The Hart Panteth

Article excerpt

The Hart Panteth

The news from Troublesome Gulch, Colorado, is that Senator Gary Hart is mulling over strategies and sorting out issues for his Presidential campaign in 1988. It may seem a bit early but it takes time to raise the money, gather a crew and write the scenario for the nation's top public production. A Presidential election is like a Hollywood blockbuster. Four years in the making, financed by giant conglomerates and amortized by the dimes and dollars of countless customers, tailored to the trends of pop culture, the campaign is concept first and content last.

Gary Hart: The Movie begins with a preppy cowboy hero holed up in his ranchette whittling away at a new image. Unsure of his support in the mountains where he makes his home, he will not run for re-election to the Senate when his term expires this year. That early retreat may cost him media momentum, but it has the virtue of removing him from dangerous legislative debates where votes are counted and positions recorded. He need not take a stand, for example, on military aid to the Nicaraguan contras, on specific cuts in government programs, on appropriations for weapons systems, on abortion, school prayer or new tax plans. The risk, of course, is "to be that visible that long and have nothing to say,' as he told reporters who dropped in at the Gulch this past week. But then, what is to be said?

"I haven't yet heard what the message is,' Hart allowed with characteristic ingenuousness. None of the various Democratic hopefuls has "quite worked out [a] foreign policy.' Everyone is still looking for "a way to be prodefense without giving the Pentagon everything it wants,' he mused. He will seek the endorsement of traditional Democratic constituencies (the same "special interests' he condemned Walter Mondale for appeasing in the 1984 primaries), but he may not be "willing to say what they [want] to hear to get their endorsements.' That gets Hart through the opening titles; now where's the rest of him?

It may be that Hart, the candidate, will come up with the message that could give direction to the Democratic Party, but the signs are not auspicious. Party politicos have been looking for "new ideas' for quite a while, and that they are more in the dark than ever suggests that the search itself is flawed. What they lack is a political context from which a program could emerge. …