The Political Purge of the 1988 Presidential Front Runner Prolongs Reaganism for Generations
The 60s assassinations were very effective. And the men that were murdered at that time were never replaced. Never replaced. And so consequently we live in this very gray universe at the moment. Where we have the wealth concentrated to an ever-shrinking amount of people. If they can find a way of taking some of the rewards that are being produced by the strong section of the economy and making sure it falls into the hands of just more Americans, that’s the sort of country that I’d like my kids to grow up in.
— Bruce Springsteen (AKA The Boss)
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.
— The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, Verse 71
My motto is, “Never quit.”
— Henry Rollins
He “Was the Future Once”
In April 1987 former Colorado Senator Gary Hart was highly favored to win the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination and the general election that November. As president, most political specialists and much of the public expected Hart (and the citizenry he mobilized) would then stop the conservative Reagan revolution “cold” and begin to restore American idealism stilled by assassins’ bullets 25 and 20 years prior respectively.
Though 19 months (April 1987-November 1988) are an eternity in politics, this was the actual state-of-play of the presidential race at the time, not a “fantasy-football” version. Senator Hart, the (real-life) protagonist of the new movie drama, The Front Runner, can truly say with a wincing straight face what David Cameron said with stoic grace upon his exit from Parliament following the Brexit debacle: “I was the future once.”
Alas all that abruptly ended when deep-state sponsored mainstream journalists gang-defamed and defiled Gary for the first “seven days in May” 1987 (all phrases used advisedly) suddenly mis-portraying him in saturation “news” coverage as a serial adulterer and, in (elevated) sum: a Byronic (male) version of Edna St. Vincent Millay (who famously wrote):
“My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!”
Infuriated at being viciously attacked this way by frenzied and embroiled professional journalists’ attempting a broad-daylight character assassination of someone many of them had known personally and purportedly admired for almost two decades, on May 8, 1987 Hart abruptly quit the presidential race in a (now famous) huff. Unbelievable!
The circumstances and real reason(s) that caused “our old friend Gary” to leave the 1988 presidential race will forever be a matter of interest to historians, to non-conservatives at large, and especially to his political partisans, myself among them.
In light of the full-blown (blood-drenched) “mad mad mad mad world” featuring 30 years of “endless war” abroad and Social Darwinism at home that Reagan Republicans and neoliberal Democrats then created in “President Hart’s” absence – when 20 years of conservatism and “lite-conservatism” (1968-1988) became 50 (!) (1968- 2018) and counting – the circumstances and real reason(s) that caused “our old friend Gary” to leave the 1988 presidential race will forever be a matter of interest to historians, to non-conservatives at large, and especially to his political partisans, myself among them.
“Our Generation Wept at the Deaths of John and Robert Kennedy and of Martin Luther King...”:
The 1988 presidential campaign was not Gary Hart’s first rodeo. By STRIDENTLY opposing President Reagan throughout the 1984 Democratic presidential nomination race the (Kansas-born) Colorado Senator had provided a strong political antidote to the hemlock of arch-conservative ideology that had poisoned the American body politic.
By going ahead of President Reagan in all national polls for the 4 ½ month period between his breakthrough upset victory in the New Hampshire primary on February 28th through the July 18, 1984 Democratic National Convention roll call, Hart demonstrated beyond any reasonable cavil that the country had NOT moved sharply to the right during the Reagan Administration’s first term, as conventional wisdom had it.
I participated in Senator Hart’s three (separate and distinct) presidential campaigns in the 1980s as a volunteer outer-circle strategist and advisor (pushing 30 years of age in 1983). In a lengthy book review of Hart’s media advisor Ray Strother’s 2003 memoir (among other topics) I addressed in detail “what went wrong” for us (Hart) during the see-saw 1984 Democratic presidential primary contests. It is space-prohibitive to recount here except to say that Hart’s highly successful campaign (overall) translated into a virtually even split with former Vice-President Walter F. Mondale of the elected delegates who attended the Democratic National Convention held in Moscone Center in San Francisco in mid-July 1984. Approximately 800 unelected (essentially illegitimate) “super-delegates” (who unanimously voted for the former “veep”) provided Mondale’s wide victory margin on the first ballot.
But not before (a few hours ahead of the roll call on July 18, 1984), Hart gave one of the most inspirational (if still unsung) speeches in Democratic Convention history, the stirring peroration and conclusion of which is here.
Speaking in those concluding passages for the non-conservative members of his own Silent Generation and the most idealistic baby boomers, Gary (then 47 years old) said (among other eloquent lines):
“And now today a new generation of Americans is coming of age – a generation that has a unique bond of tragedy and triumph. Our generation wept at the deaths of John and Robert Kennedy and of Martin Luther King. We grieved at the tragedies of Vietnam and we were dismayed at the travesty of Watergate.
“But this generation also marched together in movements that altered the face of American history: the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the environmental movement, the peace movement – and we will make history yet again. …
“This campaign has sought to touch that unique idealism that identifies us as Americans, to keep alive the belief that each person can make a difference.
“For I see an America where greed, self-interest and division are conquered by idealism, by the common good and by the national interest.”
Especially at the end, as the syncopated early bars of the Chariots of Fire theme song filled the hall as Hart and his family acknowledged their delegates and supporters, there was hardly a dry eye in the house. And with millions watching at home Hart had appropriately established himself as THE transitional leader who would “if not now someday” empower the non-conservative members of his own Silent Generation and the best- and most practically idealistic members of the baby boom generation to create a better America and world.
Hart (in sum) became the Democratic Party’s “heir apparent” in the event Reagan was re-elected in November 1984. (He was.)
It Can Happen Here. And Did:
What actually happened during the next presidential cycle was extraordinary and manifested certain ugly realities we were taught in the better universities “can’t happen here” but that most certainly can and do:
“History is written by the victors” and “Stalin and his henchmen tried to erase all evidence of their national leadership adversaries’ existence” are two that come to mind relative to Senator Hart’s considerable achievements as a highly competitive Democratic presidential candidate in 1984 and the vicious effective-purge that ended his presidential aspirations in 1987-1988.
In some kind of evil elite-engineered alchemy comparable to the sci-fi conceit depicted in the (noir-ish) film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, less than 4 years later Hart’s important Convention speech along with his entire political persona were effectively erased and totally repressed from the public’s memory and political consciousness, and remained so for 3 more decades. So much so that when I learned that The Front Runner, a feature film about what Gary Hart calls “the worst week of my life” was in development I urged the movie’s producers (in the second of two earnest emails I sent via their lawyers) to include the above-linked closing clip of the real Gary Hart’s 1984 Convention speech as a coda to the film. Los Angeles entertainment attorney Alan A. Wertheimer respectfully brushed off my first email urging a broadening of the film’s intended scope, and ignored my second one.
The omission of footage of the real Hart in action is (I’m certain) part of the reason why the movie hasn’t garnered more critical and audience acclaim and attendance. Without this glimpse of the real Gary Hart, many younger viewers and even some older ones cannot possibly grasp the magnitude of the loss occasioned by the disappearance from history of the movie’s protagonist. Katie Couric, for example, is one who should well-remember and lament the loss of Hart’s leadership (having seen “up close and personal” the decline in caliber of presidential-level candidates during her 2008 interview with John McCain’s dim-wit Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin). But judging from Couric’s caustic comments about Gary – as super-earnestly played by Hugh Jackman – on her recent podcast, Katie obviously doesn’t remotely “get” what the current buzz (such as it is) over the 3-decade-old media vs. Hart ruckus is about.
Of course the simplest explanation for why the film-makers didn’t use footage of the real Hart in political action is because it would have revealed the extent of the non-resemblance of Hart and the movie star playing him, Hugh Jackman, whose acting chops, “bank-ability” and articulateness as a promoter of the movie, came at the expense of historic verisimilitude.
But since omitting a clip of the real Hart in “real time” (the 1980s) made the movie less viable commercially, I surmise a supervening reason must have compelled it. Namely the desire of the film-makers NOT to reveal (or even touch with a proverbial 10-foot pole) some or all of the inconvenient truth; the dark story of how:
- Hart’s political rivals and hidden-hand power-elites (now commonly known as members of the “deep state”) employed multiple assets within the political and intelligence community and the worlds of big business and journalism, designed and executed an (essentially) paramilitary covert action (“Operation Hart-break”?) to discredit Sen. Hart, destroy his viability as a presidential candidate and deform and disable the Democratic Party (by excluding 2 generations of idealists from becoming public servants), prolong Reaganism indefinitely and turn America into the dystopia it has since become; and
- key elements of the Fourth Estate “on cue” took leave of their senses and derailed the 1988 presidential election cycle, and did so in order to prevent from happening the impending political battle-royal between Gary Hart, as leader of the nation’s (and indirectly the world’s) non-conservatives and George H.W. Bush, as leader of the nation and world’s conservatives, lest Hart win such a general election contest and conduct a successful public interest presidency thereafter – goring many a monied- and other special interest ox in the process.
In sum, where was Oliver Stone when we needed him to tell the real story of the (joint) “epic fail” of “the system” (AKA the establishment), the media and Hart in 1987-88 with the solemnity and gravitas it deserved?
“Things Don’t Happen, They Are Made To Happen.” JFK
Trump and his supporters’ cynical rhetorical embrace of the “deep state” trope has recently compelled non-conservatives (including ironically Gary Hart himself, who is today a hale and hardy 82) to try to debunk it. But that doesn’t change its explanatory power properly understood. In his Feb. 11, 2018 main essay on his blog, Sen. Hart scoffs at the entire “deep state” concept, pointing (for example) to the unlikelihood of conspiratorial cabal(s) operating covertly under the noses of their professional colleagues in various departments of the three branches of the federal government.
With due respect to my old friend Gary and his fellow Democrat “deep state” skeptics, Hart and other non-conservatives are now defining the “deep state” too literally: The term “deep state” is merely a heuristic tool. C. Wright Mills called it “the power elite”. Pres. Eisenhower’s called it the Military-Industrial-Complex (originally drafted to read Military-Industrial-Congressional-Complex and which should have further referred-to the M-I-C-C-I-N complex, the last two initials standing for Intelligence and News.
Ike was a Kansan and general who knew whereof he spoke and his nationally televised warning (delivered January 17, 1961) upon leaving office was prophetic (i.e. in the colloquial Jewish expression: “not ‘chopped liver’”). As Ike well knew, the potential for diabolical rogueries by such arms merchants, cloak-and-dagger personnel and news managers was quite real then; and in fact has been put on steroids over the ensuing 58 years.
Although he spun it in a positive way JFK too was correct in citing “an old saying” during his western states tour in the summer of 1963: “Things don’t happen, they are made to happen.”
Elementary logic (things do not “just happen...”) tells us that a network of high-powered ultra-conservative business and governmental elites must exist and exercise illicit undue influence over our nation’s destiny. Otherwise America’s conversion from its relatively wholesome post-WW2 landscape to its present neo-feudal kakistocratic condition would never have occurred.
Looking back on our recent history: There was enough communal momentum from the World War 2 era that the generally wholesome pro-everyday-people trajectory of American society in the immediate post-war years could not be overborne by ultra-conservatives who hated the New Deal and had fascist leanings (if they were not alas actual fascists “on good behavior”). The most they could do was exploit “the red menace” and erect strict centrist guardrails over our nation’s political economy and foreign policies.
But when those centrist “guardrails” started to fail due to the upsurge in liberal consciousness (over civil rights, poverty, nuclear weapons, Vietnam, immigration, women’s, environmental and consumer issues, etc.) amongst the public between the 1950s-1970s (inclusive) these same elite hidden-hand reactionary types almost certainly resorted to assassinations to ensure the “vast right-wing conspiracy’s” political triumph over the center-left consensus that dominated American politics until January 20, 1981.
Sen. Hart’s own view to the contrary notwithstanding, hidden-hands DID transmute LBJ’s aspirational Great Society into today’s woebegone Not-Great (and fast-worsening) society first by conducting political assassinations during the 1960s and as further partially-detailed below, then by neutralizing Sen. Hart, a political acolyte of President Kennedy, at a pivotal moment in the late 1980s.
Hart’s 1984 Convention Speech – “His Finest Hour” and the Closest 2 Idealistic Generations Would Ever Come to Being Heard- and Wielding Power on the American National Stage
Hart’s entire 1984 Democratic Convention speech (which holds up remarkably well) was unavailable to the public until 2015 when C-Span pulled it out of Orwell’s “memory hole” (at my request) and it can now be viewed online here (beginning at the 5 hr. 36 min. mark preceded by a 15 minute floor demonstration, one I ardently participated in). C-Span personnel told me that the video had been formerly set to play only the portion of Day 3 of the Convention containing Jesse Jackson’s speech but that it would henceforth be set to play the entire day’s proceedings. (Go figure.)
Up to that speech Sen. Hart had been (partly-justifiably) knocked for advocating a version of the non-conservative cause that was dry, non-ideological and technocratic, an agenda that accepted some of the contours of what would become full-blown (soul-less) neoliberalism in the 1990s. (“Where’s the beef?” Walter Mondale had acerbically chided Hart.)
But in his 1984 Democratic Convention speech (most of which Gary had written himself and rehearsed with uncharacteristic emotional fervor in early June when addressing Democratic Convention delegates from Colorado) Hart conspicuously pivoted, now placing his presidential candidacy and the non-conservative cause into direct lineage with the best achievements of the Democratic Party and civil society in 20th century history. Here is how Washington Post reporter George Lardner, Jr. described Hart’s near verbatim preview of a few of the lines Hart would repeat in his nationally televised Convention speech on July 18, 1984:
Hart urged the Democrats here to “consider the costs if we fail.
“Do we really want this president to pick the next Supreme Court?”
“No!” the crowd shouted back.
“Do we really want to risk the loss of our sons in a war in Central America?” Hart continued. “Can America and the world afford four more years of a dangerous and unnecessary nuclear arms race? . . . Dare we afford to turn our backs on civil rights for minorities and equal rights for women? Can America tolerate four years of a Ronald Reagan who never again will have to face the American people?”
Each time the hall resounded with a loud “No!”
Hart asked one question that suggested that he was holding out an olive branch to organized labor, which he has criticized for being solidly in Mondale’s corner.
“Do we really want a president committed to undermine the rights and the interests of organized labor in the country?” Hart asked. As the crowd shouted “No!” again, he added:
“Let me say something by the way to my friends in labor: as president of the United States, Gary Hart will be the strongest pro-labor president you have ever seen.”
Hart’s galvanizing anti-Reagan 1984 Convention speech and all its other progressive (NOT neoliberal) content perfectly articulated to his fellow Democrats (I was then still proud to be one) “what we are for” and previewed powerful general election themes that would likely have confined President Reagan to one term if only the (mainstream) Democratic delegates and super-delegates had nominated Hart and NOT Jimmy Carter’s (prosaic) Vice President.
“Mondale is mush” Gary had memorably said just prior to the 1984 New Hampshire primary. And he was right. (That jibe likely provoked Mondale’s “Where’s the beef” retaliatory retort, which in turn slowed Hart’s momentum. Astonishingly, on such seemingly “little things” do national and world history sometimes turn.)
In tacit acknowledgment that Democratic Party super-delegates had fixed the outcome of the 1984 presidential nomination vote in favor of his rival, Hart promised his supporters in the Moscone Convention Center hall (myself among them) and his >6.5 MILLION (!) voters and supporters watching and listening across the land: “This is one Hart you will not leave in San Francisco!”
Hart’s July 1984 Convention speech then, was not only his “finest hour” as a presidential candidate and political leader – and recognized as such in its immediate aftermath by Walter Cronkite and some of the other (better) journalists who covered the Convention – its substance provides an essential context for understanding the “hell that broke loose” surrounding Sen. Hart in 1987-1988.
Indeed it is self-evident that the implications of Hart’s practically idealistic politics for what we today call “the 1%” (AKA the oligarchy) that rules our country, did not go unnoticed. And that agents of those ruling elites went to GREAT lengths in 1987 to neutralize Hart’s political stature and potential. This is hardly a “conspiracy theory.” Only the most naive could fail to “connect the dots” as further discussed below.
Conservative Democrats In 1984 and 1988 Were Determined to Retain Control Over the Democratic Party at All Costs, Including a Reagan Second and “Third” Term
Electorally speaking, the nomination of Mondale over Hart in 1984 constituted a symbolic “suicide leap” off the nearby Golden Gate Bridge by the Democratic Party. One of Hart’s consiglieres, Frank Mankeiwitz (former press secretary to Sen. Robert F. Kennedy who famously announced RFK’s death at age 42 at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles on June 6, 1968) had presciently said: “There’s an ecology to politics: Walter Mondale is Ronald Reagan’s natural prey.” Indeed he was! But there was a “method to the madness” of the Democratic super-delegates.
Everyone of any political discernment knew (immediately following the July 18, 1984 roll-call at the Democratic Convention nominating Mondale) that the 800+ Democratic super-delegates had unanimously selected a sure-loserman (Mondale) over Sen. Hart (who would have given President Reagan a “run for his money” and may well have defeated him on Nov. 6, 1984) solely in order to prevent transferring control of the Democratic Party over to Sen. Hart. Rather, the Carter-Mondale-dominated Democratic establishment (the reins of which were tightly held by conservative Democrat ex-LBJ and John Connolly operative Robert Strauss, about whom more below) sought to retain at all costs (including a Reagan re-election landslide) control over the Democratic Party’s “spoils system”: The informal arrangements whereby wealthy donors and “bundlers” of campaign contributions as well as “soft money” secured access to the corridors of power for business and lobbying purposes, apprenticeships and political and legal careers (including ambassadorships and federal judgeships) for themselves, family and friends. (That is how, for example, the very marginally qualified Monica Lewinsky later landed her White House internship.)
