Gary Hart: Still the Patriot His New Book Zeroes in on America's Political Malaise

Article excerpt

WERE it not for a politically fatal mixture of testosterone and hubris, Gary Hart might well have been elected president in 1988, sparing us the ensuing eight-year Bush-Clinton-Perot debacle.

But Hart may have done an even greater service if the nation and its political establishment choose to take heed with his latest book, "The Patriot: An Exhortation to Liberate America From the Barbarians" (The Free Press, $21).

In a relatively short (187 pages) yet impressively incisive work modeled on Machiavelli's "The Prince," the former Colorado senator and two-time Democratic presidential contender offers keen insights into a rapidly changing world, America's place in it and the causes of our continuing political malaise.

Hart accurately concludes that America lacks leadership in large part because its politicians are pandering to the wrong side of the continuing conflict between the visionary and the mundane responsibilities imposed on every government and its leaders:

"Citizens wonder that the great leaders are so rare even as they demand the current leaders fix the potholes. Candidates for office in the United States condition public expectations by performing literally the servant's role: gasoline station attendant, grocery clerk and trash hauler. If you are able to imagine Charles de Gaulle doing this, you are able to imagine anything. Such exercises in humility, if not self-humiliation, may or may not be necessary to expiate the real and imagined sins of political representatives and temper public hostility, but they are unquestionably successful in destroying the mythology of separateness required for heroic leadership."

Those are mordant words to keep in mind throughout the summer and fall as we are subjected to hundreds of carefully scripted photo ops featuring Bill, Bob and their ilk trying to act like just common folks.

In fact, there might be much to be gained by completely tuning out the conventions and campaigns, absorbing "The Patriot" and reflecting on how, or perhaps more importantly whether, Americans can implement its call for a visionary, moral, activist electorate and leadership to regain some sense of purpose, relevance and decency in our government and political lives. …