Thursday, June 26, 2008

America’s Next Chapter

Former Senator Hart wrote a thought-provoking op-ed piece for the NY Times yesterday (Wednesday 26 June). The first thing that occurs to me is not "if only he'd kept his pecker in his pants" but "why did he dare the media to catch him?"

How badly is Hart's name damaged? This badly: in the website I entered "Gary Hart" in the search box, and the number 2 hit was this item:

Gary Hart's Townhouse
517 6th Street, SE, Washington, DC
During his presidential campaign, Gary Hart, a Democrat U.S. Senator from Colorado, challenged reporters to find evidence of rumored philandering. The Miami Herald took up the challenge and staked out Hart's Capitol Hill townhouse. When Donna Rice arrived one night and didn't leave until the next morning, the newspaper ran the story. Hart claimed that reporters didn't watch both entrances to the home and could not have seen when Rice entered and left the building. But his presidential campaign was permanently damaged and he ultimately withdrew from the race.

The item is in the Scandalous Sites section of Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho (hey, the rhymes: Crapo Idaho. Some name, huh? He must've gotten a lot of flak in school).

Anyways, Gary Hart served in the Senate from 1975 to 1986. His biography includes that he graduated Bethany (Okla.) Navarene College 1958, Yale Divinity School 1961, Yale University Law School 1964, and earned a Ph.D. at Oxford University in 2001. So he went back to get his Ph.D. long after lkeaving the Senate. An accomplished man, intelligent, flawed.

In his essay he writes of the cycles evident in American history, as Schlesinger and Emerson and Henry Adams wrote.

What matters more than the length of the cycles is that these swings, between what Schlesinger called periods of reform and periods of consolidation, clearly occur. If we somewhat arbitrarily fix the age of Franklin D. Roosevelt as 1932 to 1968 and the era of Ronald Reagan as 1968 to 2008, a new cycle of American political history — a cycle of reform — is due.

Interesting to see FDR's age extended all the way to 1968, nearly a quarter century after he died. And to see Reagan's age begin a dozen years before he became president. Yet I can see what he means.

He postulates that Republicans, the religious right on social issues, the radical tax cutters or “supply-siders” on economic issues, and the neoconservatives on foreign policy have produced only superficial religiosity, a failed war and record deficits, and that traditional conservatives, who are dedicated to resistance to government intrusion into private lives, fiscal discipline and caution on military interventions, have yet to re-emerge, and may not.

He sees the internecine warfare of the GOP lasting as much as a decade. Fine by me.

Democrats, meanwhile, have yet to produce a coherent ideological framework to replace the New Deal, despite an eight-year experiment in “triangulation” and an undefined “centrism.” Once elected, Barack Obama would have a rare opportunity to define a new Democratic Party. He could preside over the beginning of a new political cycle that, if relevant to the times, would dominate American politics for three or four decades to come.

No Clinton fan, clearly.

Noting the power of “custom and fear,” and “of orthodoxy and of complacency,” Schlesinger believed that “the subversion of old ideas by the changing environment” would give a new leader the best chance to create a new cycle of reform and innovation.

Subvert the prevailing orthodoxy by changing conditions in order to institute change.

Senator Obama’s attempt to introduce the next American cycle should include, at minimum, three elements. National security requires a new, expanded, post-cold-war definition. America must transition from a consumer economy to a producing one. And the moral obligations of our stewardship of the planet must become paramount.

Very sensible to redefine the national strategy. But the US to become a production economy? Producer of what? The US has old plants, a post-industrial, service-based economy, high wages (relative to other nations), a focus on quarterly and annual results, no national vision or plan; how can it become a producer?

The next cycle of American history is as yet unframed, awaiting a national leader who can define a new role for government at home and a new role for America in the world of the 21st century.

Before it is too late, if it already isn't: the US is sinking, China, Brazil, India and Russia are rising, and we're arguing about prayer in school, guns, and abortion.

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