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William C. Altreuter
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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A couple of thoughts on "How Gary Hart's Downfall Forever Changed American Politics".

1.  Why is it that the New York Times, or people who write for the New York Times, act as though they have discovered something, even when the thing they claim to have discovered took place right in front of of us? There is one big revelation in this story: the Miami Herald report about Hart's philandering broke at the same time as the E.J. Dionne piece in the Times in which Hart was quoted as saying, “Follow me around. I don’t care. I’m serious. If anybody wants to put a tail on me, go ahead. They’d be very bored.” I didn't know that, and it is important. Pretty much everything else is stuff that anyone who cares already knows.

2.  The reason the important part is important is that it colored the perception of the story. Politicians and sex scandals are nothing new: I'm writing this in shadow of the statue of Grover Cleveland that stands outside Buffalo's City Hall. James Madison Alexander Hamilton got tripped up*. It is a central plot device in Citizen Kane. It tortures reality to say that Hart's downfall was due to some sort of post-Watergate reassessment in politics and political journalism. That's not what happened. Hart crashed and burned because of his perceived arrogance, not because of any troubles in his marriage. Hamilton made the right play: fess up. It's not the crime, its the cover-up. O'l Bill Clinton went one better. He never really admitted to anything in 1992, and by the time the New York Times and the Republican Party caught up to him we learned something very important: Nobody Cared. Clinton weathered the storm because the storm was about something that had nothing to do with whether Ol' Bill had been a capable President, and it had nothing to do with whether he was a likable guy. He was, and he was. Hart, who was perceived as flinty and arrogant, confirmed that impression in the minds of some. Caught in an alley, few of us would have had the wit to do what he should have done, and I can't fault him for being evasive. Too bad. Now we know what the right play is in those circumstances.

3.  The other reason it is important is that it is a useful insight into the arrogance of quite a lot of journalism. The Miami Herold reporters injected themselves into national politics-- and indisputably affected the course of the election-- by deciding to go after a candidate. That used to be called yellow journalism. Nothing new under the sun, mind you: and what do you know? Joseph Pulitzer's New York World and William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal were the source of the expression, back in the late 19th Century.

4.  Would Hart have done better than poor Michael Dukakis? Well, who can say? He couldn't have done much worse: part of Dukakis' problem was that he got the nomination by being everybody's second choice. Candidates like that do not tend to inspire a great deal of fire in their supporters, and it isn't hard to imagine Hart, a good looking, smart guy with a fair amount of national experience, taking to Bush in a way that Dukakis never managed to work himself up to. Certainly Hart would have been better than the Bush reign that followed.

* CJ Colucci caught me confusing my Federalists in the Comments. My apologies to Dolly Madison for the mix-up


| Comments:
Re: 1. Because they are anticipating Hilary's run for President, and there is Benghazi(tm GOP), and the rehash of Vince Foster, Whitewater, and the sex abuse scandals of Bill, which, regardless of their substance and that they imbue nothing to herself, will be used against her, turn some heads, and distract from what could otherwise be a momentous Presidential tenure, whomever wins, in the current state of the world, which many, many people will be glad to be distracted from, if only long enough to vote stupidly, and they want to get in early without stooping to the level of the Murdoch press and without understanding, due to 3. that they already have.
 
I think you wrote "James Madison" while intending to refer to his Federalist co-author Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton famously 'fessed up to a sex scandal to clear himself of a financial scandal. It's hard to imagine little Jimmy getting into any sexual trouble. Dolley would've had him for lunch.
 
You are absolutely correct. Google first
 

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