The fact that the obvious cost of retaining such “donor-class” control over Party-dispensed spoils and perquisites in 1984 was a Reagan landslide and second term, didn’t phase the Democratic Party power elites one bit. Not on a proverbial “bet” were traditional Democratic power-brokers about to cede their influence and privileges to an independent-minded idealistic Senator whose pedigree included service as George McGovern’s campaign manager. “Not gonna happen!” in the late-Not-great George H.W. Bush’s trademark phrase (made popular by Dana Carvey).
President Reagan, of course, in fact defeated former Vice-President Mondale in the 1984 general election in an overwhelming landslide. Mondale famously carried only his home state of Minnesota en route to a 525-13 loss in the Electoral College and 18% loss in the national popular vote. (Democratic elites “sure know how to pick ‘em!”)
Although Ottawa, Kansas-born Hart (who stoically campaigned for Mondale during the fall of 1984) was too gracious and “Midwestern nice” to ever say so himself, in mid-October 1984 – with the handwriting of Mondale’s imminent landslide defeat already (proverbially) “on the wall” – on behalf of many of Hart’s (so-called) “young urban professional” voters, supporters and small-donors (who started mailing Hart checks – which is still how it was done in 1984 – in droves following his upset win in the New Hampshire primary), I sent a “we told you so” letter to the editor of the New York Times, which (to my surprise) they published.
Democratic Party super-delegates in 1984, by unanimously voting for Gary Hart’s establishment-approved rival candidate and certain loser to President Reagan in November, postponed the threat Hart posed to the conservative status quo by 4 years. As the new film’s title alludes, when Ted Kennedy announced in December 1985 he wasn’t running for president in 1988, Hart became the front-runner for the 1988 Democratic nomination.
“This is the End” of The Projected Long-War By Gary Hart and His Silent- and Boomer Generation Idealists Against George H.W. Bush and America’s Conservatives. May 8, 1987
The rest is history: Over “seven days in May” 1987 Hart and his non-conservative supporters’ intended electoral-political 9.5 year long war with conservative Republicans (a 1.5 year presidential campaign followed by 2 presidential terms) got (farcically) transmuted into a 1-week long personal “flame war” between arrogant big-foot journalists (in the late great Richard Ben Cramer’s phrase) “working for the man” (the conservative establishment) and Hart himself. Unbelievable!
Hart (ruinously) declined to treat the media as the vicious conservative partisans they were and (for no valid reason whatsoever) quickly abandoned the 1988 presidential race 3 weeks after he formally entered it. Beyond their much more baleful substantive legacy (three decades of endless war and related world-wide death-and-destruction), the historic acts of folly in April-May 1987 by Hart and his journalistic nemeses paved the way for the institutional enmity between presidential candidates and incumbent presidents and the press that has prevailed ever since. Post-Hart, in order to maintain their viability as candidates and appropriately govern if elected, presidential candidates have CORRECTLY recognized that they must regard mainstream journalistic detractors as brutal cage-match opponents and respond in kind.
This outlook long predates Donald Trump: Several of Trump’s predecessors including JFK, had a stern policy of “managing the news.” Reagan was likewise adept at inducing the media to (generally) mindlessly echo GOP propaganda, as Hedrick Hertzberg's book On Bended Knee: The Press and the Reagan Presidency documents. The George W. Bush administration remorselessly manipulated the media to report a train of lies to induce public support for the criminal Iraq War. Bush had signaled he would brook no insolence from recalcitrant journalists via an almost-certainly-intentional “hot-mike” comment to Dick Cheney at a 2000 presidential campaign rally, calling New York Times reporter Adam Clymer “a major league asshole.” (Not even Donald Trump has done that!)
Trump vs. Jim Acosta (and the press corps as a whole) is only the latest of many such gladiator fights that will now follow for the rest of the 21st century. And because “no one elects them” and the public now recognizes the mainstream media as closet conservative-establishment partisans (today of the neo-conservative Never Trump- or neoliberal Democratic stripes) the media will never again win such a fight. Nor should they: Despite their conceits and First Amendment rights, mainstream journalists have no public constituency of their own and cannot viably displace real political opposition to any candidate, public official or incumbent government.
May 8, 1987, the date Gary Hart (to this day inexplicably) capitulated to conservative mainstream media hucksters and “gave away his shot” at the presidency in the parlance of the musical Hamilton, is a date that should have “lived in infamy” the same way December 12, 2000 does (the day the Supreme Court issued Bush v. Gore). Instead it was all-but-forgotten, at least until recent years when it started occasionally being reprised (albeit obtusely).
Hart’s sudden and never-honestly-explained voluntary departure from the race caused the Democratic Party to field a hapless substitute candidate (Massachusetts Gov. Mike Dukakis) and effectively forfeit the 1988 general election to the Republicans. Vice-president Bush, the Republican nominee, wiped out a 17% polling deficit in a matter of weeks and made it look easy – caricaturing Dukakis as:
- soft on domestic criminals (via the famously racist “Willie Horton” ad and Michael’s insipid answer to a despicable debate question about whether his opposition to the death penalty would hold if his wife were raped and murdered), and
- a risky choice for Commander-in-Chief (via mockery of Michael’s ride in an Army tank, a “photo-op” that was far more ill-advised than Hart’s pre-candidacy late-March 1987 yacht excursion to Bimini).
Bush won the 1988 Electoral College tally by a 426-111 landslide and won 7 million more popular votes than Dukakis. Astonishingly Dukakis even managed to lose my home state of California (!), something that would have been inconceivable for Hart, our western state neighbor (a few states over) to have done had he been the nominee.
This, in turn, provided the Republicans a windfall “Reagan third term” and consolidated the Reagan revolution thereafter with but one rhetorical modification: GHW Bush’s lip service to desiring a “kinder gentler America” featuring “a thousand points of light” (both forms of PR lip gloss on the pig of extreme conservatism AKA Reaganism). In sum, Bush’s inauguration instead of Hart’s on January 20, 1989 marked the start of 30 years of continuous war and overall domestic conservatism (and lite-conservatism) that has come to be known as “the new abnormal.”
Had Hart become president in January 1985 or January 1989
- tens of thousands of the most talented “unbossed and unbought” people in both Hart’s Silent Generation and my baby-boom generation (I was born squarely in the middle of it in 1954) – who wouldn’t walk across the street to even meet (much less work in a government led by) amoral ciphers like the Clintons – would have been drawn by President Hart to public service and filled staff positions within the federal, state and local governments throughout the country.
And it is not just the loss of “Hart-people” in positions of leadership and responsibility over 8 years. Like attracts like, so all of the secondary effects of high-minded public servants ensuring the recruitment and appointment of high caliber idealistic colleagues, would have continued in a cascading chain over 3 decades and counting.
The degree to which our nation and world would be better today as a consequence of a Hart presidency may be debatable. What is certain however is that the steady slide of those governments and our entire country and all our institutions into the abyss of utter corruption and mediocrity we now find ourselves in, would never have happened. This is what the late great Richard Ben Cramer called a “Hart-fact.”
We public servants under a President Hart would not have been “miracle workers” but the country and world would be in infinitely better condition today mainly because we would have acted in good faith, as opposed to the George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton Administrations’ ethos of venality and opportunism “uber alles.”
America’s Not-great society that arose (with a vengeance) over the past 30 years was- and is the byproduct of:
- the exclusion of the most talented, idealistic and moralistic members of the Silent Generation and baby-boom generations from positions of power, prestige and authority, and
- the widespread hiring- and promotion of those of middling stripes (at best) in those generations who sought senior government positions (many with generous pension eligibility after as little as 20 years) NOT to advance the noble mission of government but either as alternatives to more demanding (non-unionized) private sector jobs or worse, as “stepping stones” to their true goal: lucrative upper-management positions in the business world in fields related to their government employment.
This “fish rots from the head down”-effect created today’s “worst of all possible worlds” of deliberately mediocre ineffective government and non-policed business activity except for the most tawdry explicitly criminal abuses (the kind featured on American Greed, which somehow never features the highest-level white collar criminals on Wall Street and within the Fortune 500). JFK, who attempted to attract “the best and brightest” into public service, is today spinning (like a top) in his grave.
It is equally all-but-certain that today’s dismal enmity, scapegoating and tension our nation has directed towards post-Communist Russia (and which is now raising the specter of nuclear war) most certainly would not be happening had Hart been elected in 1988. President Hart would definitely have seized (and not eschewed, as each successive president following Reagan has) the opportunity to create (to the maximum extent reasonable in conjunction with post-Communist Russia) what liberal media mogul Ted Turner called a post-Cold War “better world.”
Similarly, had there been a President Hart, America would NOT have drenched the world in bloody elective wars for 30 years. Indeed it is almost inconceivable that a single one of the U.S. post-Reagan wars – in Panama, the Persian Gulf, the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and now Yemen – would ever have happened – had Gary Hart succeeded Ronald Reagan in January 1989. For a sense of how President Hart would have handled the Balkans, for example, see his review of David Halberstam’s book on the subject here. It is literally heart-breaking to read this astute man writing so insightfully about the calamitous Balkans war from exile, at the height of his ostracism from politics and government during the Clinton years (when Clinton was reported to have considered Hart “radioactive”).
The nightmare world of today, when mainstream Democrats have become truly ugly-American hawks, ready to send economic draftees into harm’s way to curry favor with arms merchants whose campaign contributions they’ll gladly sell their souls to receive, who never met a war or weapons contract they didn’t like, and who now mau-mau president Trump for disengaging our nation (or merely pretending to, it’s never clear) from our ill-conceived military operations in Syria and Afghanistan, would have been unthinkable but for Sen. Hart’s elimination from the political scene in 1988.
Alas, for Hart and his idealistic supporters “what might have been” never was, to the great detriment of themselves, the nation and the world. Instead Reagan conservatism has been largely institutionalized by the establishments of both old parties against the wishes of the clear majority of the electorate.
As Michael Moore has said (correctly) for years, most recently towards the beginning of Fahrenheit 11/9: According to public opinion polls “America is a liberal nation.” And yet, astonishingly and indisputably, Reaganism is still going strong today, albeit now lightly tempered by the recent recapture of the House majority in the 2018 mid-term election by the Democrats.
The sin the producers of The Front Runner and the author of the book on which it is based have committed, but won’t admit (of course) is that they (more-or-less) knew the above-recited truths (or constructively knew them given the teams of reasonably well-educated and non-naive people they worked with on the material) and (for the very most part) decided to cover them up in their works about Sen. Hart’s saga in 1987. In Kurt Vonnegut’s immortal quip: “And so it goes.”
Tom Fiedler, Hart’s Chief Character Assassin and Hart Have Each Had “Wonderful Lives” Following the World-Historic Catastrophe, But the American People Have Not:
While the damage done from the press vs. Hart Seven-Days-In-May “world-historic event” continues to reverberate through the decades for the public at large, the direct antagonists – the journalist character assassins and Hart – came out personally unscathed (but for some temporary disorientation at most):
The bigfoot journalists suffered no sanctions for their atrocious malpractice (they never do – eg. they continued business-as-usual following their despicable cheerleading for the illegal Iraq War), and all the reporter participants (with but one honorable exception) and their superiors insouciantly defend their hideous abuse of the First Amendment to the present day. Chief among them is Tom Fiedler, who is objectively “the baby boom generation’s Lee Harvey Oswald.” Tom has been totally dishonest from the word Go about the Miami Herald’s stalking of Ms. Rice and Sen. Hart:
- Fiedler falsely told Washington Post reporters James R. Dickenson and Paul Taylor that Herald reporters had continuously observed the Hart townhouse backdoor when they hadn’t. As I wrote in the 2014 53-comments-war between Hart supporters and detractors following the publication of Matt Bai’s article synthesizing his then new book: “When Fiedler said this he knew full well that Doug Clifton had left at 11:00 pm Friday night to rent a car, leaving only one person, Jim McGee, watching the front door. ...”
- In another of my New York Times comments I recap 3 more of Fiedler’s serial lies as follows:
“Fiedler lied again in his Politico article  about the Herald having confirmed that Hart had a ‘tryst’ with Donna Rice that [May 1-3, 1987] weekend. That is pure speculation.
“Fiedler also falsely accused Hart (in Politico) of having lied to Fiedler when Hart referenced his 15 years in public life (in sum:) without anyone having ever complained that Hart had behaved wrongly towards them. Hart’s statement was true. And Fiedler’s characterization of Hart was itself a lie. Nothing about that weekend contradicted Hart’s statement. (Ms. Rice had registered no complaint against Hart.)”
Yet Fiedler became a dean at Boston University’s journalism school (?!?), where he fudged his resume with reference to the Hart episode, and has just received another 15 minutes of fame by issuing a press release objecting to the manner in which The Front Runner truthfully portrays Fiedler’s slovenly and malicious inner life by the artistic device of casting the ex-Merchant Marine as a petty vindictive bearded dim-witted “schlub”. (The truth hurts and “karma’s a bitch”, eh Tom?)
For his part, former Senator Hart (making lemonade of the bitter lemons that his presidential quests became) started a non-fiction book-writing, academic and (relatively non-partisan) public service career in which he foresaw (in essentially every particular) the world that has emerged in 2019, one plagued by the cataclysmic aftermath of the sordid war in Iraq (a war that Hart adamantly opposed), a new nuclear arms race, terrorism, mass migration, environmental catastrophes, the massive corruption of the political process by monied and special interests, and related crises of governance and public morality as far as the eye can see. See, for example Jon Perr’s account of Hart’s staunch opposition to the Iraq War.
Hart also kept his public service commitment by virtue of:
- his work as a (belated) appointee (of President Clinton) on a national commission – one that anticipated a 9/11-size terrorist attack; and
- in the latter Obama years, his diplomatic work as an appointee of Secretary of State John Kerry to serve as Kerry’s Personal Representative in Northern Ireland, where Hart was assigned the difficult task of shoring up a tentatively established peace between the rival camps of Irish Catholics and pro-British Protestants that have a long bitter history of enmity. There Hart built upon his Senate colleague George Mitchell’s original work and made any thought by the parties of re-igniting “the troubles” essentially unthinkable. SeeSecretary of State Kerry’s statement of Nov. 17, 2015 praising Hart’s shuttle diplomacy between the rival factions sharing power over Northern Ireland’s devolved institutions.
In sum, as a sidelined “George Baily” figure in American politics Hart has steadily contributed to- and modestly participated in the public policy debates of the past 3 decades during his interesting and productive post-Senate post-“downfall” years.
The more important point here though (and I doubt Hart would disagree), is that our nation and its people have NOT had a “wonderful life”:
Instead of quickly recovering from 2 poisonous terms of conservative Reaganism, the country drank a “kinder and gentler” version of the hemlock for a Bush (Sr.) term, followed by 2 Republican-lite terms under a triangulator-in-chief, Democratic Leadership Council co-founder Bill Clinton. The rest is history:
An America that could have become Bedford Falls became a vice-ridden dystopian continental Pottersville instead. Just think of the nightmare dream sequence in that classic film, and the parade of horribles that occurred because “George Baily wasn’t there…”
Well, thanks to his deep-state and journalistic character assassins, “Gary Hart wasn’t there…” to stop the new Gilded Age and associated ultra-extreme inequality, plummeting quality of life metrics for those of middle-class status and below, lack of access to medical and dental services to millions of Americans, a pharmaceutical industry-driven “opioid” epidemic, malign neglect of the poor and minorities, deteriorated race-relations, mass incarceration, unremitting gang warfare in our inner-cities, the desecration of our natural heritage, unabated global warming activities, etc. at home, and abroad: a new Cold war instead of a peace dividend, NATO expansion instead of dissolution, the Persian Gulf war, the Balkans war, lethal Iraq sanctions, unrecognized vulnerability to terrorism by embittered Islamic militants we recruited to eject the Soviet Union from Afghanistan, the Iraq War, and on and on right up until the dangerous and chaotic “mad, mad, mad, mad world” of today.
But of course, “none dare call it conspiracy.”
Chronicling Hart’s Failed Quest for the Presidency in the 1980s (the Last Thing I Intended)
Although it wasn’t what I originally had in mind when I introduced myself to Sen. Hart in the Spring of 1983 at an AFL-CIO convention he was addressing in Los Angeles and handed him a raft of law and policy papers I had written in my last year of law school (“We’ll be in touch” he replied), over most of the next ~35 years (since 1984) I have (to the extent my time and everyday-life pursuits permitted) put my Cal Berkeley history BA degree to use and made an avocation of reviewing and recording all available information surrounding Sen. Hart’s once-highly-promising presidential quest.
This article comprises the third and (absent a miracle Hart presidential resurrection in 2020) the last formal account I will ever write drawn from my personal experiences in Sen. Hart’s campaigns.
