Senator Gary Hart envisions new role for U.S. at home and abroad
Bowdoin College got its first taste of the 2004 presidential campaign last night as Gary Hart, the former Colorado senator and two-time contender for the Democratic nomination for president, visited Bowdoin, speaking in Smith Union about the need for a broader definition of security, a new role for America, and a new culture of civic virtue.
Hart opened by commenting on the current crisis in the Middle East. "Saying to a pollster that you support the president when American troops are on the ground over there is not the same thing as supporting this new foreign policy which is unilateralist and interventionist and which promotes democracy at the point of a bayonet," he said. "We need to resist empire without seeking empire."
While he criticized the "go-it-alone" attitude of the Bush administration on defense issues, Hart was careful to say that our conception of national security should include-but also expand beyond-checking enemy power.
"Our aggressive national security campaign must be two-pronged," he said. Security is partly protection against outside threats, "but also security of livelihood, of economic well-being, security of the community, of the natural environment, and protecting the future of our children."
Hart criticized American foreign security policy too, saying changing geopolitical realities, from the fall of the Soviet Union to the information revolution and globalization, have rendered our Cold War-era security strategies obsolete.
"We drifted through the 1990s without finding a new organizing principle and definition of America's role in the world," he said.
Hart urged a national dialogue to determine what role America should play in the world today. For his part, he would like to see what he called "principled engagement."
Hart has earned a reputation as a national security expert. He co-chaired the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century, which issued public warnings of a new age of terrorism several months before the World Trade Center towers fell. He also co-chaired the Council on Foreign Relations task force on homeland security, which recently released its report, "America-Still Unprepared, Still in Danger."
In the speech, Hart said America's domestic security rests on two pillars.
"First, we need to shift from a consumption-based economy plagued by deficits" to one driven by savings and productivity, he said. By keeping the dividend taxes Bush wants to repeal, "We could start every child in America on his or her way by putting a thousand dollars in a savings account which friends and relatives could donate to and which could be invested," he said.
The second pillar, he argued, is restoring the republican principles of civic virtue which guided the country's founding.
"People realize the hypocrisy of promoting democracy through force while 60 percent of Americans don't vote," he said. "We need a new kind of patriotism . . . to realize that we are all in this together and each person in this society has an important role to play. Instead of putting narrow interests ahead of the public good," he argued, we should redefine the common good and use it as a starting point for civic activities.
Hart said he will decide "soon" whether to seek the Democratic nomination this year. An attorney, he managed George McGovern's 1972 presidential bid and won his first election, to the U.S. Senate from Colorado, two years later.
He has authored 12 books, including three novels, and earned a doctor of philosophy from Oxford University in 2001. Two American Rhodes Scholars he met there were so inspired by the former senator that they galvanized a movement to draft Hart to run again in 2004. Hart came close in 1988 but an extramarital affair-and pictures with a girlfriend aboard the yacht "Monkey Business"-seemed to end his political career.
Bowdoin was one of the last stops on a tour of New England colleges; he is hoping to stir interest in a Hart presidential run.