Ship of State

"Every red-blooded man has taken a tumble in the hay or two," noted L.E. Moffitt of Ocean City, New Jersey.

Some of Hart's supporters endorsed tougher love. "In 'your rush for judgment,' let me throw in some advice. It is important that you listen to advice. This is your worst characteristic..." advised Mary Ann Bienes of Soudertown, Pennsylvania. "You have thrown the focus back on Gary Hart. It would not hurt to remind us this is a problem for everyone running, including spouses and other family members. We will never go back to the last 200 years. But we need to judge candidates as human beings, see a democracy as 'working together'...I don't give a damn about Warren Beatty, Rocky Balboa or Oliver North, only Gary Hart! With friends like Beatty and Armandt [Lynn, who introduced Hart to Rice], do you need enemies? The difference between Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and the Kennedys is in the numbers, the use and abuse of women. It is not only not caring for your wife's feelings, but also the feelings of other women in your life. We are taking Kennedy from God to the devil when what he was is human."

Bienes ended her missive with a salutation that she wanted to kick Hart--"hard"--once in a while, along with a reminder to herself to buy more coffee.

The Hart file is full of suggestion after suggestion, confession after confession. And then come the disappointment and the anger.

"Dear Mr. Hart," wrote Philip DeVelder of Framingham, Massachusetts, "I have been voting since 1964 and have never voted for a Republican--even in technically non-partisan elections. However, if the Democrats are irresponsible enough to nominate you for either President or Vice President, I will vote for the GOP national ticket in 1988. I cannot believe the consummate gall you're showing! You are either nuts, or are using some sort of illegal substance. I hope you are once again driven from the race."

With letters like that coming in, it didn't take long to see the writing on the wall.

Gary Hart quit politics ten years ago this month. He soon followed the lead of another retired Colorado politician, former Governor Dick Lamm, putting his ideas in books and earning his living from the private sector. Although Lamm flirted briefly with a run at the presidency via Ross Perot's party, he soon returned to academic life. After Hart withdrew, then-Colorado congresswoman Pat Schroeder considered a presidential candidacy, but it dissolved just before Schroeder herself dissolved into very public tears--and took a beating from the press for showing her emotions. Today Schroeder works for the same publishing association that heard Hart out in May 1987. Born-again Donna Rice Hughes crusades against Internet porn. And Bill Clinton skates along on ice so thin it's transparent--to everyone, it seems, but him.

Kennedy again: "You're not really penitent, and you're pretty frank about your feelings for the press. Do you think that what you said years ago has now come back to haunt you--that the press has, in effect, decided, 'Well, screw you too?'"

"Yeah," Hart replies, "I somehow managed to draw a battle line in '87 that I have not been forgiven for. I didn't intend to. I just was trying to be as direct and honest about journalism as I could be. But it was seen as an attack on the profession, and it polarized the relationship between me and the press in ways that I hadn't intended. I didn't appreciate how sensitive journalists are about what they do, because they really don't take criticism well."

Journalists weren't the only ones asking questions of Hart, though. Late in 1987, Daniel Litwin, a ninth-grader at Washington Junior High School in Duluth, Minnesota, wrote the on-again, off-again candidate as part of a civics assignment: "Our teacher, Mr. Vukelich, asked us to write a letter to someone in politics. I chose you because I thought you might have some interesting thing to say about your recent presidential campaign and the circumstances that led you to withdraw from that campaign. Do you feel the news media was unfair in their coverage of your personal life? Do you blame them for your withdrawal? Do you think people in public life have a right to a private life? And finally, do you think the public expects politicians to be perfect?"

Litwin never got a reply from Hart; his letter landed in the dumpster behind the campaign office. But it did not go unanswered.

Leafing through the Hart collection last year, Oliner came across Litwin's letter. He contacted Mr. Vukelich, who is still teaching, and then flew to Minnesota--at his own expense--to talk to Vukelich's current civics class.

At last: Democracy in action.

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