Upon my return to Los Angeles from San Francisco in July 1984 I began writing the first of my trilogy: About my experience during the week of the Convention when I had stayed at a youth hostel in Yerba Buena and spent all 5 days at the Saint Francis Hotel where Sen. Hart and his team was headquartered. Hart’s California campaign manager John Emerson honored me with Convention guest passes for 3 days, but I only attended for 2 days (not being able to bear attending the last day when Mondale would give his acceptance speech).
My non-fiction short-story was titled “Heart in San Francisco” and chronicled the last week of a 16 month effort I had made to (in Mario Savio’s phrase) “throw myself upon the gears of the machine” (of right-wing conservatism/AKA Reaganism) and retire it before it led to national and world-wide rack-and-ruin. (I regarded it as self-evident that that is exactly what would happen if Reagan were allowed to continue his rightist reign of error essentially unopposed.)
Because I was then single and had struck up a lightly mutual interest in an attractive Hart volunteer from St. Cloud, Minnesota who had likewise put her life on hold on Hart’s behalf I was inspired to “bottle” that 1-week “moment” in writing partly in hopes it might impress her and increase my chances of getting to know her better once the camaraderie of the campaign ended. (Alas it didn’t.)
I registered my “non-fiction short-story” with the copyright office in Washington DC, sent the required copies to the Library of Congress and mailed my account of Convention week to The New Yorker Magazine. I received a polite line back declining to publish it due to the overlap of the subject matter with their magazine's own coverage of the Convention by Elizabeth Drew.
In my next installment of the “Hartian Chronicles” (2 decades later) I wrote a near book-length review of Hart’s ad man Ray Strother’s 2003 book titled Falling Up: How a Redneck Helped Invent Political Consulting.
Towards the beginning of it I “set the scene” of America in 1983, a country that had suddenly taken a sharp right turn beginning with Reagan’s inauguration in Jan. 1981 – an event so inimical to my conception of America that I was then (and still am now) temperamentally unable to tolerate it with anything other than unremitting umbrage and a desire to mobilize against it. I hardly recognized the country I was born-and-raised in anymore.
Since it describes precisely the utterly dismal national landscape in which Hart’s presidential quest began and which motivated so many baby-boomers to support his electoral crusade, the following salient passage is fit-to-reprint, lightly edited and updated to include the current phase of what President Ford called “our long national nightmare” (one that contrary to Ford’s faux-solemn pronouncement, never remotely ended):
Gary Hart’s ascent (out of relative obscurity) into very serious contention for the 1984 Democratic presidential nomination – a journey which at one point involved Gary and Lee re-mortgaging their house in Kittredge, Colorado to finance the latter stage of his New Hampshire primary campaign – cannot properly be understood without first recalling the sense of gloom (and indeed, downright alarm) many of us felt in the bleak winter of 1983-84. It was a time President Reagan’s ads would later (perversely) describe as “morning in America” but which countless non-conservative Americans regarded as “mourning in America.”
The litany of extant ills included (for starters) spiraling federal deficits (wrought by Reagan’s infamous tax cuts for the rich), the newly burgeoning AIDS epidemic, Reagan’s misplaced priorities favoring military spending over inner-city improvements, and the Democratic Party’s lassitude in response. Other major causes for dismay and alarm were Reagan’s nuclear brinkmanship with the Soviet Union (on the insane premise that civilization would survive a full-scale nuclear exchange between the superpowers and produce a “winner” when in fact scientists had proved by then that “the day after” such an event nuclear winter would commence, likely rendering the human race extinct); support for right-wing counter-insurgency in Central America; gunboat diplomacy in Lebanon and Grenada; vilification of working- and poor people through attacks on unions and welfare; inverting the missions of regulatory agencies by appointing officials hostile to their missions to Cabinet posts; and employing Orwellian (truth-inverting) rhetoric.
(I routinely referred to the Reagan Administration in those years as an “organized lies syndicate” for their habitual inversions of truth, and became so choleric towards them that I finally clipped a newspaper photo of the Republicans’ demonic consultant Lee Atwater, pasted it on my punching bag, and spent several minutes weekly thrashing Atwater’s “effigy” to a pulp. Better that than getting an ulcer or high blood pressure, I figured.)
Although such right-wing Republican wrecker tactics, wedge politics and virulent rhetoric are now standard fare, and are met with some “in your face” opposition, at least from left-liberal wing of the Democratic Party, then (as now) mainstream Democratic leaders were more timid and despondent than bold and defiant. Flora Lewis, the late New York Times columnist, had put it best on December 13, 1983 when she wrote: “Washington is intimidated [by the Reaganauts] and doesn’t even dare admit it to itself.”
If Reaganism was (and still is) a ghastly political firestorm, developments in the current phase of the rightist crusade led by Donald J. Trump and Mike Pence make clear that we are still fighting the civilizational conflagration in which Reagan first immersed America and the world. (The torch has been passed – literally – from Reagan to GHW Bush to W to Trump! The arsonist’s torch, that is.)
This one last op-ed written in response to the (rather myopic) new movie about the media and Hart still cannot possibly correct the entirety of the record regarding the history-changing April-May 1987 travesty that fatally undermined Sen. Hart’s leadership bona fides, but someone who “bore witness” to some the events at issue and is familiar with all of the others nevertheless has to attempt it. And as the Hebrew sage Hillel said: “If not me who? If not now when?”
In 1984, To Disenthrall Americans from Reaganism, Ala Shakespeare (Henry IV) Hart “Call[ed] Spirits from the Vasty Deep” of Recent but Repressed American History
In sum, President Reagan’s first term (commencing in January 1981) had taken the country out of the frying pan (of “malaise” under President Carter) and into the fire (of rightist neo-Goldwater hell). This, in turn, created a monumental crisis for non-conservatives in America and throughout the world.
The big issue for Democrats in the early 1980s was whether they were going to finesse Reaganism or oppose it “head-on”, on the one hand, and what Democrats proposed to replace Reaganism with were a Democrat to succeed Reagan as president, on the other.
Into this bleak situation stepped a fairly large field of 1984 Democratic presidential candidates, including most prominently among the also-rans Ohio Senator (and world famous former astronaut) John Glenn, California senior Senator Alan Cranston and former South Dakota Senator and 1972 Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern), but following the Iowa caucuses the 1984 Democratic presidential nomination race quickly boiled down to a choice between:
- Walter Mondale, a former liberal who had (to tweak Lillian Hellman’s phrase) “cut his suit to Jimmy Carter’s moderate-conservative Democratic taste” representing a center-right Carter-Mondale restoration,
- Gary Hart, a native of Ottawa, Kansas who had parlayed his role as manager of Sen. George McGovern’s insurgent 1972 presidential campaign into a U.S. Senate seat in his adopted state of Colorado in the “Watergate” elections of 1974 and had narrowly won re-election in November 1980. Hart represented two new generations of center-left non-conservative leaders and voters: his own Silent Generation and the more idealistic baby-boomers, and
- Jesse Jackson, the left-liberal candidate, representing the Rainbow Coalition and a full-blown identity-politics/semi-democratic-socialist program that, while highly admirable, stood no chance whatsoever of winning a general election against President Reagan in November 1984.
In the “hot-house” atmosphere of presidential campaigns it is often difficult to pin-point what is responsible for a candidate’s breakthrough. In Hart’s case, it was evident that he didn’t “hit a gusher” (in Pat Caddell’s apt phrase) due to either his important “new ideas” (such as military reform) or his lesser ones (arcana such as “individualized training accounts” which were gimmicky and effectively mocked by Mondale at a critical juncture for lacking “beef”) or even due to his own primary political identity at the time as a so-called “Atari Democrat” (due to Hart’s prescient recognition of the role information and personal computer technology would play in the nation and world’s future).
Rather, in Shakespeare’s words in Henry IV, Hart was mainly “call[ing] spirits from the vasty deep” of recent but repressed American history, not knowing whether they would come when he called for them.” The spirits Hart called upon were primarily those of the “dead Kennedys,” as punk rocker Jello Biafra had dubbed them (“irreverently” I guess by Jello’s radical lefty lights and repugnantly to my left-liberal sensibility), and the Vietnam war era whence Hart had come of age as a political figure. (Over the course of the 1960s Gary served as a lowly graduate student volunteer for JFK, then as a junior lawyer in RFK’s Justice Department and Stewart Udall’s Interior Department, and then as an organizer and ultimately as a manager of George McGovern’s 1972 antiwar presidential campaign.)
For whatever cosmic reasons on February 20th (in Iowa) and Feb. 28th, 1984 (in New Hampshire) the spirits did come when Hart called them and disenthalled his fellow citizens from their Reagan-induced stupor virtually overnight. Unbelievable!
As discussed in Susan Berry Casey’s insightful 1986 book Hart and Soul (recently reissued with a thoughtful new prologue by Ms. Casey) Hart’s team of grassroots organizers did yeoman work that did wonders to personally acquaint most Iowa and New Hampshire voters with Hart, his background, character and his policy positions, but I concluded (largely because I had submitted multiple memos in advance to his campaign manager Oliver Henkel urging Gary to recognize and exploit them) that the main drivers of Hart’s second place finish in the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 20th, 1984, his landslide primary upset 8 days later in New Hampshire on Feb. 28th and Hart’s surge in nation-wide popularity in its aftermath, were:
- JFK nostalgia (to whom Hart bore a non-superficial resemblance politically, personally and temperamentally) and a widely-held sense that it was time for “an end to debunking” of both Kennedy brothers,
- ferocious anti-Reaganism amongst rank-and-file Democrats (a fervor that equaled the wholesale rejection of Trump by all Democrats today) and a passionate desire to defeat him,
- correspondingly, Hart’s electability, and (to a lesser degree)
- the electorate’s rejection of U.S. military belligerence in Central America and Lebanon, as well as fear of Armageddon if the same were extended to the USSR pursuant to Reagan’s evident belief that our nation could “win” a nuclear war, and the responsive Hollywood tv movie titled The Day After. The Democratic electorate eagerly rewarded Hart’s generally dovish view of the big foreign policy issues of the day while also cognizant that Hart’s expertise in military affairs would armor him against attacks by conservatives that he was soft on Communism or incapable of keeping America secure from threats posed by terrorists or related non-state actors.
- Hart’s Kennedy-esque political profile and middle-aged physical vitality (demonstrated by his ax-throw bullseye re-created in The Front Runnerbut oddly “forwarded” to 1987) matched-up very well with “alta cocker” President Reagan’s austere conservative mien (much as RFK’s had in the 1960s as seen in this political forum Sen. Robert Kennedy and then California Gov. Reagan jointly participated-in on May 15, 1967); and
- Hart’s refusal to accept political action committee (PAC) and soft-money campaign contributions and Hart’s overall “unbought unbossed” independence on policy and issues, deftly summarized and illustrated in Ray Strother’s effective tv ads, Hart’s facility for unflappable reasoned policy exegesis and his just and dynamic economic, social and environmental agenda, contrasted nicely with aged Reagan’s rancid rightist enrich-the-rich reactionary rhetoric and policy substance.
Here is how I described all these synergies in the first paragraph of my review of Ray Strother’s 2003 memoir:
“IF, AS I assert, Gary Hart’s landslide primary victory over Walter Mondale in the February 1984 New Hampshire primary and Hart’s subsequent polling lead over President Reagan until the July 1984 Democratic National Convention was the ‘big bang’ of modern American politics – signaling the US electorate’s rejection of both irredentist interest group liberalism
(Mondale/Jackson) and right-wing conservatism (Reagan) in favor of Hart’s deep-seated public interest oriented politics – then media consultant Raymond D. Strother has a rightful claim to being ‘present at the creation.’”
“Was George Orwell Right About 1984?” Asked Steve Jobs While Unveiling Apple’s 1984 Macintosh Superbowl Ad. “No,” Answered Gary Hart and His >6.5 Million Voters
The journey of the “spirits from the vasty deep” were given a last minute boost by what must be one of the most fortuitous coincidences in the history of electoral politics, the synergy between:
- Hart’s just-mentioned paid tv ads with their (then) cutting edge "computer" graphics, and
- the contagiously catalytic rebellious effect of the famous Apple Macintosh personal computer Superbowl ad introduced by Steve Jobs here.
After a brief history lesson reviewing the competition between IBM and Apple over the future of personal computing, Jobs presents the ad (at the 4 minute mark) as Apple’s answer to the question: “Was George Orwell right about 1984?”
In it, a female javelin thrower busts a tv screen on which a dystopian Big Brother type figure (who bore a vague resemblance to the craggy visage of President Reagan) is in mid-sentence jabbering to an audience of living dead automatons about “the first glorious anniversary of the information purification directives...” and celebrating “a garden of pure ideology,” “unification of thoughts...” of “one people with one will one resolve one cause...our enemies shall talk themselves to death and we will bury them with their own confusion...now we shall prevail [POW!]”
Many Democrats and independents watching the Superbowl ad on January 22, 1984 likely thought to themselves: “That exactly what needs to be done politically to Reagan and his conservative confederates!” And they voted to make it happen a month later in Iowa and New Hampshire!
In any event, Hart’s 1984 presidential campaign did what few thought possible in late 1983: Successfully challenged (essentially head-on) President Reagan’s ultra-conservative movement and its underlying laissez-faire-at-home and belligerence-abroad theory and practice. For example: Hart strenuously opposed Reagan’s reckless deployment of U.S. Marines to Lebanon 13 months before the massive suicide truck bombing of the Marine barracks headquarters there in October 1983. As Hart stated in his April 1984 presidential campaign stump speech, he first called for U.S. troops to be withdrawn in September 1982: “a year and a half before the polls showed that was the popular, consensus position. And if my advice had been taken 17 months ago, 264 more Americans would be alive. And I lay their deaths at the doorstep of the Reagan White House.”
On October 30, 1983 Hart had said (equally caustically): “I don't know what this President is going to do for a foreign policy when he runs out of marines.”
Then during his July 18, 1984 Democratic National Convention speech, Hart would stop halfway through, stare daggers while looking straight into the camera (for the only time during the entire speech) and state: “And I say this to the president: The American flag does not belong to you or to the right wing of the Republican Party. It belongs to ALL THE PEOPLE!” (Huge uproar and applause for at least a full minute.) (Emphasis in original.)
The content, body language and delivery of Hart’s reclamation of “the flag” from the Republican right, combined with his expertise and intentions to conform military procurement to actual military readiness needs as opposed to pork-barrel largesse, constituted an affront to the conservative overseers of the military-industrial-complex, something that along with Hart’s call for detente and nuclear arms control agreements with the USSR during a well-delivered nationally televised political speech, probably sealed Hart’s fate. America’s oligarchs simply do not brook such opposition absent an anti-Vietnam War-sized popular resistance (which the Hart movement, for all its earnestness and future promise, did not present in 1984-1987).
The 1988 Hart Campaign Begins – But (In Real Time) Something Seemed Amiss and Not Exactly “Bound for Glory”
On April 12, 1987 my girlfriend at the time, screenwriter and film director Rose-Marie Turko and I attended Senator Hart’s 1988 presidential campaign pre-announcement dinner at a hotel ballroom in Denver, Colorado. Elite “donor class” types filled the hall (the NY Times reported Gary’s campaign raised $400,000 that night) and (alas) in seeming deference to the wealthy donors the evening’s presentations had very muted partisan content and lacked any real soul. In the crucial interim years of 1985-1986 Gary had evidently neglected to employ the then-cutting edge method of sending mass direct mail to his own 1984 individual donors and many thousands of other liberally inclined donors (as could easily have been done using a tactfully worded version of the “I told you so” trope) to totally eliminate his >$5 million 1984 campaign debt. It was essential that Hart use this mass-outreach-for-small-to-medium-sized-donations technique given his principled policy of not accepting campaign contributions from corporate- and special-interest political action committees, lest Hart find himself overly dependent upon wealthy individuals who were socially liberal but economically conservative.
Relying mostly on “usual suspect” wealthy Democratic donor-class contributors (including some questionable associates of Billy Broadhurst), Hart had whittled down the 1984 campaign debt to $1.4 million by April 1987 mainly through agreed-upon partial payments to creditors (mostly consultants who had created and advanced large sums to place his tv ads in the final months of the 1984 Democratic primary season).
But Hart’s inexplicable non-use (or incompetent use if he used it at all) of direct mail during the 27 months between the end of the 1984 campaign year and the beginning of the 1988 campaign (Jan. 1985 - March 1987) to raise sufficient funds to mollify all his 1984 campaign creditors resulted in his 1988 campaign’s first publicity black-eye 2 days following Gary’s April 13, 1987 announcement speech: A disgruntled creditor from his 1984 campaign improperly retained non-uniformed federal marshals to intrude upon- and seize almost $30,000 “in cash and checks” from 2 Hart fundraisers in Los Angeles: a $50 per person concert at The Palace nightclub in Hollywood, and a $1,000 per person gathering at entertainment industry mogul Marvin Davis’s home. The seized funds had to be returned to the 1988 campaign committee (because the judgment was against the legally distinct 1984 campaign committee) but the damage was done. Hmmm.
I remember only 3 things about the announcement dinner evening, each of which (both in “real time” and even more so in hindsight) were further signs of something being (very) amiss:
- Meeting and greeting anew Hart’s 1984 campaign manager Oliver "Pudge" Henkel, who I had worked with in 1984 and who had kindly recommended me for admission to the UCLA political science graduate program where I repaired in the fall of 1985 to study the presidency in hopes of serving in a future Hart administration. Henkel informed me, to my surprise, that he would not be formally involved with his old Yale law school classmate’s upcoming campaign. (Hmmm.)
