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A few years back, former Colorado senator Gary Hart boldly waded into the blogosphere -- and before long, he was mired in cyber-muck.
"This was during the run-up to the Iraq war," recalls Hart, 69. "A number of people were saying, 'You've got to run for president' and so forth, because no one else was speaking out. So I opened a blog." He soon discovered that managing this addition to his old website "was very time-consuming, because the responders want you to engage with them. They say, 'I read your blog, and I disagree on this and this and this. Tell me what you think.' And if you start doing that, it's 24/7. It's like going to a public meeting, and everyone in the crowd says, 'This is what I think. Now I want you to say what you think of it.' Every one of them. And the other thing is, the haters are using the system, and they're trying to destroy it. These are people who are ad hominem, hate-filled, and they clog up the blogways with their diatribes and frothing at the mouth. And that kind of takes the fun out of it."
Hart's pop-cultural reputation, which pivots on the 1987 scandal involving model Donna Rice and a boat named the Monkey Business, suggests that good times have long been a major motivator for him, just as they were for John F. Kennedy, his political role model; the native Kansan volunteered for JFK long before toiling as the campaign manager in George McGovern's ill-fated 1972 presidential race or serving as a senator for his adopted home state from 1975 to 1987. But Hart was even fonder of Kennedy's attitudes about public service and civic responsibility than he was of the late prez's personal style, and he's spent his life in the public eye trying to promote them, with varying degrees of success. While his probing intelligence has always been impressive, his stiffness and formality prevented him from appealing to the voting masses on a visceral level, the way Kennedy did. In recent years, moreover, his frustrations have seemed awfully close to the surface. And why not? Hart warned about potential terrorist attacks well before 9/11, but not enough officials in the Bill Clinton or George W. Bush administrations bothered to listen.
Professionally, too, Hart has suffered disappointments -- among them the dissolution last year of Courdert Brothers, the international law firm that employed him as senior counsel for more than fifteen years. Courdert was founded in 1853, and Hart boasts, "We had the first law license in Russia, the first law license in China, and we pioneered in Vietnam." But he acknowledges that the old-fashioned company couldn't keep up with changing times: "I used to address the annual partners' dinners and say, 'We're the best nineteenth-century law firm in the world.' But that was part of the problem. We just got eaten alive by much more aggressive, much more commercial and much more cutthroat competitors."
Despite such downturns, however, Hart shows no interest in bemoaning his lot. In conversation, he's surprisingly loose these days, as if his decision to accept the role of elder statesman (and let go of his obdurate desire to be a national candidate) has freed him up on a personal level. He still speaks in the sort of abstract academese that can leave lesser thinkers in the analytical dust, but he's relaxed enough to occasionally chuckle at himself. He displays more than a hint of self-deprecation when talking about his recent appointment to the Wirth Chair, a position named for onetime senator Tim Wirth (he succeeded Hart) that obliges him to oversee a fall course for the University of Colorado-Denver's Graduate School of Public Affairs. "Maybe you can help me define what I'm going to teach," he says, laughing, "because I've got to write catalogue copy."
Actually, Hart has plenty of ideas for the class, many of them culled from The Shield and the Cloak: The Security of the Commons, his latest book, which was published last month by Oxford University Press. "It tries to redefine the nature of security to include not just secure borders and the war on terrorism, but security of energy, security of the environment, security of the community, security of livelihood, and to broaden out from the Cold War what security really means in this new century," he says.
Shield is one of three new Hart tomes to arrive in recent months; the others are God and Caesar in America: An Essay on Religion and Politics, issued by Golden's Fulcrum Publishing, and James Monroe, a volume in "The American Presidents" series from Times Books that he took on at the behest of distinguished historian and Kennedy intimate Arthur Schlesinger Jr.And these efforts have hardly exhausted him of opinions. He often writes op-ed pieces about current events for the likes of the Washington Post and the New York Times (they're labeled as blogs on gadfly Arianna Huffington's www.huffingtonpost.com website, but Hart doesn't think they qualify) and weighs in eagerly and candidly on all manner of media topics. Consider his observations about Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.