Washington — Sen. Gary Hart (D) Colorado is holding himself forth as the ''thoughtful'' presidential candidate. He's not quite in the race yet - but clearly eager to run.
And he's making it clear that he's going to give voters his own in-depth thinking on all the major issues before, not after, he asks for their vote.
Senator Hart says he sees the US public as being well aware that there are no simple answers to the very complex problems which beset the nation. So, he says, if you say, ''Here are the answers,'' you are probably going to lose.
The voters ''want your thinking,'' he says: ''They know the problems have changed; they know the world has changed. And they want to know how you would address those changes.''
Over breakfast the senator provided some preliminary insights into where his current study of issues is taking him, particularly on defense. He says he's against the dense-pack MX missile basing system and sees a possible alternative in somehow getting the Soviets to agree with the US to eliminate the multiple warheads on the nuclear missiles, thus enabling both sides to return to a more simple and far less costly one-warhead system.
But reporters at breakfast, hearing this tentative proposal, expressed skepticism. They questioned how such an agreement could be verified. And would removing the old system and starting over again be terribly costly? More exchange between reporters and Hart follows:
Does the idea of running for president sound any better to you than it did when you were here several months back?
Not particularly. (laughter)
That doesn't mean that it didn't sound interesting before. I've spent the last number of months preparing for the race if in fact I decided to make it . . . in a variety of ways.
One, getting better acquainted throughout the party and trying to help its candidates. Two, identifying a financial base in this country - and beginning the process of fund raising. And three, and perhaps most importantly, trying to develop what I consider to be the issues base for the 1980s. And it's in that area that I've tried to do the most work and which, I think, in the next few months will have the most effect.
Traditionally, it usually works the other way around, as you know. Politicians think about what they stand for or what their platform is going to be at the end of their race, not at the beginning.
My sense of things, in the party and around the country, is that there is an increasing desire to know not just can someone win, but what they will do if they win. Consequently, I've put a lot of effort into the economy and energy and defense-related issues.
The vice-president has been expressing frustration over the fact that no one seems to understand that this is a President who is fully committed to cutting back on nuclear arms. Can you account for this public perception?
It's because he is the first president in quite a while who seems to have had no serious proposal to limit or control the arms buildup in the first year or two of office.
I just got back from Geneva. I was over there for several days. Part of the purpose was to discover, if possible, the degree to which our own negotiating teams were bargaining diligently (on nuclear arms reduction).
I spent a good deal of time with our negotiators, and considerable time with the Russians. And we're, needless to say, miles apart and not getting any closer. There is, in my judgment, no real negotiating going on over there. I think both sides are just merely repeating their positions. And the process of getting a treaty is not going on, so far as I was able to tell.
Nothing really going on?
They are meeting, stating their views, but there is no negotiating in the literal sense - we will give up this if you will give up that. There is no sense of urgency . . . And it's a reflection of the administration that we cannot really bargain reductions (in nuclear arms) until we build up. I think it has been the administration's position all along that we would not negotiate until we got the MX, the B-1 bomber, and several other systems.
To another subject: What is your assessment of this President at midterm?
I think he still is personally very popular. I think in terms of job performance, however, and particularly where economic issues are concerned, whatever mandate there was is gone.
Not that the country has turned on him by any means. But the experiment, in the minds of most people, has failed. The promise of Reaganomics, supply-side economics, is a bitter disappointment.
I think his political base of support is drastically eroded. The message of the 1982 election was that the mandate was taken away. It wasn't given to the Democrats, but it was taken away from Ronald Reagan.
What are you going to do to position yourself in view of the vacuum on the liberal side left by Kennedy stepping out of the race?
Practically, it would be a mistake for any candidate to try to re-position himself. The worst thing you can do in politics today is to try to change who you are or who you have been . . . except to address issues as they emerge. Each of us has to accommodate a changing world.
I think the people who supported Kennedy will not be looking for the candidate who can somehow overnight make himself most liberal and change his image or voting patterns.
Since you are opposed to the dense-pack MX mode, what do you think should be done in respect to the US nuclear posture?
I think we ought to step back and reexamine the intercontinental ballistic missile . . . because what has happened is that the size of the missile and the number of warheads on it have driven the search for a deployment mode which itself has failed because of the type of missile we are dealing with here.
I think we ought to consider as an option to the MX, very seriously, a bargaining position that would go to Geneva and propose de-MIRVing of the land-based systems with the Soviets.
And if that kind of agreement could be reached, we should consider substituting for the MX a road-mobile, single-warhead missile.