- Midway through the evening the organizers played a strange video they had created that explicitly placed Hart in lineagewith incumbent President Reagan as a fellow horseback-riding Westerner. (Uh-oh!) Even though the comparison was (presumably) meant to be stylistic not substantive it was an outrageous note on which to begin a campaign aimed at preventing a “Reagan third term” in the person of the presumed Republican nominee, Vice-President George H.W. Bush. And
- Hart’s remarks at the dinner were pedestrian and unmemorable, except for a single line: “I’m going to make some mistakes...” Rose-Marie and I immediately looked at each other, seeing the same thought-bubble over one another’s head: “Why is he saying that?” we thought to ourselves. (Hmmm.)
Hart could have meant the line as a simple reminder that all campaigns involve some human error. More likely though it was Hart’s way of previewing and attempting to defuse the figurative equivalent of a “time bomb” he feared had already been placed under the hood of his campaign bus (so to speak) via his ill-advised yacht trip to Bimini 2 weeks earlier. Contrary to The Front Runner’s ingenious symbolically apt movie poster– featuring Hart’s campaign bus in mid-air after being whisked off a tall cliff (Road Runner-cartoon style), by a media gaggle – the 1988 Hart campaign didn’t last long enough to HAVE a campaign bus.
By the end of our first night in Denver, Rose-Marie, a talented UCLA film school graduate who shared my staunch left-liberal sensibilities, was starting to wonder what I saw in Hart and why I had dragged her to the Colorado Rockies.
Hart’s 1988 Announcement Speech Was as Low-Caliber as His Overall Preparations For- and Execution of His 1988 Presidential Candidacy Launch
Worse, the next morning when I called the campaign office to find out the location of Hart’s official announcement speech, someone informed me it was “closed to the public” and all others except Hart’s family, his highest-level campaign personnel and the media! Hart had the (genuinely) bright idea to announce his candidacy near Red Rocks amphitheater in Morrison, CO, a facility built by laborers employed by FDR’s CCC and WPA between 1936 (the year Hart was born) and 1941, and the totally daft idea to do so before a private audience mainly comprised of – wait for it – journalists (?!?)
Evidently reluctantly, by popular demand Gary added a repeat-announcement event that afternoon in an uninspiring nondescript Denver public square. It was clearly an “after-thought” meant as a sop to supporters deprived of the opportunity (for reasons no one ever explained then or since) to be present at the official announcement of Hart’s 1988 presidential campaign in a suitably majestic setting. (Hart’s preferencing of journalists at his real announcement, as opposed to supporters and the public, reflected Hart’s strange genuine reverence for journalists, about which more below.)
So it was that in the early afternoon of April 13, 1987 Rose-Marie and I and a medium-sized crowd watched Gary (dutifully) re-announce his candidacy for the presidency in 1988. I recently found a t-shirt I purchased that day that is inscribed “Friends of Gary Hart 1988” in the front and on the back says: “I WAS THERE. DAY ONE. THE HART CAMPAIGN.”
I had created for the occasion an enlargement of a Herblock (short for Herbert Block) political cartoon showing Americans watching Gorbachev on tv and saying (in the caption beneath the drawing) about the Reagan Administration: “Why can’t we have a little glasnost over here?” The political cartoon was a brilliant mash-up of the lessening of authoritarianism in the Soviet Union and the growing repressive rightist secret government here in America evinced by the extant Iran-contra scandal. A Secret Service agent came by and confiscated the stick I had mounted the poster on.
Hart was flanked at the announcement ceremony by fellow Colorado pols Tim Wirth and Federico Pena, and by his wife Lee and the Harts’ daughter Andrea. Their son John was overseas (on a university junior year abroad program if memory serves). Hart’s speech that day got some of the words right in an expository way:
“...In recent years...this country has fallen short of the ideal of America.
“We’ve seen personal greed replace a sense of social justice and equity and the national good.
“We’ve seen right-wing ideology skew this nation’s basic priorities.
“We have seen narrow single interests increasingly finance our campaigns and control our political process.
“And we’ve seen high standards for public officials and public ethics be eroded.
“Most of all this nation has lost the sense of the national interest. I believe this nation can do better.”
Alas, the speech was all pedestrian prose and no poetry and had the feel of a rote recital of required talking points rather than any sort of political call-to-arms. Hart properly called for reordered priorities “in the national interest” bolstering the social fabric and the environment, reforming our military defenses and reducing our dangerous reliance on nuclear weapons. And notably (at 17 min. 13 sec. mark) Gary took this important “shot across the bow” of Wall Street rogues and enabling public officials:
“We can have public officials who represent the ethics of Donovan, Deaver and Boesky or we can demand the highest standards for our elected officials and say to those people in Washington and Wall Street ‘You are out of business!’”
But at best this was a tepid Cliff Notes version of the galvanizing themes and articulate specifics of Hart’s inspired July 1984 Democratic National Convention speech.
For conspicuous example, Hart (oddly) made no reference to his desire to be a champion of the interests of organized labor in a year when the AFL-CIO was (helpfully to Gary and unhelpfully to Hart’s prospective 1988 Democratic chief-competitor Rep. Dick Gephardt) eschewing the kind of early endorsement the labor federation had made of Mondale (counter-productively) in 1984.
And in another (trivial but somehow jarring) sign that something was truly amiss, Hart’s voice squeaked at one point, something I had never once seen happen before over dozens of hours of watching Gary's talks to audiences large and small during the 1984 presidential campaign. (Uh-oh.)
By the time Hart spoke his hurried and clipped final lines, concluding with his customary “March on!” (which I had heard him speak countless times far more resolutely) it was clear to me that Gary had failed to adequately construct a proper kick-off to his presidential campaign, had missed entire sets of important topical themes and issues and had instead done the bare minimum. Owing to his natural talent the occasion had not been a total bust but was “nothing to write home about” either.
What Hart Didn’t Say in His Announcement Speech Was as Important as What He DidSay
In addition to his inexplicable omitted appeal to organized labor and blue collar workers, Hart made no criticism of the Reagan-Bush administration’s conduct underlying the “Iran-contra” scandal, which had broken wide-open in the months directly preceding Hart’s announcement. “Iran-contra” was the Reaganauts’ harebrained scheme to circumvent Congress’s “Boland amendment” ban on federal funding for the Nicaraguan contras by illicitly using proceeds of arms sales to Iran’s pariah clerical regime.
In late 1986 President Reagan had been forced into a “modified limited hang-out” (in the old Nixon era phrase) by creating a commission headed by former Senator John Tower who was directed to investigate “the circumstances surrounding the Iran-contra matter...[and the]...strengths and weaknesses in the operation of the National Security Council system...” The Tower Commission delivered its report to President Reagan on Feb. 26, 1987, and on March 4, 1987 Reagan gave a nationally televised speech on the subject from the Oval Office consisting of a partial mea culpa. Concurrently, in January 1987 both houses of Congress teamed up to form a select committee to investigate Iran-contra.
The Iran-contra scandal received saturation coverage throughout the print and broadcast news media and was in full swing as of Hart’s April 13, 1987 announcement events. (Indeed Air Force Major General Richard Secord had a nationally televised belly-laugh during his testimony to the select Committee during the first week of May by working in a gratuitous reference to Hart’s trip to Bimini.)
Despite its super-timeliness (inexplicably) Hart not only didn’t rebuke the Reagan-Bush Administration’s Iran-contra machinations in his April 13, 1987 announcement speech, Gary didn’t even directly mention these scandalous events roiling the nation!
Equally obtusely, Hart failed to remind the public that he was a political heir to his heroes John and Robert Kennedy. Nor lend a note of solemnity to his presidential candidacy announcement by mentioning that the 1988 general election would fall on the 20th and 25th anniversary years respectively of JFK’s and RFK’s murders. Nor did Hart talk about the potential end of the Cold War and a corresponding “peace dividend” during the next president’s term.
Moreover, as the C-Span videotape shows, the “music” and rhythms of a great (or even good) Democratic presidential announcement speech were largely missing. Entirely absent were:
- ANY down-to-earth references to real people,
- the calling-out of the Republicans for the neo-fascist ways they had inflicted upon the nation for 8 long years, and
- the partisan brio that is required to mobilize one’s base and those beyond.
Lest I sound like a Monday-morning quarterback who offered no better content to “the man in the arena” for Hart’s announcement speech in real time, compare the zest I displayed in my “application” letter to Hart for a campaign staff position on March 18, 1987 (one I never received a peep in reply to). Even if it would not have been politic for Hart to display quite as much partisan zeal as my letter, Hart’s dearth of rousing populist content during his presidential announcement speech was conspicuous and disappointing.
Last but not least, the actual music that played during Hart’s entrance (starting at 10:50) onto the speaker’s rostrum, a traditional Sousa march, was somewhere between anodyne and execrable. Who does something that out-of-touch when the candidate’s target audience consisted of the idealistic members of the baby-boom generation raised on rock-and-roll? Why not (at least) enter to a then very popular Huey Lewis and the News song, such as “Working for a Living” or “It’s Hip to be Square” (which really would’ve suited the straight-laced evangelically-raised Hart to a “t”). Or even better still, why not increase the hip-ness quotient by using Paul Simon’s then hit song titled “You Can Call Me Al” from Graceland, Simon’s super-popular 1986 comeback album featuring African musicians? I mentioned the most pertinent verse in my March 18th letter to Hart this way in reference to the slain Kennedy brothers:
“Lost as well, and never replaced, was the highly important and influential ‘trickle-down’ effect on all of us of simply having an admirable and impressive human being in the national spotlight. As Paul Simon sings in his new album, 'Who’ll be my role model now that my role model is gone, gone...?'”
And (although it is NOT what I had in mind when I mentioned Paul Simon's lyrics on his Graceland album in my application letter), because of the elegant song’s overall knowing sophisticated contents it might even have neutralized some of the uproar that occurred after “all hell broke loose” less than 3 weeks hence when what Simon calls in the song (recounting the mind-set and ways of male middle-age) alleged “incidents and accidents” and “hints and allegations” about Hart were publicized.
In sum, due to Hart’s underwhelming delivery and the inclusion of but one (not exactly galvanizing) applause line (“You give me 20 days in the next 20 months and I will give you a presidency you can be proud of”) Hart’s announcement hardly seemed like the start of a historic campaign or a proper opening salvo in a political war to be led by Hart as leader of the forces of American (and indirectly world) non-conservatism against the virtually certain Republican nominee George H.W. Bush as leader of the opposing forces of American and world conservatism. And, as it turned out, it wasn’t.
Touching Words from Lee Hart (the then Future First Lady) at the Harts’ Post-Announcement Reception
Speaking of “grace” though, my misgivings at the campaign’s stilted start were partially assuaged that early evening at a reception Rose-Marie and I attended for Hart and his family. Lee Hart (nee Oletha “Lee” Ludwig) made a touching speech alluding to the mortal risks involved in a presidential campaign and her decision to support Gary in his desire to seek the presidency notwithstanding, out of a sense of patriotism and commitment to the public service ethos and goals for which she and her husband stood.
Lee Hart would have made a tremendous first lady. And (who knows?) she may still make one: Malaysia’s past and current prime minister, anti-corruption crusader Mahathir Mohamad, is a 92 year old, as is Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, so age should not matter – so long as a candidate’s mental acuity and physical health are sound. Richard Nixon had experienced “Six Crises” when he was elected president in November 1968. Gary Hart has had at least that many, if you count his days as George McGovern’s campaign manager and his close call elections to the U.S. Senate in 1974 and 1980, his participation in dramatic investigations of the intelligence community as a member of the [Frank] Church committee, his 3 presidential campaigns, and his “hair on fire” efforts in 2000-2001 to warn Clinton and then Bush administration officials of the Hart-Rudman Commission’s findings that (sooner rather than later) America’s mainland was highly likely to suffer a massive terrorist attack in which “Americans would die in large numbers.”
Be all this as it may, Gary has given no indication he is considering throwing his hat in the ring for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination (where he would be pitted initially against the other “geriatric” members of the expected large presidential primary field: Joe Biden and Jerry Brown. And I would know, since I purchased (and so advised Gary upon doing so) the online domain names Hart would presumably use if he decided to run a “last campaign” in 2020. Hart has not said a proverbial peep to me about it, and the 2020 campaign is now moving from the pundit-“mentioning” stage and entering the “exploratory committee,” “visiting of early states” phase and will proceed to “exhibition season” featuring early debate competition beginning in the Spring of 2019 before the 2020 presidential campaign starts in ultra-earnest on Labor Day of 2019. If Sen. Hart has a mind to attempt “the mother of all political comebacks” he has to decide to “test the waters” soon. Probably “not gonna happen” in the old GHW Bush phrase, but time will tell. And in any event I digressed. Returning to Hart’s 1987 announcement reception:
Legend has it that JFK and Jackie grew closer after Jackie lost the child she was carrying to a miscarriage in 1963. For all anyone knows, the formal commencement of Hart’s 1988 presidential campaign on April 13th, 1987 and the mutual recognition by Gary and Lee of the attendant mortal risks alluded-to by Lee that day, might have brought Gary and Lee closer together. This in turn may have precipitated Hart’s last- minute interest 2+ weeks later in attending a hastily arranged meeting in Washington, DC, where the Harts owned a townhouse (the look of which was not unlike the one from which JFK led his transition between November 1960 and inauguration day in January 1961), on the weekend of May 1st - 3rd, 1987. Hart’s purpose might have been to conclude the intimate facet of any relationship that may have commenced between Sen. Hart and Donna Rice in late March. (Hart was originally scheduled to attend the Kentucky Derby that May 1-2, 1987 weekend.) This is perhaps an unlikely surmise because neither Ms. Rice nor Sen. Hart have ever acknowledged any intimate relationship ever existed between them. But my break-up hypothesis is not inconceivable (if Hart and Rice did become at all intimate in late March), as it may have also dawned on Hart in the interim that journalists might publicize any extramarital relationship he was (or might become) involved with, something that Hart may have worried could cause a major campaign kerfuffle he would prefer to avoid if such an extramarital relationship were to come to public attention.
And the combination of Lee Hart’s fear of her husband being assassinated (events which had devastated the lives of presidential widows Mary Todd Lincoln and Jacqueline Kennedy) and her husband’s (at least) flirtation with Ms. Rice clearly explains Lee’s not-so-wan smile in this famous photo taken directly following Hart’s tragic swan-song to his political career, presidential ambitions and America as we had known it. On such not-so-little things (such as a wife’s understandable devotion to her husband’s longevity and desire for his exclusive attention) does American and world history sometimes pivot. And did.
Meeting Russian Poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Author of a Then-New Book Titled Almost At the End. A Grace Note and Foreshadowing
Mingling at the reception after we greeted Hart and Lee, Rose-Marie and I were pleasantly surprised to encounter Russia’s poet laureate (or functional equivalent) Yevgeny Yevtushenko. Yevtushenko happened to have a poetry reading and book-signing event in Denver later that evening and had “dropped by” to see the newly-minted presidential candidate. Although I tried not to show it, I was honored and indeed awestruck to be conversing with the brave liberal conscience of Russian letters (albeit it not a dissident), author of the famous poem Babi Yar about persecuted and slain European Jews (whence I come via all 4 grandparents). I also knew Yevtushenko to be one of the major Russian public figures most supportive of the reformist changes (“glasnost and perestroika”) General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev was then courageously leading in a (vain) effort to save the USSR’s ossified and decayed Communist system.
The reception replaced my misgivings of the preceding 24 hours with a heady sense of “arrival”: A feeling that the setting in which I then stood at age 32 – among the “happy few” stalwarts who ardently supported Gary Hart in 1983-1984 and were now starting what we presumed would be his challenging but relatively smooth “road to the White House” – vindicated my (risky) devotion to “politics as an avocation” (to tweak Max Weber’s phrase).
It was an aspirational career path I had segued-into in 1981 when I served as an intern in the Oakland field office of Rep. Ronald V. Dellums during my third year of law school at the University of California, out of revulsion at the advent of the Reagan Administration.
On May 31, 1984 I had captured some of the pride I felt at having fought “the good fight” against Reaganism and for Sen. Hart’s Kennedy-esque vision, by reformulating passages LINK from the Robert Frost poem titled “Dedication”, written expressly for recital at President Kennedy’s inauguration, and read it to Hart and his supporters at a small living room fundraiser in Westwood, California. As I stood at the 1988 Hart campaign announcement day reception almost 3 years to the day later, the “history’s moment” to which I had referred now seemed to be very much within reach:
A profile in courage, nothing less
It will one day be assessed;
The year in anonymous certainty
He would be the nominee
And change our country’s destiny.
A year of speeches in living rooms and foyers
With nary a mention by Bill Moyers.
It is a story for legend suited
How one man would not be muted
While his party sat in cautious confusion,
And a President in a world of illusion
Spoke in doublespeak unrefuted.
For by the year of ’83 it was plain for all to see
We’d lost our center of gravity.
Lebanon was but the capper
Of a President from the Age of Flappers.
One who spoke of Armageddon
There was no tellin’ where we were headin’.
