can’t do that, I’d say “give my campaign money,” or “we need your help” or something. I thought the system was becoming corrupt. I said that, and I made it a campaign issue. It was like a premonition in a way. It was just the beginning. I had an administrative assistant my first term in the Senate, to illustrate the point. He said that by the time he left in 1980 it was routine in Washington that no interest group came to any member of Congress’ office without leaving a check, an envelope with the administrative assistant, which was legal under the rules. You couldn’t give it to anyone else but the A.A.. They’d just go in, make their case and on the way out toss this check: “Here’s to the Senator’s reelection.” I had no idea. And he said “You were the last guy in Washington not to do that.” He said I had guys, Tommy Boggs and others, who said “Of course, we want to contribute to the Senator’s reelection race.” And he said, no, no, no, he doesn’t do that. And it made them mad. It made them mad. So that was the beginning. And I think I was beginning to feel so teeth-grating about it, that I didn’t like it. I was not looking forward to the 1988 race in part because of that.

You always seemed uncomfortable in fundraising situations.

Oh, that was all right. I mean, I’d been through two Senate races. But the rap on me was “cool and aloof.” Well, I was shy, I wasn’t a back-slapping type of politician. And I used to go in a room, and put my back to the wall, and people would come around. And the press would say he’s never going to make it. Well, there was something about that that people liked, that I didn’t play the game.

Do you think the public’s reaction to the impeachment scandal implies that the public has grown up on sexual matters?

I don’t think the public ever was not grown up. The public always separated the private from the public, always understood the difference between what’s interesting and what’s important. The press people will say, “Yeah, but look, they gobbled it up, they watched the programs, they read the newspapers.” Of course. It’s interesting. But do they think it’s important? No. They make that distinction. The press doesn’t make that distinction. If it’s interesting, it’s important, because they’re interested in selling; they’re selling stuff. I know there’s this theory that we’ve gone through an evolutionary cycle. I don’t think the people have changed, but the press probably has. I think the press learned from the Clinton incident that there’s a tolerable limit. They’re now beginning to figure out where they can go with that.

Fred Branfman can be reached at Fredbranfman@aol.com. His Web site is www.trulyalive.org.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>