Colorado's Hart a Democratic maverick on his way up
"Ronald Reagan has become a New Dealer, only 40 years too late," quips Sen. Gary Hart of Colorado. Leaning back in his chair, he smiles boyishly at the members of the Colorado League of Women Voters who have come to probe the views of their elected official.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
When they respond favorably to his witticism, the youthful Democrat plunges into a discourse on the President's endorsement of the "social safety net" and of the specific shortcomings he sees in Mr. Reagan's proposals.
With his freckled face, reddish hair, and trim figure, Gary Hart looks the part of a Westerner.
He was born and raised in a small Kansas farm town. It wouldn't be hard to imagine him cast in the lead of a Louis L'Amour novel. Only the neat, blow-dry haircut, the meticulous fit of his camel-colored cashmere jacket, brown slacks, and pin-striped shirt point to the fact that he has divinity and law degrees from Yale and is one of the up-and-coming young leaders in the Democratic Party.
Political analysts lump Hart with Sen. Paul E. Tsongas of Massachusetts and California Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. as the "Young Turks" who are most likely to take control of the party over the next decade.
"The senator is really tired of answering questions about his political aspirations," observes Hart's Denver assistant, Tom Gleason.
Of the three, Governor Brown has piqued the most public interest because of his unconventional and unpredictable personality. In a quieter and less flamboyant way, Senator Hart is also an unconventional figure. His political career began when he became George McGovern's campaign director in 1970.
Yet his reelection in the face of the conservative wave of 1980 is attributable, at least in part, to his adherence to a number of positions contrary to mainline liberalism. An example of this is his growing support for a strong military. Hart has made himself an expert on defense matters, particularly the Navy.
"Gary is an example of the 'still waters that run deep,'" says Colorado Gov. Richard D. Lamm, a friend and supporter. "If there are two kinds of people -- saints and sinners -- then Gary is a saint. He is serious, studious, introspective. He has a character and an intelligence which make him a force to be reckoned with." Governor Lamm adds.
Senator Hart also has been praised by his political opponents. Sen. Barry Goldwater (R) of Arizona has said, "You can disagree with Hart politically, but I have never met a man who is more honest and more moral." This remark angered Colorado Republicans who, in the last election, were trying to portray Hart as talking conservative in the state but voting liberal in Washington.
There is no doubt about Hart's liberal views. But his ideas on how to implement them are unconventional.
"I believe that we need to keep the fundamental principles of the Democratic Party, but change our methods," he says. Traditionally, liberals have tried to help those who cannot help themselves by setting up government bureaus to transfer cash or provide services, he explains. Today, however, liberals must seek "nonbureaucratic and nonprogrammatic" methods to achieve their ends.