We are so proud that he stepped forth
A leader to accept the torch
From those heroes now departed,
So we could finish what they had started:
To bring this country hope and peace,
To help oppression and injustice cease,
To gain a more moral order
Here at home and across all borders.
This he promises and more,
There is quite a lot in store.
We stand with Hart upon the stage
A place that in so many ways
Revives our thoughts of the time
When Robert Frost wrote his rhyme,
“Of a power leading from its strength and pride
Of young ambition eager to be tried.”
How long we have wished in vain
For civic life to be the same,
With seeds of hope for better days
And the promise of a golden age.
Now we’re ready to redeem
The spirit of Frost’s fond dream.
At history’s moment we’re on the scene.
Medium-length story short, Rose-Marie and I wound up sharing a cab with “Zhenya” (as he asked us to call him), attending the bookstore event and buying copies of his book of poetry and (some) prose, titled Almost at the End, which he signed for each of us. The inscription on my copy reads: “To Eric: With [a] brother’s feelings.”
By the end of the evening I felt badly for thinking at first that Zhenya might have been sent there as Gorby’s eyes and ears at the announcement event of the next POTUS. Some time later I came across a 2 page excerpt (also included in the link just-above) reprinted in Almost at the End, from another work by the great poet that may best explain Zhenya’s presence at Hart’s announcement reception. Titled “Under the Skin of Liberty” the excerpt was about Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, whom Zhenya had seen and spoken with on the occasion of RFK’s 42nd birthday party (Nov. 20, 1967) at Kennedy’s Hickory Hill home in Washington, DC. This was 4 short months before Kennedy’s announcement of his ill-fated 1968 presidential candidacy. The account concludes with a poignant foreboding passage that I reproduced along with Zhenya’s inscription in the hope (and trust) that his publisher will consider it to be within the letter and spirit of fair use. Alas, the world lost this “unacknowledged legislator of the world” (in Percy Shelley’s phrase), on April 1, 2017. He was 83 years young.
Zhenya’s presence at Sen. Hart’s announcement reception, where I presume (but do not know for certain) he spoke with Gary and Lee, also served as a talisman connoting (and possibly denoting) the idea that the end of the Cold War was nigh and that Sen. Hart and Mikhail Gorbachev (with whom Hart had held important meetings in the Kremlin in late 1986) would continue their work upon Hart’s inauguration in January 1989 to bring a peaceable and orderly end to the Cold War.
In January 1987 I had published a letter in my local paper about the Hart-Gorby meetings, rebuking one of Hart’s conservative editorial detractors. And Hart eventually let it be known that he had in fact extended an invitation to Gorbachev to attend his inauguration in the event he won the November 1988 general election and that Gorbachev had accepted.
This in turn, would have represented the beginning of the completion by Sen. Hart of President Kennedy’s work towards world peace and the creation of what JFK called “a free and diverse world” as he described America’s goal in the Cold War. JFK had so stated in a Charter Day speech at my alma mater UC Berkeley in 1962 (10 years prior to my arrival there as a freshman). In a touching near-political-farewell writing Sen. Hart distributed when his 1988 comeback campaign effectively ended after the voters of New Hampshire forsook him for their favorite son Michael Dukakis, Hart explicitly referenced his political lineage with the slain Kennedy brothers.
Alas, little did any of us know on that bright spring 1987 announcement day in Denver that the title of Zhenya’s book of poems and prose, Almost at the End, well-described the fate of Gary Hart’s noble presidential quest for what the great American poet Robert Frost called in his Dedication poem for JFK’s inauguration “a golden age of poetry and power, of which this noon-day’s the beginning hour.” And though, in Omar Khayyám’s touching phrase: “The Moving Finger...having writ, Moves on” it is still highly painful at this 30 year remove that Hart’s presidency never happened.
Three short weeks later, Hart, like a madcap magician, caused ALL of the political capital collectively earned during his 1984 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination and ALL of the laborious spadework Hart and his supporters had done in the preceding 30 months (since election night in November 1984) preparing for Gary’s 1988 campaign, to suddenly vanish, and the entire course of American and world history to change: literally in an instant! Unbelievable!
Beginning in Late 1986 Hart’s Competitors in Both Parties Colluded in a Deep State-Sponsored Covert Action Amounting to a Preemptive Coup d’Etat Against Sen. Hart’s Forthcoming Presidency.
Because the obvious preemptive coup d’etat against Sen. Hart’s forthcoming presidency was never investigated, we still know relatively little definitive about the oligarchy-preserving deep-state shot-callers who engineered Hart’s character assassination and ended his presidential quest. But we know some things and can make educated surmises:
The Democratic “Operation Hart-Break” Team – Bob Strauss, Bill Broadhurst, the Clintons and (Unknowingly:) Don Henley
In or about mid-1985 Bill Broadhurst, an affluent high-powered attorney power-broker and protégé of Edwin Edwards, the dean of Louisiana’s notoriously sleazy political milieu, inveigled an introduction to Hart from Broadhurst’s acquaintance Ray Strother. Hart had again retained Strother, his 1984 political consultant/ad man, for his 1988 campaign. Broadhurst had just moved to Washington, purchased 2 side-by-side townhouses on Capitol Hill and (according to Strother’s memoir) illegally combined their backyards. It was common knowledge that Hart had yet to fully retire a multi-million dollar debt from his 1984 campaign and Broadhurst held himself out as a capable fundraiser and political advisor to elite pols.
When Strother and Hart dropped by Broadhurst’s place for an introduction, Hart accepted Broadhurst’s pitch, after which Broadhurst held 3 events raising $40,000 for Hart, and used his Midas touch to begin injecting himself into most of the embryonic campaign’s activities, going so far as to rent an apartment in Denver for that purpose. Campaign staffers (who cautioned Hart far too weakly and far too late about fraternizing with Broadhurst) gave Broadhurst the moniker “Mr. Deep Pockets.” In what seems to have been an instance of “personality-opposites attract” among (heterosexual) middle-aged men (and ‘yuge” incaution if not utter foolishness on Hart’s part under the overall circumstances), Hart and Broadhurst became personal fast-friends, for example by “double-dating” with their wives at the 1986 Superbowl in New Orleans (for which Broadhurst picked up the tab).
Three weeks before Hart’s mid-April 1987 events announcing his 1988 presidential candidacy, Broadhurst in consultation with Strother and Hart, had arranged for the three of them to have an uneventful sport-fishing excursion during the weekend of March 28-29, 1987. The three would travel by yacht from Miami, Florida 50 miles east to the island of Bimini, where Broadhurst owned and docked a fishing boat named Last Affair (you can’t make this stuff up). Broadhurst and Strother would then go fishing (for billfish) for a few hours in the waters off Bimini (the so-called “Fishing Capital of the Bahamas”), while Hart (not the fishing type) worked on a speech on economic policy to be delivered at an upcoming national convention of newspaper publishers. Yet the planned Sunday 3-man (“male-bonding” type) Miami-Bimini 1-day round-trip “somehow” transformed into a candidacy-killing (2-man - 2 women) co-ed overnight outing, one that created an appearance of impropriety, though not necessarily the reality.
In 2003 Strother (at 5:40 - 8:01) told PBS’s Charlie Rose that had he (Strother) gone on the trip as originally planned, he would have proctored the event, prevented Ms. Rice and Ms. Armandt (or any other women) from joining the outing to Bimini, prevented photos from being taken, yadda, yadda. (On such seemingly “small twists” – in this case surely plotted – does American and world history sometimes turn.)
One of THE keys to “cracking the case” (of Hart’s plotted downfall) is how Strother came to be absent from the fishing excursion he had planned to be on. The answer is found by blending Strother’s 2003 account to Rose with a Nov. 2, 2018 Strother radio interview with Louisiana talk radio host Jim Engster (linked below). Between them Strother makes crystal-clear that conservative Democratic Party kingpin Robert S. “Bob” Strauss called Strother off the boat trip with Hart.
At the time (March 1987) Bob Strauss’s sister-in-law Annette Strauss was running for the mayoralty of Dallas, Texas. Strother was serving as her political consultant. On March 26, 1987 (the night before Strother was to fly to Miami a day ahead of the planned March 28th fishing day-trip to Bimini), Bob Strauss telephoned Strother about a (supposedly) urgent matter:
Annette “had been viciously attacked by her Republican opponent” Bob told Strother. She desperately needed her sage consultant to fly to Dallas immediately, take counter-measures and settle Annette down. (Strother was a pilot who routinely flew his own plane on such trips.) In the exact same conversation (or one held right around this time) Ray had asked Bob Strauss if he thought his client Gary Hart would win the White House in 1988: Strauss buoyantly replied to Strother that Hart’s victory in 1988 was already assured. “That’s done! Go on to something else.” Ahem! Strother’s reference to Strauss believing Hart to be (in sum) a shoo-in for 1988 is here: see the second of 2 interview links at the 17 min. mark with Strauss mentioned at 17:40. You can’t make this stuff up!
Strother called Broadhurst from Dallas on March 27th and told him he couldn’t make the fishing trip the next day. Thus were “things made to happen” by Bob Strauss. Strauss, a Texas native and former FBI agent, was the dean of the conservative Democrats and “batted both ways” politically: He befriended President Reagan (and presumably Vice-President Bush) following Reagan’s victory in the 1980 general election over President Carter, whose career Strauss had advanced in his role as a senior Democratic Party official before and after the McGovern interregnum (1971-72). Strother (correctly) referred to Strauss in his recent radio interview as having been “King of the Democrats” in those days
The idea that Robert Strauss, who got his start in politics running John Connolly’s campaign for student body president (!) at the University of Texas and Lyndon Johnson’s first Congressional campaign, was reconciled to the Democratic Party’s nomination of Gary Hart, George McGovern’s former campaign manager, as its standard bearer for president in 1988 (and Hart’s associated takeover of the Democratic Party in the event of his election as president) is preposterous, as is the idea that Ray Strother, a political sophisticate, believed Strauss to be sincere. As the saying goes: “Don’t pee in my pocket and tell me it’s raining.” (That doesn’t mean however that Strother recognized that Strauss was up to no good in pulling Strother off the Bimini trip. I don’t believe Strother did.)
A second key to cracking the case (of Hart’s plotted downfall) is what prompting, if any, Ms. Rice had to first walk onto the 83-foot yacht of infamous name (a name I never write) on March 27, 1987. Broadhurst had chartered and paid-for the yacht at a cost of $2,500-a-day. Ms. Rice has said that her original destination that evening was a fund-raiser nearby and that because it was “too crowded” she and a group of her friends walked over to the chartered yacht. Upon boarding Rice recognized Hart and said: “I remember you, you’re Senator Hart.” Hart and Rice had met but not conversed at a New Year’s Day (not eve) party on January 1, 1987 in Aspen, Colorado at Don Henley’s home. Henley says that in 1986 he was on the rebound from a devastating breakup of a five year relationship, and began seeing both Ms. Rice and Fawn Hall, Oliver North’s former secretary. (“Life in the fast lane” indeed).
Assuming (as one must) Ms. Rice’s location of the chartered yacht was not entirely coincidental, the person who almost certainly assisted the meeting-up that evening between Ms. Rice and Senator Hart was Mr. Henley, the person who knew the two of them. If Henley was in fact the go-between (and no other scenario is really plausible) it is unlikely he did so with any intent to damage his Colorado neighbor’s political fortunes. (Henley had written and recorded the highly sarcastic anti-press song “Dirty Laundry” in 1982 and may have arrogantly believed that any appearance of scandal could be finessed if and when the media responded to the catnip.)
How exactly Henley came to direct Rice to the yacht Broadhurst had chartered is unknown, but one author has established an interesting coincidence from which a plausible explanation can be derived. In his acclaimed 1996 book critical of the Clintons, Partners in Power: The Clintons and Their America, a meticulously sourced work three years in the making, author Roger Morris opined (what then seemed Gothically) about the Clintons’ possible involvement in Hart’s downfall in 1987.
Morris is a Harvard Ph.D who once worked for Lyndon Johnson and Walter Mondale, before serving as a National Security Council aide to Henry Kissinger during the Nixon years. Morris resigned that post on April 30, 1970 in protest of President Nixon’s bombing and incursion into Cambodia, an escalation of the Vietnam War which provoked demonstrations on campuses nationwide, including Kent State University, where four students were killed by Ohio National Guardsmen a few weeks later, on June 5, 1970. Morris and his wife Sally Denton, also a Clinton critic from a liberal background, are not part of the right-wing press cabal that hounded the Clintons.
According to Roger Morris, Mr. Henley and then Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton were both in attendance at a dinner at Norman Lear’s house in Hollywood on March 27, 1987, the same evening (!?) Henley’s friend, Ms. Rice, showed up uninvited and boarded Broadhurst’s chartered yacht in Miami’s Turnberry Isle enclave. Morris infers from this account Clinton’s complicity in Hart’s demise but, obviously, no such conclusion can be drawn from this account alone. I briefly discussed with Mr. Morris the insinuation in Partners in Power regarding Clinton’s complicity in Hart’s 1987 demise at a book signing in Los Angeles in May 2002. Morris commented that he believed that Hart had been videotaped on the yacht before deferring to his wife (who did not elaborate), and invited further communication at a later date, something I did not take him up on. Both Morris and his wife, Sally Denton, who has also done considerable research on the 1987 Hart fiasco, impressed me as serious and credible persons.
From this and many other data points it is difficult for any non-naive person to avoid the conclusion that Henley deployed Ms. Rice to Don Sofer’s infamously named Florida yacht on March 27, 1987 as part of a concerted effort by a small group (almost certainly including Bob Strauss and the Clintons and almost certainly excluding Henley) to create a “honey trap” and severely damage if not destroy Hart’s 1988 presidential candidacy. These fortifying facts include Hart having indirectly informed Clinton in early 1987 that Gary would not be selecting Bill Clinton as his vice-presidential nominee in 1988 (a story that is space-prohibitive to repeat here but that Strother tells in his book and I recount in my review of it at pp. 34-35 and 71).
I also believe, “all things considered” and with the benefit of impressions gleaned from having spoken with Ms. Rice by telephone a few times over the years, that Ms. Rice was deployed in the role of “femme fatale” unwittingly. I so believe in part because Donna was so apolitical in her (wild/experimental) 20s that she says (I believe honestly) that despite Hart having become “a household name” for 5 months in 1984 she had never heard of Sen. Hart prior to meeting him briefly on Jan. 1, 1987.
The Republican “Operation Hart-Break” Team – Don Sofer, Lee Atwater and Dick Capen and His Miami Herald Henchmen
In my 2005 review of Sen. Hart’s former ad man Ray Strother’s 2003 book Falling Up, I discussed in detail the competing “usual suspects” in the Hart set-up, namely those who benefited most from the crime, the Bushes and the Clintons. I concluded that the more likely culprits are the Clintons. My view today is that it was a collaborative Clintons-Bush effort with crucial supporting input from “deep state” intelligence operatives. As Roger Morris points out in another part of Partners in Power Gov. Clinton had relations with the CIA related to the Agency’s drug-running operations in the 1980s at an airport in Mena, Arkansas. It is almost certain that former CIA director turned Vice-President George H.W. Bush and Gov. Clinton were acquainted and it’s quite plausible they collaborated in their common self-interest. The ease with which Clinton, a marginally literate slick political huckster from a backwater state with a minuscule population, was able to defeat President Bush in 1992 is alone supportive of the idea the two had made a long-term deal to trade the presidency between their families and sealed it by collaborating to rid themselves of their common obstacle to the White House, Sen. Hart. (Not to make too much of it, but who first looks at their watch and them fumbles an answer to an awkward question in the middle of a presidential debate, unless they are trying to lose?)
On April 23, 2007 I received an email from Ray Strother complimenting my review of his 2003 book and attempting to dispel me of my conclusion that the Clintons were the authors of Hart’s demise. Ray wrote:
“I spent a lot of time and effort on the boat trip in the following years and concluded that it had been a set up by our old friend Lee Atwater. Because of that boat trip our country is not as good a place as it could have been.”
Mr. Strother amplified on his 2007 line to me first in an in-person lunch he had with Hart in-or-about August of 2018. Hart told Strother he thought the late March 1987 trip to Bimini had been a set-up due to 4-5 odd things that happened relative to the planned boat trip, including but not limited to the last minute change of the vessel, none of which things made sense unless a coordinated effort had been made to frame him. Strother hastened to reply to Hart that:
- he (Gary) had been set-up by Republican consultant Lee Atwater, that Lee had confessed to Strother in early 1991 when Lee was dying of brain cancer that he (Atwater) had masterminded Hart’s demise, including the women and the photographs; and
- Strother had kept this confession to himself (in 1991) in deference to (in sum) the Harts’ need for closure on the subject, which they had achieved in the interim 3 years since Hart’s second withdrawal from the 1988 race.
Hart secured Strother’s consent to relay Strother’s account to a journalist Gary had worked with on defense reform matters, James Fallows of Atlantic Magazine, and Fallows produced a story after conducting follow-up interviews with Hart and Strother and doing independent research on Broadhurst.
Fallows’s Atlantic Magazine article opines that Atwater very probably masterminded Hart’s demise by (in sum) bribing Bill Broadhurst (who was chronically over-extended financially):
- to swap-in Don Sofer’s opulent yacht (of infamous name) for the far more modest and nondescript vessel Broadhurst originally planned to use for the trip to Bimini; and
- to choreograph staged photographs by and through women traveling companions (particularly one Lynn Armandt) on the trip that depicted Hart in a false light as a shameless public philanderer.
