Hart Speaks to 200 at IOP
Former Presidential Contender Calls for Domestic Reform
The United States should take advantage of the end of the Cold War and focus on domestic reform, former U.S. Senator and Democratic presidential contender Gary Hart said in a speech Wednesday night at the Kennedy School of Government.
Hart told an audience of more than 200 people that while U.S. foreign policy has undergone many changes in the past few decades, politicians have been less innovative in the domestic arena.
"If anything characterizes this last part of the century, it is change," Hart said. "But we have not had change in the institutions of our country."
Hart, whose speech traced the political odyssey of his generation from its optimistic beginnings in the early 1960s to the age of pere-stroika, said the assassination of John F. Kennedy '40 and the disillusionment of the Vietnam War made citizens realize the limits of American power.
"We got frustrated," Hart said. "We couldn't even get small nations like Vietnam to behave the way we thought they should."
Hart said this frustration, compounded by the fierce Cold War with the Soviet Union, carried over into the 1980s, when Americans found comfort in Ronald Reagan's simple, traditional values and his emphasis on individualism.
"We focused on personal success," Hart said. "As usual when the pendulum swings, it swung too far. I would say the metaphor for the eighties was personal greed and debt."
Hart, who is currently working as an advisor to American companies doing business in Eastern Europe, expressed his admiration for Gorbachev and the democratic revolutions that swept across Eastern Europe. But he also said the political changes have left the United States without a unifying principle as it enters the 1990s.
"For years the glue that held us together was stopping communism," said Hart, who argued that the nation's energies in the present decade should be devoted to adapting the nation's institutions to the world's current problems.
"I think this country is adrift," Hart said. "I like the president's phrase of a New World Order, but I don't think we're going to get it by bombing Baghdad. The New World Order isn't just about punishing aggression."
Instead, Hart argued, the United States must solve its many domestic problems before attempting to maintain its world leadership.
"We know the agenda," said Hart. "What we need is new institutions, new ways to achieve that agenda, and a new commitment of our national resources."
Hart, who had spoken to an undergraduate study group on public service earlier in the day, said that a renewed sense of community involvement is needed after an era that emphasized the rights and opportunities of citizenship and neglected its duties and responsibilities.
"This country is more than my interests and your interests and his interests put together," Hart said. "There is something called the national interest."
Hart called upon politicians from both parties to outline concrete domestic agendas to be debated and prioritized in terms of the national interest.
"There is no serious debate in this country," Hart said, complaining that Reagan fit an entire political philosophy into 12-second television soundbites. "There's almost a conspiracy to prevent that debate."