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Jewish World Review April 28, 2003 / 26 Nisan, 5763

Roger Simon

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Only Hart is taking
Hart seriously now


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Former Presidential candidate Gary Hart used to say, "I won't be the first adulterer in the White House. I may be the first one to have publicly confessed, but I won't be the first."

Then he would talk about Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy and Dwight Eisenhower, and how they all fooled around and nobody minded.

True, Hart had gotten caught and they had not, but who besides reporters - those sanctimonious, hypocritical, self-appointed keepers of the public morals - really objected to his behavior?

Not the people. No, the people still loved Gary Hart. He was sure of that. He had thousands of letters of support, he said, that had come to his home in Troublesome Gulch near Kittredge, Colo., to prove it.

Hart did not have to drop out of the Presidential race in 1987 after an extramarital affair was alleged by the press. He could have, as Bill Clinton later did, simply kept running.

But Hart folded. And immediately found out that he did not like semi-obscurity. So six months later, he announced he had taken a look at the remaining Democrats in the race - Mike Dukakis, Dick Gephardt, Paul Simon, Jesse Jackson, Al Gore and Bruce Babbitt - and found them wanting.

They were devoid of real ideas, he said. They could not lead, and they could not win. So he was forced - nothing else he could do- to return to the race.

Jesse Jackson summed it up perfectly. "Gary Hart has a superiority complex," he said, "without having the superiority."

Now, some 16 years later, Gary Hart is once again poised to enter the Presidential race, and for the same reason: None of the Democrats, not any of the nine currently announced, are as brilliant, as visionary, as much of a winner as he is.

Besides, Hart points out, he never got a fair break the last time he ran. The press drove him out of the race, not the people.

The Atlanta Constitution had run an editorial cartoon showing a man exposing himself to two women. "Ignore him," one woman said to the other. "It's just Gary Hart with another new idea."

The Baltimore Sun's editorial had said, "Maybe he just thinks the campaign trail is a good place to meet some girls."

Such attacks were actually a good thing, Hart figured, because for the first time people would identify with him, people would pity him.

"For the first time in my life," Hart told Hunter Thompson, then a columnist for the San Francisco Examiner, "black people come up to me on the street and want to shake hands with me."

"What do we call it, Gary?" Thompson asked. "What kind of vote is it?"

"The victim's vote," Hart replied.

No matter what else he has accomplished, no matter what books he has written, degrees he has gotten or commissions he has co-chaired, nothing has been enough to satisfy him, nothing has been enough to disabuse him of the notion that the Presidency was unfairly snatched away from him, an error of historic proportions that cannot go uncorrected.

"Walter Mondale can just go away," Hart told Matt Bai in a New York Times profile this February. "John Glenn can go away. Michael Dukakis can go away. I can't just go away."

Nobody cares about Hart's adultery any more (few cared about it back then). It was more a question of his honesty, judgment and raging ego.

Several recent articles have quoted Hart on the grave injustice he suffered in 1987, but I have yet to see an article mention what happened in 1988, when Hart re-entered the race.

Hart entered the New Hampshire primary (a contest he had won by nearly 10 percentage points four years before) and awaited the judgment of the people.

He ended up with 4,888 votes, or about 4 percent, finishing last among the Democrats. When his 114-day campaign was over, his best showing turned out to be in Puerto Rico, where he got 7.5 percent of the vote.

I don't really care if Hart runs again or not. But if he does, he runs a risk: that his fantasy of riding to the rescue of his party and nation will be shattered by the harsh reality that he has nothing new or unique to say and voters could care less about his victimhood.

"If I run for President," he told The Washington Post last month, "my biggest fear would be not running a credible race."

Be afraid, Mr. Hart. Be very afraid.

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