Lending some credence to the account of Atwater’s deathbed admission to Strother is the “you can’t make this stuff up” not-fun-fact that Don Sofer, Turnberry’s developer and manager, who owned the infamous swapped-in yacht, was a friend of Don Aronow, a then-recently-murdered friend of Vice-President George H.W. Bush! Aronow had designed the cigarette boats Bush raced around-in on Maine lakes, as part of his PR offensive against the “wimp factor.” Vice-President Bush personally notified Miami authorities of his interest in seeing the Aronow murder properly investigated and solved.
Even though Strother had informed Fallows in “on the record” conversations that Broadhurst may well have been motivated by “money” to re-route Hart to Sofer’s yacht, in his Nov. 2nd radio interview with Louisiana talk show host Jim Engster Strother disassociated himself from the part of Fallows’s article that incriminates Broadhurst as the Judas-figure who was bribed to betray Hart. Seehere: second of 2 interview links. Strother also tells a “shaggy dog story” about having been incommunicado in Italy on vacation when the Fallows story was picked up by Rachel Maddow who did excellent work in first placing it in straight-forward historical context and then conducting an interview with Mr. Fallows, one that got some of his account in The Atlantic across but was marred by technical difficulty and seems to have been cut short by the producer given that Rachel’s introductory piece ran twice as long as her interview with Fallows. (Go figure.)
After all that, on Strother’s first day back from Italy, while standing by his story with the sole caveat that he (Strother) isn’t accusing Broadhurst of betraying Hart, Strother tells Mr. Engster (in sum) he wishes the whole story about Atwater’s admission to him had never been published. (WTF?!)
In Strother’s defense, he similarly made an aside to Charlie Rose that the Hart yacht trip fiasco “wasn’t Billy's fault.” And Atwater’s admission that he masterminded the yacht trip fiasco could still be true even if Broadhurst did not re-route the excursion to Sofer’s yacht as part of a direct Atwater-and-Broadhurst plot to destroy Hart’s candidacy. Broadhurst could have simply acted moronically and been manipulated by, say, Rice’s friend Armandt who (at Atwater’s direction) may have suggested that Broadhurst upgrade to “my friend Don Sofer’s much nicer yacht.”
Strother, for his part, does have some further “splainin’ to do” as he did in earlier phases of his work for Hart which are space-prohibitive to recount here but which I discuss in my review of his rather riveting 2003 memoir. Namely why on earth would Ray prioritize personally attending to a momentarily distressed candidate in a lowly race for mayor of Dallas (Annette Strauss was already a member of the City Council) and leave Strother’s (and the nation’s) prized Democratic presidential candidate to operate on his own on a yachting excursion to Bimini in the company of a middle-aged “good time Charlie” like Billy Broadhurst, a trip originating in a “den of iniquity” like Miami’s Turnberry Isle enclave? What on earth was Strother thinking: “What could go wrong?” Please.
As for Strother’s account about Atwater, Peter Athas, a Louisiana political pundit and Strother near-peer, has questioned why Ray didn’t disclose Atwater’s deathbed confession in his 2003 book/memoir or disclose it to Hart in real time rather than waiting for Hart to bring up the set-up 31 years after the fact. Seehere. Nor (much less importantly) did Strother disclose Atwater’s deathbed phone confession to me in Ray’s aforementioned 2007 email after running across my review of his 2003 book/memoir online. Strother actually says something different in that email to me: That he “spent a lot of time and effort on the boat trip in the following years and concluded it had been set up by our old friend Lee Atwater.” (Emphasis added.) Not a 5 minute phone call from Atwater in 1991.
Nevertheless I don’t believe for a minute either:
- Athas’s (unkind and incorrect) insinuation that Strother made up his account about Atwater; or alternatively
- that the demonic Atwater was not making amends but puffing his resume for admission to hell on his deathbed (by falsely claiming credit for one more political enemy scalp).
What I am still utterly dismayed with Strother for is flying to Dallas on March 27, 1987 to placate the Democratic kingfish Robert Strauss instead of flying to Miami to fish for billfish with Broadhurst and keep the next president of the United States company. Just think of the neo-JFK film or video footage Strother could have shot of Hart relaxing on a yacht, for inclusion in his future documentary on the Hart presidency, which would be remembered today alongside his idol Charles Guggenheim’s documentary on President Kennedy? How could you be so remiss Ray?
In any event: Atwater, the Clintons and Broadhurst (if Billy was in fact in on it – about which I am agnostic) alone could not have engineered the entire fiasco that befell Sen. Hart in 1987. For that, hidden-hand (AKA colloquially “deep state”) assets were needed including from within the mainstream and tabloid press.
Another key to the case, then, comprising essentially irrefutable evidence of conservative Republican and deep-state complicity in Hart’s diabolically socially-engineered appearance of impropriety and his consequent estrangement from mainstream journalists (which in turn triggered his consequent abrupt downfall) comes from a resume “hiding in plain sight” on the CIA’s website.
Here we find the background of Richard G. “Dick” Capen, once an assistant to President Nixon’s Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, which was transmitted (according to the scanned envelope) by the DOD “per your request” to one John Maury, the CIA’s Legislative Counsel. (Hmmm.) As Laird’s point-man on American prisoners of war during the Vietnam War Capen closely collaborated with our entire intelligence community in an effort to work U.S. soldiers’ release from captivity by the Vietcong and North Vietnamese. (Capen is featured on 2 online videos discussing his role in the Vietnam War MIA issue.)
Fast forward a dozen years and the same Dick Capen becomes “Publisher of the Miami Herald from 1983 to 1989” – the exact same time period as Sen. Hart’s presidential campaigns. Well well well. In Dana Carvey’s Church Lady phrase: “Isn’t that special?”
A near-certain surmise is that the higher-up conservative hidden-hand power-elites who planned “Operation Hart-Break” decided to conduct it by-and-through assets including Capen, who in turn had a master-servant relationship with the Miami Herald’s “wrecking crew” editors and reporters: Fiedler, Clifton, McGee, Savage et al., who were assigned to “do the dirty work.”
It stands to reason then (to all but the most naive), that almost immediately after Hart’s April 13, 1987 announcement speech, the Miami Herald (as an entity) began plotting with an anonymous informant who sought Hart’s political demise. An informant Herald reporter Tom Fiedler has (strangely) never identified in the interim 31.5 years. Fiedler has said the caller described herself as a “liberal Democrat” and that in the second of two calls he had with her, which lasted 90 minutes, the informant covered a wide range of topics, including the Iran-contra scandal, in the manner of a political sophisticate.
Here, Matt Bai significantly errs (and disappoints) by siding (decisively) with the “it just happened” school of Hart’s demise. He goes out of his way to credit what appears to be a very tall-tale told to him by a Miami resident named Dana Weems, who claims to have been the informant who “dropped the dime” about the Hart-Rice “relationship” to Miami Herald editor Tom Fiedler in April 1987. Bai evidently spoke with Weems by telephone, not in-person, so Bai lacked the ability to assess Dana’s demeanor.
Big problem: The purportedly admitted tipster Ms. Weems was not a “liberal Democrat” in 1987: She was not even registered to vote at the time! Further, she emphatically denied being the tipster in real time. Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Bill Dedman interviewed Weems and did the just-mentioned research (on Dana’s non-registration to vote) for a May 1987 article on-point that also ran on the AP wire. Dedman (who went on to become a best-selling non-fiction author) was so irked at Bai’s slighting of his important contemporaneous reporting about Weems that he asked for a correction from the New York Times when Bai blithely credited Weems’s 180 degree reversal of the denial she gave Dedman that she had been Fiedler’s source. See the “postscript” at the foot of the New York Times comment-gate article here. Margaret Sullivan, the Public Editor, agreed with Dedman but the Times never made the correction Dedman requested and Sullivan recommended.
The call to Fiedler was highly likely to have been initiated by someone in one or the other of the “usual suspect” camps (the two political families who most benefited by getting Hart “out of the way”), the Clintons or Bushes (or a covert action operative within the “Deep State”), and it seems ludicrous they would have entrusted the crucial discussion with Fiedler to Ms. Weems. A woman of Weems’ profile, who modeled and lived the fast life in Miami Vice-ridden Turnberry Isle resort community (and who sells rugs online today) almost certainly could not have held a 90 minute telephone call with Fiedler that included highly sophisticated political references. (It would require Ms. Weems to pass a lie detector test for me to believe otherwise.) Someone else called Fiedler, catalyzing Hart’s downfall. And Hart’s chief character assassin Fiedler is still protecting his source and is evidently determined to keep this confidence indefinitely.
When Hart absorbed the Herald’s initial “hit” and began counter-attacking, Richard “Dick” Capen, the Miami Herald’s publisher, sprung into action personally. Following Sen. Hart’s outstanding speech (the overall substance of which holds up remarkably well after 31 years) before a convention of newspaper publishers during those fateful first “seven days in May” 1987 (in which Hart referred in passing to having been “stabbed in the back” and having “done nothing immoral”), Dick, an ex-Navy officer and ex-Nixon administration Defense Department political operative, insolently lambasted Hart in a statement (not a question) from the convention floor. Seehere at 53:40. Even the moderator of the Q&A became uncomfortable with Capen’s edgy mudslinging monologue, finally asking tersely: “Dick: What is the question” (which was met with audience laughter-and-applause clearly amounting to a reproval of Capen for his stream of malicious bully-boy brain-farts).
Interestingly, in (overly nicely) answering Capen’s long-winded nit-witted screed (in which he worked in an admission that his reporters hadn’t continuously watched the front and back doors of Hart’s residence) Hart mentions first having met Ms. Rice at an event at which Lee was also present, that Lee also met Donna at that time, and that Donna had met up with Hart again in Miami “quite by accident” and without any “pre-arrangement.” This is of course all-but-impossible and if it actually happened that way then the title of the 1980 South African film “The Gods Must be Crazy” is literal not metaphorical. But that is a fairy tale. Hart had nothing to do with any pre-arranging for Rice to find Gary but others surely did: “Things don’t happen, they are made to happen.”
(One more note on the C-Span footage of the newspaper publishers convention event: Given the tension that could be cut with a knife, Bob Dole, who also spoke, drew a needed laugh at 24:55. The now 94 year old Dole was honored by Republicans with a Congressional Gold Medal in Jan. 2018, but they don’t make Republicans like Sen. Dole anymore. In addition to HAVING a sense of humor, Dole worked closely with Sen. George McGovern on social welfare issues such as ensuring adequate nutrition for all persons at home and abroad, including the first “food stamps” bill. Seehere. As British novelist L.P. Hartley said: “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”)
At the Time Journalists Turned in Unison on Hart, Condemned His Character and Ballyhooed the Appearance of Impropriety Hart Created Via the Bimini Trip and DC Dinner Double-Date, the VOTERS Had Already Long Since Exonerated Hart of any Disqualifying Character Flaws.
What is most loathsome about what Capen and the other ghouls who called themselves mainstream publishers, editors and journalists did to Sen. Hart and the American people in 1987 is the total disrespect they had for their fellow citizens: the VOTERS who had elevated Hart to his front-runner position:
In that 1984 Democratic presidential race to determine who would run against President Reagan in the November 1984 general election and attempt to nip the scourge of extreme conservatism “in the bud” Hart had finished a close runner-up to former Minnesota Senator Walter F. Mondale, who had served as Vice-President under Jimmy Carter. Indeed Hart won the majority of Democratic electoral contests that year (26) en route to garnering over 6.5 MILLION (!) votes. This was “no mean feat” to understate the achievement considerably.
What is known as the (so-called) “character issue,” including Hart’s name- and signature changes and 2 separations from his wife Lee and commenced- and cancelled divorce proceedings (during which separations Gary had courted other women), had been raised in 1984 and considered and totally dismissed by Hart’s 6.5 MILLION primary and caucus voters. Many of these voters (numerically) had evaluated Hart’s character as well as his politics “up close and personal” in small group settings in Iowa and the other early contested states in New England, and found Hart’s character sound.
Miami Herald editor Tom Fiedler to this day lamely justifies his wrecker tactics in April-May 1987 by claiming that Hart was, in sum, an “unknown quantity” to voters, and that Fiedler and other journalists were therefore compelled to invade Hart’s privacy to determine whether he was somehow defrauding the voters about his identity and character. This was total BUNK and just one more Fiedler lie among many: Any and every question Fiedler could ask Hart any voter could and undoubtedly did ask Hart one-on-one in Iowa, New Hampshire or other retail politics locations during the early phase of the 1984 presidential campaign, and those same types of voters would have done so again (if need be) during the 1988 cycle.
And during the balance of the 1984 Democratic presidential primary campaign, when it transitioned from “retail” to “wholesale” campaigning, the voters elevated Gary amidst (sometimes brutal) debate and political competition between Hart and his rival finalist candidates for the Democratic nomination, Vice-President Mondale and civil rights leader Jesse Jackson. Objectively speaking then, the so-called Hart character issue was moot as of April 1987. As the expression goes (and Tom Fiedler’s, Paul Taylor’s and Carl Leubsdorf’s asinine idiosyncratic personal opinions to the contrary notwithstanding): 6.5 MILLION Hart voters can’t be wrong.
The Front Runner and the Book On Which It’s Based – Literary and Cinematic Damage Control
Alas, director and co-screenwriter Jason Reitman, the auteur of the new Hart movie, and journalist and co-screenwriter Matt Bai, the author of the book on which the movie was (unfortunately solely) based, clearly had in mind much more modest and parochial primary goals in reviving the media vs. Hart imbroglio than sussing out the hidden hands behind the nationally calamitous event. Rather their works appear primarily aimed at providing a measure of damage control on behalf of the big business that made Bai an elite insider (Bai frequently refers to journalism as “my industry”) by:
- making a partial mea culpa to the public for the national and world-wide catastrophe (over the ensuing 3 decades) wrought by journalists’ vile, unhinged aggression against an esteemed and popular politician over (at worst) an (arguable) appearance of impropriety; and
- making amends to Hart personally for Bai’s colleagues’ insolent affronts; as Bai memorably wrote in his 2014 book: the Miami Herald reporters acted as if (paraphrasing) “they had caught Hart murdering Ms. Rice, instead of taking her to dinner.”
The movie’s producers do seem to have provided a measure of restored dignity to Sen. Hart and his family, if only by telling part of the story of the press vs. Hart feud (which there really weren’t 2 sides to – the merits entirely favored Hart) from his (headstrong) point of view over 31 years after the fact.
But if the goal here was real-world damage control of either:
- journalists’ sullied reputations with the public; or
- the dystopian conditions of today (conditions that are directly traceable to the toxic relations between the press and Sen, Hart in 1987),
the (very) most that can currently be said is that (in the title of the 2009 film directed by Jason Reitman) any such salutary impact of The Front Runner movie is very much “up in the air.”
And even that seems too generous. The movie, alas, appears to be a dud both creatively, due to its overly-neutral POV and financially, taking in a paltry $2M nationwide at the box office since its Nov. 6th release.
Matt Bai’s Partial Score-Settling of the Press vs. Hart Feud in Hart’s Favor Ala a Latter-Day William Butler Yeats
The Front Runner is based solely (and rather loosely it turns out) on former New York Times journalist Matt Bai’s 2014 book All the Truth is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid. Bai’s book, in turn, had its origin in interviews Bai conducted with Hart in January 2003 when Hart set up a website and registered a committee with the Federal Election Commission to explore running for the presidency again in 2004. See garyhartnews.com in the Internet Archives's Wayback Machine on February 2, 2003 here: (a website constructed under my Hart-authorized and supervised volunteer management and displayed during Hart’s interview with George Stephanopoulos on his news interview show This Week that Sunday morning).
Partially due to Bai’s skepticism if not outright discouragement, Hart didn’t run in 2004 after all. Sadly Bush and Cheney’s criminally insane Iraq War dragged on for 10 more years. African-Americans in New Orleans were criminally neglected following Hurricane Katrina. And the GOP’s looting policies finally crashed the economy, lock, stock and barrel. And all the country got out of the 2004 general election presidential campaign was this (truly) lousy video. Attaboy Matt!
It’s an extremely odd recurring theme considering how contemptuous journalists are of Hart – and one of THE keys to understanding why on earth Hart famously quit the 1988 race: To this day Hart values journalists’ advice and camaraderie much more than the advice and fellowship of any political colleagues, especially that of his supporters who cannot honestly provide the constant train of approbation for Hart’s own outlook and decision-making he seems to require, lest his ego be bruised and his feathers ruffled. This is a (if not THE) major paradox about Gary, in light of his immense talents.
Below I amplify on my all-but-certain conclusion (one that startled me when I arrived at it after 31 years of occasional rumination on the mystery) that the simple reason Gary dropped out of the 1988 race on May 8th, 1987 (when doing so was so patently self-destructive and ruinous to the cause he stood-for) was that mainstream journalists obviously wanted him to. So he did. Like I say: Unbelievable!
Bai has said that over the ensuing years he realized his 2003 New York Times Magazine article had been unfair to Hart. Moreover Bai had developed in the interim a pop sociology thesis (that had crystalized into an “idee fixe”) that the events of April and May 1987 were the decisive moment that “politics went tabloid.” Accordingly Bai produced All the Truth Is Out in 2014 as a book-length corrective to- and enlargement of his 2003 magazine article.
Bai’s book title is taken from the first line of a short poem titled “To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Nothing” by William Butler Yeats:
Now all the truth is out,
Be secret and take defeat
From any brazen throat,
For how can you compete,
Being honor bred, with one
Who were it proved he lies
Were neither shamed in his own
Nor in his neighbors’ eyes;
Bred to a harder thing
Than Triumph, turn away
And like a laughing string
Whereon mad fingers play
Amid a place of stone,
Be secret and exult,
Because of all things known
That is most difficult.
The poem was Yeats way of consoling his friend Lady Gregory who had sought to house her nephew’s artworks in a new gallery in Dublin, over the virulent editorial objection of a local newspaper editor. Ultimately the editor prevailed. And Yeats’ poem followed, immortalizing the dispute in Lady Gregory’s favor.
Bai (borderline grandiosely) similarly tried to settle the score for our old friend Gary, who is most remembered for having suddenly “had” to end his front-running candidacy for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination in May 1987 following the unhinged-media feeding-frenzy that arose when Miami Herald journalistic stalkers saw him in the company of Donna Rice, a Miami pharmaceutical saleswomen, former model and Miss South Carolina, and ex-girlfriend of Hart’s Colorado neighbor Don Henley. (It also so happened, that in the words of the trailer to the movie 10, Ms. Rice was “an 11”.)
In his book Bai provides a long overdue corrective to the myth that had ossified into (false) “fact” which held that Hart was “his own worst enemy” and had foolishly agreed in advance to permit journalists to put him under surveillance (“follow me around”) if they doubted his veracity in asserting:
- he was reconciled with his wife Oletha (Lee) since ending the last of the couple’s 2 separations; and
- that he wasn’t (in sum) polyamorous.
Bai set the record straight by extracting admissions from the key reporters involved (EJ Dionne of the New York Times and Tom Fiedler of the Miami Herald):
- that Hart had in no way invited stalker- or private detective type surveillance; and
- that Fiedler had not seen Dionne’s article containing Hart’s “follow me around” quote until Fiedler was already en route to Washington DC to accost Hart at his residence.
Bai’s new reporting on these points precisely accorded with that done in “real time” (1987-1992) by the late (great) Richard Ben Cramer, author of What It Takes, the definitive book on the 1988 presidential campaign, one that is now considered a historic Teddy White-level political-literary classic. Neither Cramer nor Bai noted, but should have, that in any event the Herald reporters didn’t initially “follow around” Hart but his alleged paramour, a savagely indecent act that Hart had no power and less inclination to invite reporters to do.
Bai’s nagging misgivings about the fiasco of 1987 were very well-taken. He correctly intuited that political events profoundly impacting presidential politics are rarely historical “freak accidents” that must simply be mourned rather than explained, such as William Henry Harrison dying of pneumonia 32 days after giving an inaugural address lasting 1 hour 45 minutes (the longest in American history) in the freezing cold on March 4, 1841.
But the broad explanatory framework and causal dynamics Bai ascribes to Hart’s downfall are unpersuasive, especially in comparison with the far more straight-forward explanation: That Hart was targeted for political elimination by the same oligarchical power-elite that (as I’ve been putting it for years) “shot its way to power” in America between 1963 and 1968 and is still very much in charge, fake-populist “Don the Con-artist” Trump now presiding.
A Simple Counter-Factual Scenario in Which Hart Stayed in the 1988 Race Renders Bai’s and Reitman’s “The Week Politics Went Tabloid” Narratives Unpersuasive
In the shared view of Matt Bai and The Front Runner director (and co-screenwriter) Jason Reitman, the 3 weeks in 1987 between Hart’s announcement on April 13th and his withdrawal on May 8th denote a historical break-point at which:
- journalists (essentially idiosyncratically) “changed the rules” regarding the scope of privacy politicians were entitled to- or (put inversely) the degree to which journalists were now “allowed” to pry into politicians’ private lives. Comparethese highly instructive accounts from Macleans and the Ottawa Citizen respectively describing Canada’s steadfast adherence to the old rules and the patent superiority of same;
- what came to be called superficial “infotainment” values took over and blasphemed presidential and lower-office campaigns and elections, denuding them of the focus on values conflict and competing policy- and issues-platforms they had historically always been about; and
- this “tabloid” style broadcast and print media coverage of elections debased the currency of politics and government and promoted a sort of Gresham’s Law which drove out sophisticated respectable people (“the best and the brightest”) from the political arena and replaced them with conventional conformist (Babbitt) types and/or shameless artful dodger (Bill Clinton) salesman types dexterous at facing down or eliding journalistic morals-police-type scrutiny.
Bai’s sociological narrative has some surface plausibility, but imagining a simple counter-factual scenario in which Hart stayed in the 1988 presidential race, seems to rob it of any profound explanatory power. Indeed, the bizarre media-Hart 1987 imbroglio would have in fact been remembered as a trivial if hysterical hissy-fit – the political-journalistic equivalent of police contagiously firing their firearms at an unarmed suspect (and missing) – but for its baleful consequence of derailing American and world history when Hart shockingly and irrationally voluntarily left the race in response to the media’s despicable stunt.
Bai’s meta-sociological thesis aside, his book provides spot-on (highly belated) context and normalcy to Hart’s actual personal conduct (that became “controversial”), which was either entirely benign (albeit conduct that created an appearance of impropriety), or was what novelist John Irving called in 1987 “commonly immoral” (ie. a venial sin). Plainly, such minor personal misconduct or character flaws (even if such were accurately ascribed to Hart) cannot feasibly be deemed grounds for disqualification from public office lest virtually everyone of normal life experience (including those who have only “lusted in their heart” as Jimmy Carter admitted doing) be disqualified from holding public office.
Bai also provides a long-overdue corrective reminder that politics is primarily about competing visions, values and policy prescriptions, not the trivial personal habits and preferences of politicians (“boxers or briefs?”, etc.) NOR (except in extraordinary circumstances not remotely present in Hart’s case) non-trivial facets of their personal lives, such as intimate extramarital relationships between consenting adults. For example, Bai very helpfully exhumes and brings to the public’s attention anew Hart’s visionary leadership intentions had he been nominated and elected in 1988, including presiding over an orderly end to the Cold War with USSR General Secretary Gorbachev. And points out (in sum) the sheer folly of a superpower having allowed its conduct of world affairs to be disrupted by a flirtation or possible romantic affair between a front-running male presidential candidate and a consenting adult woman.
“It’s a Drama Not a Documentary.” – Gary Hart on The Front Runner’s Poetic License
Bai’s 2014 book and his promotional tour in support of it very helpfully fished (a part of) Gary Hart’s important life story out of total obscurity and (not insignificantly) the fallout from it attracted Hollywood’s attention. Director Jason Reitman first came upon Bai’s book via a segment about it and Hart on NPR’s Radiolab program. The segment (despite Bai’s inclusion as “window dressing”) consisted of a grossly unfair anti-Hart hatchet-job but the comment section (which has since been scrubbed on Radiolab’s website) was a barn-burner in part due to my spirited comment exchange with one Tim Chambers, (evidently) a journalist offended at my defense of Hart. I preserved this comment exchange on my Facebook page for political and social commentary. (Click on More Replies at the end for the full monte.)
Savvy second generation film-maker Jason Reitman (his father Ivan directed Ghostbusters and has a public square named after him within prime real estate in Toronto) helpfully ditched Bai’s pretentious book title for the far more denotative middlebrow title The Front Runner. But Reitman’s oeuvre was limited by his youth and political naivete. Leaning on his experience as a cineaste he talked the novice screenwriters, Bai and Jay Carson (a political aide d’ camp to 2000 presidential candidate Sen. Bill Bradley and other Democratic pols) into morphing the screenplay and film into something of a remake of the 1972 film The Candidate, with the “real” Gary Hart substituting for the fictional Bill McKay. In The candidate McKay’s character, played by Robert Redford, is shown philandering on the campaign trail with at least one very attractive political groupie/campaign volunteer. Seetrailer (at 1:50-2:10). That plot point and the rest of the cinema verite technique employed by The Candidate’s director Michael Richie were presumably too good not to steal. (This is not unusual: Most movie idioms, like most fortunes, are stolen.) This, in turn, helps explain why, as Hart’s 1988 campaign manager Bill Dixon has accurately pointed out, the film-makers created a fictional scene of what looks like Hart and Rice embracing and kissing on the yacht in question.
This is but one example of the manner in which the creative trio, rather than enlarge the scope of Bai’s book to correspond to the profound (dark) nature of the subject matter, adhered to the narrow themes and narrative of Bai’s book and then liberally employed “poetic license” (AKA “took liberties with the truth”) while writing and shooting the script.
Political journalist David Shribman, a dissenter from his crazed colleagues in 1987, noticed some of these “discrepancies” and contacted Hart for his reaction to the movie. Reitman had (considerately) shown the finished film to Gary and his family at a private screening in a Denver movie theater. Hart responded to a few of Shribman’s queries, and then summarized laconically: “It’s a drama, not a documentary.”
Following is a list of The Front Runner’s further departures from the true story drawn from reliable written accounts of those who have seen it (not including myself). The movie:
- Omits Hart’s comeback campaign beginning Dec. 15, 1987, which returned him to the front-runner position for over a month before fizzling under a second assault by the Miami Herald. On Jan. 20, 1988 the Herald published a false story (see The Daily Iowan’s UPI dispatch at p.4A) about the legality of Hart campaign volunteer Dennis Walto’s personal income. Walto had parachuted-in to help out shortly before the Iowa caucuses. Five months later the Hart campaign was cleared of any campaign finance impropriety.
- Creates fictional composite characters – one a reporter of African descent (?!) who plays a melded version of two white reporters, EJ Dionne and Paul Taylor.
- Merges and alters time sequences, for example placing Hart’s famous ax-throwing bulls-eye at a lumberjack contest in 1987 instead of 1984 a few days before Hart’s upset win in the New Hampshire primary when it actually happened; and (much worse) depicting the yacht trip to Bimini as having occurred a week after Hart officially announced his 1988 presidential candidacy instead of 2 weeks before).
- As David Shribman reports in the above-linked article: Creates fictional scenes and imaginary dialogue depicting Sen. Hart and his wife Lee during the May 1987 political crisis.
- Misidentifies the reporter to whom Hart made a joking reference (during his McGovern campaign manager days) to “reform marriage.” When Hart’s most vicious journalist detractor, the bizarre fabulist Gail Sheehy, tweeted in mid-November about being name-dropped in The Front Runner she deliberately didn’t correct the record (when she had ample space left in her Twitter thread to do so) to state that Hart had actually given the “reform marriage” quote to the Washington Post’s Sally Quinn and not her!
- Omits the two photos taken on a Bimini pier that wound up being published in the National Enquirer on June 2, 1987. (More about the second photo below.)
- “Worst of all,” as David Shribman writes: The Front Runner“repeats the canard that the Herald reporters were responding to Mr. Hart’s dare that reporters follow him around. That remark appeared in the Times 24 hours after the Herald reporters actually did follow him around.” Exactly. This (so-called) “artistic license” casually discarded one of the key corrective points of Matt Bai’s book (?!), namely to demonstrate that the Miami Herald reporters weren’t responding to Hart’s casual (figurative) aside to EJ Dionne.
- And (last but not least) totally mischaracterizes Hart’s 1984 presidential campaign as primarily a name-recognition-building exercise rather than the deadly-serious effort it was to nip the scourge of extreme conservatism (AKA Reaganism) “in the bud” after a single term. In the wake of President GHW Bush’s recent passing Hart recalled his reminder to Bush when the two interacted on the Senate floor the day after Hart’s upset win in the 1984 New Hampshire Democratic primary, that Hart was competing for Bush’s boss’s job (and thus could not accept Bush’s offer of his and Barbara’s Kennebunkport digs as free lodging for Hart and his campaign staff while campaigning in the upcoming Democratic caucuses in Maine).
Striking Hart’s Achilles Heel – His Profound Psychological Dependency on the Mostly-Fake Approbation He Had Always Received from Journalists Throughout His Political Career
A scene in The Front Runner shows Hugh Jackman as candidate Hart reveling in round-table (likely off-the-record) good-natured banter with journalists. Although he was no “publicity hound,” on reflection and in hindsight of his rash action on May 8, 1987 it is clear that Hart craved the attention and admiration of journalists the way addicts crave a fix.
If I am right about my aforementioned explanation for Hart’s otherwise utterly incomprehensible act of quitting his 1988 presidential campaign, Hart equated being in favor with journalists (and photographers) with an existential sense of security and well-being, which in turn was essential to his capacity to function (at all) as a public servant.
This (so-called) journalist-dependency “syndrome” began, I believe, when Gary first came to national prominence during the McGovern campaign. My Exhibit A is a photograph found in a “vintage” 1972 LIFE Magazine my wife Jasmine purchased for me at a thrift store (she enjoys such treasure hunting) that features George McGovern on the cover. Jasmine knew I had become friends with George in the early 1990s and that he had graciously endorsed my second and last candidacy for public office in early 1993, based solely on phone calls and exchanges of letters! We finally met for the first time in 1994.
LIFE was the premier news magazine of its time, and had served as the unofficial “house” publication for the Kennedy family. It was “yuge” in every sense in those years, including the outsize (13"-by-10.5") physical dimensions of its pages. Spread over 3/4th of pages 30-31 of Life’s July 7, 1972 issue is a classic photo of McGovern reclining in a tipped-back chair with his feet propped against the lower rungs of a desk across from him and his hands interlocked behind his back in a relaxed thoughtful pose. Sitting on the opposite side of the desk taking notes is a young handsome long-shaggy-haired future United States Senator. The caption reads:
“In California near the end of the long primary trail, McGovern discusses the campaign with Denver, Colo. lawyer Gary Hart, his 34 year old campaign manager.”
The effect of this and hundreds of other such flattering published photos and articles on the highly-educated but personally insecure young political professional of humble Kansas origins is certain to have been profound. In Hart’s case I believe it provided an essential psychological bulwark against an ever-present sense in Gary that he didn’t quite belong in the highest stations of political power in America. Gary has spoken of his awe at working with Frank Mankeiwitz (the confident son of a Hollywood screenwriter Herman Mankeiwitz, most famous for writing Citizen Kane) during the McGovern campaign. And as recently as 2015 Hart noted with a sense of personal wonderment in a MSNBC documentary that he had run against (and displaced) Sen. John Glenn, “a bona fide American hero,” as a finalist during the 1984 Democratic presidential campaign. It is a humility that was- and is hard-wired in our old friend Gary.
Despite Hart’s extraordinary perspicacity, he also appeared to have (gullibly) failed to register a gospel truth Janet Malcolm shared about herself and ALL journalists. Namely that they routinely ingratiate themselves with the subjects of their articles through artifice, including feigned genuine admiration. “Every journalist,” Malcolm admits, is a “morally indefensible...confidence man...preying on people’s vanity, ignorance, or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse.” Just so. And (with but 1 honorable exception that I know of) none more so than the journalists who covered Sen. Hart over his “15 years of fame.”
If my conjecture of a plot authored by his political rivals and deep state operatives to destroy Hart’s presidential viability in 1988 is true (and the burden is on the “things just happen” theorists to disprove it), the authors of the plot would had to have known from simple psychological profiling that Gary not only had a deep-seated dependency on the personal approval of journalists but an entire campaign strategy geared to obtaining positive “free media.” This also happened to be his media advisor Ray Strother’s forte and the way Billy Broadhurst operated in Louisiana on behalf of his candidates and causes and did again for Hart, as the following excerpt found at p. 31 of my review of Strother’s memoir attests:
“Strother is not only loathe to bite the press hand he depends upon to favorably report on his clients (and thereby indirectly feed Strother), he is literally devoted to the care and feeding of reporters. For example, in 1986-87 Strother and his friend Bill Broadhurst (yes, THAT Bill Broadhurst) resumed Strother’s political shoptalk cum gumbo dinners for the press, expanded the feast to include ducks, shrimp and crawfish driven up from the bayous of Louisiana ‘by slightly drunken Cajun chefs’, and changed the venue to the spacious, illegally combined backyards of Broadhurst’s Washington DC townhouses.”
Emphasis added. (Query: Did Strother tell Hart about Broadhurst’s casual disregard for DC’s housing-permit law when he introduced him to Gary, after which Broadhurst sought to make himself indispensable to Hart? If not, why not?)
Hart knew full well that his rise in 1984 had been crucially propelled by the overwhelmingly favorable free media he had received in the run-up to- and in the weeks after his New Hampshire primary victory. And Gary further knew that his 1988 fortunes would pivotally rest upon a repetition of that dynamic. Indeed Strother had written Hart a 100 page media strategy memo along this line. One Ray promptly delivered to Bill Clinton (with or without Hart’s consent Strother doesn’t say) 3 weeks after Hart dropped out. (Hmmm.) Seemy review of Strother’s Falling Up at pp. 51-52.
(Although Strother had created a professional conflict-of-interest in simultaneously working as a media consultant to Hart and Clinton – who both had presidential aspirations – I do not believe Ray wittingly did harm to Hart. But Strother knew full well future presidents had to be careful who they consorted-with, and introducing Broadhurst – a man Strother knew to be a crony of the notoriously corrupt Edwin Edwards – to Hart, was not Strother’s finest hour. Yet another small twist on which history itself sometimes turns.)
Given Gary’s psychological dependence on reporters’ approbation, the last thing Hart was capable-of was going on the offense Trump-style against the horde of journalist detractors who viciously gang-sucker-punched him. Nor had Hart recruited a campaign team remotely capable of doing any such thing on our friend Gary’s behalf. When the prospective coup’s shot-callers “released the hounds” on him (Mr. Burns style), Hart’s campaign personnel were flummoxed. They had heedlessly failed to “expect the unexpected” and displayed no “game” whatsoever when the crisis struck. Gary had no one close-by to buck him up and speak for the everyday Americans who were horrified at what they were seeing transpiring before their eyes over the Seven Days in May 1987 as Hart edged towards his withdrawal decision. Had Hart had a single “Corey Lewandowski” type among his inner-circle confidants to lion-tame the media character assassins, history would have been very different.
Hart, Like a Despondent George Baily Figure Standing on the Bridge at the End of His Rope in It’s a Wonderful Life, but Unaware of the Many "Guardian Angels" Trying to Reach Him, Jumps to His Political Death, Catalyzing the Transition of America From Bedford Falls to Pottersville.
When CNN announced Hart was on the verge of doing the unthinkable, terminating his candidacy, some of us tried to intervene: I was cooling my heels in Los Angeles (830 miles from Denver). Incensed at Hart’s imminent betrayal of his real constituency and suicidal capitulation to his political enemies and obsessed Ahab-like journalistic detractors, I somehow reached Hart’s 1984 campaign manager Oliver Henkel in Cleveland by telephone. When he picked up I immediately snapped at him in a raised voice and sharp tone: “What the hell is going on Pudge?!?” He replied wanly, “Gary has lost all credibility.” “Defeatist bunk!” I replied, in so many words. (I love Pudge but his assertion was patently false and even if it was half-true it was temporary.) My call to him having been totally unproductive, and having no means of reaching Hart himself by teephone, I composed a sharply worded written entreaty to Hart directly and dispatched it by Mailgram — a then widely-used Western Union service — urging Hart to reconsider, one that he ignored in the unlikely event he received it before his press conference.
My urgent missive holds up at a 31 year distance (if I say so myself): I described Gary’s planned withdrawal as “absolute folly,” asked him to (at least) postpone it, told him that “there are tacks you can take to regain and keep initiative vs. press-media” and that “the state of whole progressive/idealistic tradition rests on your candidacy,” begged him: “Please don’t disfranchise a whole generation...” and added that his action would redound to the Republicans’ advantage.
To this day I believe I would have come up with a (Lewandowski-type) damage control type plan of the sort I described here had I been on the scene “at history’s moment.”
But even if I (and I’m sure others) who frantically attempted to communicate with Hart and deter him from quitting the race had been able to meet with him face-to-face we may or may not have been able to overcome the devastating psychological injury the journalists covering him had inflicted by disbelieving and ridiculing him. For what hadn’t occurred to me consciously then (even though in retrospect it had always been “hiding in plain sight” and I may have “gotten it” unconsciously) is that the admiration Hart received from supporters and voters meant very little if anything to him.
What sustained our old friend Gary and made him feel worthy was the admiration he received from bigfoot news reporters and their editors. “Journalists esteem me, therefore I am” is I believe a big part of how Hart’s existential make-up operated in those years. Why the esteem of journalists should have been so indispensable to Gary is “above my paygrade.” (I’m the son of a psychiatrist with an amateur’s interest in psychology but nothing more.). It’s something only Hart can answer, either alone or in consultation with a psychoanalyst. But here is one data point for such a query: Why on earth would a separated middle-aged married man who purports to highly value his privacy seek out Bob Woodward, of all people (?!), as a roommate in Washington, DC for a period of time in the 1980s, as Gary did?
So, even in an alternate history where Hart had read my Mailgram and reconsidered, it probably wouldn’t have mattered because (coming from me) he would not have been able to hear and feel the line: “Remember you are still most revered politician in America, bar none. This too shall pass, I guarantee it.” ONLY journalists were capable of making him feel so solidly regarded. Which is why he had concluded all was irreparably lost when the media gang-defiled him.
Thus it was that I and millions of riveted Americans came to watch CNN broadcast Hart’s withdrawal speech which (combined with the preceding insidious grilling shown here) was (in Hedrick Hertzberg’s phrase) the world’s first "political stoning to death for adultery” (a sin which likely never even happened in any relevant time frame) on live television.
When the “moment of truth” arrived on May 8, 1987 Sen. Hart zigged when he should have zagged. Gary had the whole matter contained 1 minute into his remarks at the very moment he angrily uttered the defiant line (close paraphrase:) “I woke up this morning with a start and thought about whether I should withdraw and said to myself ‘Hell no!’” Instead of stopping right there Hart ended his presidential candidacy and whimpered off the stage of history a few minutes later with some neurotic-sounding rhetoric about reporters’ fascination with him: “I’ve become some sort of exotic bird” he said at one point! (WTF?!) As if ANYONE in America but Hart valued the opinions (which are, after all, like the orifice everyone has one of) of elite journalists enough to really care what they thought of our old friend Gary.
The only saving grace was that the episode constituted Gary Hart’s “mere” character assassination not physical demise ala the JFK Zapruder film (which was “tape-delayed” so to speak).
Hart’s Withdrawal from the Race on 5/8/1987 Had to Have Been Entirely Psychologically-Driven Because It Made No Rational Sense in Real Time: It Was the One Option NOT Rationally Available to Him.
The proof that Hart’s radical withdrawal decision was completely psychologically-driven lies in the fact that it did not make ANY rational sense whatsoever. For starters: In so doing Hart (ironically) disproved the very point he had so ardently asserted: That the media has no business reporting on private conduct that doesn’t impact a leader’s ability to do their job. For that argument to hold water a leader has to STAY ON THE JOB! Since there is always going to be gray areas, and the possibility always exists (and did even under the “old rules”) that a journalist will publicize a private-life relationship or rumored relationship, the litmus test of such relationships’ non-impact on public duties pivots 1000% on the candidate continuing to do his public duties in the event a relationship is publicized. Duh!
Furthermore, Hart’s May 8, 1987 withdrawal violated a cardinal rule of politics and adversity in life: That while one cannot control the actions of others, one CAN and must control one’s response to it consistent with one’s best interests.
To be sure, Hart’s Bimini trip had (in President Nixon’s memorable phrase) given his adversaries in politics and the media a knife, which they used and “twisted it with relish”. But withdrawing from the race was the one option NOT rationally available to him.
By leaving the race Hart:
- abdicated his undisputed leadership of the non-conservative cause – a cause he had repeatedly vowed he would “never give up” fighting fo;
- “scattered to the winds” (other Democratic candidates) his army of >6.5 million voters and supporters who had mobilized behind his 1984 presidential candidacy and were all still with him; and
- deprived himself of a public platform from which he could and would have fought from and restored his reputation when a further “ton of bricks” fell on him on June 2, 1987 when the National Enquirer tabloid story published 2 photographs of Hart “partying” on a public pier in Bimini after arriving there in a luxury yacht at the end of March 1987 in the company of a professional crew, Hart’s middle-aged contemporary Bill Broadhurst, and 2 women ~20 years their junior, Donna Rice and Lynn Armandt.
Because Hart was then back in his Denver law office, a private citizen now with no prospect of becoming president, instead of being vigorously on the hustings in redoubled damage control mode (which in hindsight could have been accomplished with one 60 Minutes interview with his wife Lee and/or more simply perhaps, with a more tactful version of Donald Trumpian insouciant boasting, along the lines of: “Look at her: Can you really blame me?”), Hart’s explanations and requests for perspective were met with ridicule, scorn and dismay.
In light of Donald Trump’s 2016 popularity, Dan Rather has said that even JFK’s lifestyle (in comparison with whom Gary Hart was chaste) would not be an impediment to JFK’s candidacy were he reincarnated today: (at ~49 minute mark). As Bill Clinton (whose extramarital sins also far exceeded any Hart ever committed) proved 4 years hence, it was not really different in 1987-88. In conjunction with other vigorous counter-measures against the frenzied press corps that could have been taken by Hart and his aides (but weren’t), it is highly likely Senator Hart could have easily ended (in his favor) the asinine “flame war” the press started with Hart in 1987-88 and brought Hart’s journalistic super-predators to heel (in Hillary’s controversial phase when used in a different context).
Among the points Hart could and I presume would have made had he remained on the hustings in damage control mode (instead of holed-up as a private citizen in his Denver law office) is that the OTHER photo the National Enquirer published (NOT the Rice-on-Hart’s-lap one that became infamous) showed Gary behind a keyboard with a castanet singing with the friendly foursome (Hart, Rice, Broadhurst and Armandt?). Btw: If that’s Armandt next to Rice (and it clearly appears to be), who took the photo? (Hmmm.)
In any event: Good for Hart! He was clearly enjoying himself. And (if it didn’t involve romance) why shouldn’t he? Was it against the law or mores in the mid-1980s for a prospective candidate to sing songs and play music alongside effervescent women in the presidential campaign pre-season? Had Reaganism worked a cultural conservative sea-change that made the fun (most likely “good clean fun”) Hart was obviously having on that public pier scandalous? If so, I don’t remember the 1980s being quite that buttoned-down. That is because they weren’t, as this list of the best romantic comedies of the 1980s attests.
At worst, Hart was taking to heart the message in the last line of Bob Dylan’s song "Chimes of Freedom" (“An’ for every hung-up person in the whole wide universe...”). So f’in what?! I should add while I’m on the general topic: No woman Gary ever interacted with has ever complained about his conduct, and it is unlikely Ms. Rice will either in her forthcoming book. The headline above the Enquirer photo linked above was total BS of course. Gary and Lee celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in 2018. In his publicity interviews such as this one for The Front Runner, Hugh Jackman describes (at 1:09-1:15) a touching scene from a deeply committed marriage which Jackman observed up-close-and-personal as the Harts’ house-guest for 3 days, prior to the shooting of the movie.
None of the several surface explanations for Hart’s “impossible” act of terminating his 1988 candidacy floated in real time and over the years since have EVER made a lick of sense or stood the slightest scrutiny:
- Hart was correct that the mainstream media’s hysteria preempted his substantive message but his implication that this presented an insoluble problem necessitating terminating his candidacy was beyond absurd. All that was required was a few more days of fortitude and summoning of the people themselves to his side and the media (that clearly intended Hart’s demise) would have been confronted with a backlash in Hart’s favor the likes of which would’ve been unprecedented in American history. Had the media gone into full anti-Hart mode in response to Hart mobilizing an indignant base, that too could have been overborne in essentially the same manner Donald Trump did so 3 decades later – with furious stiff-necked defiance and excoriation of the media for grotesque bias against him.
As Hart well knew from his McGovern experience, commercial media was never a mechanism on which a presidential campaign could safely fully depend to transmit the candidate’s message. In 1987 Hart and his campaign could easily have “gone around” the mainstream media and gotten his message out “the old fashioned way” – by organizing, telephone and direct mail outreach, “alternative media” and samizdat methods. All this was common knowledge to one of the key organizers of McGovern’s army and author of Right from the Start. It may not have been pretty, but Hart and his millions of supporters would have won. And the substantive stakes were far too high to remotely justify Hart cutting-and-running.
- Although wishing to prevent the disclosure by journalists of other past relationships was reasonable (and chivalrous), it simply did not remotely justify terminating a presidential candidacy 5 years in the making upon which the wholesome fate of the nation and world rested.
- As to a rumor about an “ex” who may have threatened suicide if her name was publicized: Not to be callous but that could and should have been addressed through a “suicide watch” and mental health intervention. Nor could such revelations have been much of a concern because Hart (I presume) received no guarantees against the media reporting on his relationship history after he returned to the race on December 15, 1987.
In sum, but for Hart’s (evidently extreme) dependency on favorable press attention as a core psychological “crutch”, tough-it-out-versus-quitting was not a balancing test in which the scales were close to even. And if that (namely Hart’s craving for journalists’ approval) was such a high-ranking need (in Gary’s version of Maslow’s hierarchy), it is fair to say Hart overcame it sufficiently over the 7 months he was out of the race, because he withstood (not without difficulty) the media’s hostility when they lambasted him all over again upon his return to the race on Dec. 15, 1987. For example, the video here shows Hart attempting to hold it together in the face of what-can-only-be-called sadistic needling by Jim Lehrer, who may well have been made privy to the coup plotters’ “psychological profile” of Hart. Again and again Lehrer cuts Hart to the quick with thinly-veiled contemptuous remarks that would have done Torquemada or our more recent “enhanced interrogators” proud.
During his third-degree interrogation of Hart shortly after his return to the race, Lehrer mentioned a speaking engagement Hart conducted at a New Hampshire high school the day after Hart returned to the race on December 15, 1987. As I proctored that event for Hart the smarmy Washington Post reporter Paul Taylor continued his paper’s psychological warfare operation against Hart and his now small “pick-up” team of aides by asking me whether he could tell me a joke making the rounds about (unbought unbossed) Hart’s decision to undertake a second noble, low-budget (semi) “populist” 1988 campaign under the slogan “let the people decide.” In an interview I had given Maureen Dowd shortly before I had praised Hart’s courage while (correctly) anticipating the media would not let the so-called “character issue” go. I did not know how right I was: When I foolishly consented to hear Taylor’s “joke” Taylor replied with an insouciant shit-eating grin: “This proves you really can fuck your brains out.”
What an obtuse schmuck Taylor was! The prefect embodiment of what the late great Richard Ben Cramer – whose shoes as a writer-about-politics Taylor was not fit to shine – derided as “a bigfoot journalist” in his magnum opus on the 1988 presidential campaign titled What It Takes: The Way to the White House. In sharp contrast to Cramer’s (still read and now legendary campaign book) Taylor later wrote a book showing his (unmerited) conceit in which he asserted the existence in America of a so-called “mediaocracy” which (in Taylor’s view “appropriately”) serves as self-appointed exclusive evaluators of candidates’ and incumbents’ fitness for public office, something which would come as news to America’s voters, who presume they are sovereigns of America’s “democracy”. If America did fall into mediaocracy for a time, Donald Trump put an end to that era, which is the only thing we can, should and must be grateful to him for. We must never again return to a time when an arrogant “pisher” like Paul Taylor can alter the course of American and world history by asking a presidential candidate: "Have you ever committed adultery?" Who the hell did Taylor think he was?!?
Given Hart’s ability to withstand Lehrer’s bullying shortly after his return to the race, it seems likely that had Hart stayed in the race on May 8th that he would have similarly found enough of his footing to remain viable after a 1-2 week hiatus, followed by some Bernie Sanders-type rallies, etc.. G-d knows (and this is an absolute certainty) if Gary had called upon “we the people” for such help, the people would have rallied in support of his candidacy in droves. And we would’ve given the journalists covering Hart a level of unshirted-hell that would’ve made Bernie’s 2016 supporters look tame.
What a sorrow-and-pity Gary deferred to the negative opinion of his character of suddenly-puritanical scolds like Tom Fiedler, Paul Taylor and Ben Bradlee! The latter exhibiting massive hypocrisy given Bradlee’s own polyamorous history (Google eg. Bradlee and Sally Quinn and Lauren Bacall) and his knowledge of his friend JFK’s affair with Bradlee’s first wife Antoinette’s (AKA Tony) older sister Mary Pinchot Meyer. Maybe Bradlee's dementia his wife Sally Quinn later had to work-around in Bradley's dotage, had already started to kick in, when Bradlee (through Taylor) outrageously threatened Hart with publication in the Washington Post of a private detective's dossier that purportedly "proved" a prior Hart extramarital relationship (but probably didn't). Attaboy Ben: Burn in hell!
King Hamlet’s Ghost
Hart reluctantly agreed to tour his hometown with reporters in tow shortly before he formally announced his candidacy for president on April 13, 1987. In a “human interest” article that appeared in the Washington Post that day, Lois Romano reported that one of the things that attracted Lee to Gary was the way Hart played Hamlet’s murdered father’s ghost in a Bethany Nazarene College production of Hamlet. In the play Hart’s character, a wise and noble king, reveals himself from the great beyond to his son Hamlet, and tells Hamlet the truth behind his sudden early death in his sleep, namely that King Hamlet’s demonic younger brother, who coveted both the King’s throne and his wife, poured poison in his ear while he slept.
In a case of life (roughly) imitating art, mediocre rivals for the U.S. presidency together with arrogant and insolent deep-state sponsored journalistic character assassins conspired to jar “King” Hart’s personal stability and induce him to commit political-career suicide and in so doing to set back (for decades) the idealistic cause for which the benevolent front-runner stood, disabling 2 (very populous) generations of non-conservatives in the process. This “impossible” occurrence provided America’s execrable conservatives with the greatest windfall imaginable – a prolongation of Reaganism for 30 years at counting!
The covert action against Hart was particularly ruinous because Gary figuratively embodied the last living “brother” of the varsity leaders of non-conservative America who were slain (plainly by rightist underground elements) in the 1960s. Hart himself announced his new status when he briefly joined the Colorado delegation on the Democratic Convention flo