BY THE TIME Gary Hart withdrew from the race on May 8, I had worked for him as a full time staff member for more than four years. I am intensely disappointed in Hart's actions that led to the demise of his campaign but I still believe in what he stood for. The message of Hart's candidacy had a very powerful appeal to millions of Americans and especially to those of my generation. That is something no candidate in the 1988 presidential election would be wise to ignore.
I was born in 1957, a child of the baby boom. For most of my life I've been aware of this special generational distinction and have shared a certain smugness about being part of it. We are different. We are many. And we can change the world.
Between 1946 and 1964, 76 million babies were born in America -- making our generation the largest in American history. Until recently, our influence has primarily been social and cultural -- from music, art and dress to attitudes on sex, race and war. This generation, however, has yet to unleash the full extent of its political might on the nation. Since 1984, when Hart stunned the political world by sweeping the New England primary contests, pollsters have been examining, theorizing, and reexamining the possible effects of a baby boomer voting surge on electoral politics in 1988. No one is sure what these voters might do, but no one in the political world is taking them for granted.
In shaping their appeal to baby boomers, Democratic candidates would be wise to look at the Hart candidacy. Hart s 1984 campaign awoke thousands of young adult voters from their decade-long sleep and brought them to the polls.
Democratic pollster Pat Caddell spoke of this phenomenon at the CATO Institute in 1985. "Understand that Gary Hart, after the New Hampshire primary, gained more ground in both the race for the nomination and in the polls than anyone had ever done in such a short time . . . . It was a result of the velocity of the movement on the part of the baby-boom generation."
The numbers bear this out. Voters under the age of 45 cast more than half of Hart s total vote in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Georgia, New York and Pennsylvania. In Nebraska, Hart completely dominated among voters under 44, winning that age group with a margin of 3 to 1. Hart beat Mondale among voters between 18 and 29 in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Illinois, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana.
When we choose our next President in November 1988, 61.5% of Americans eligible to vote will be under 45. The Hart example demonstrates that the candidate with the right message can move these voters to participate, vote and actually influence an election.
All the stale jokes aside, Gary Hart in fact had new ideas. Since he first articulated them some of his ideas have become a standard part of the political debate. But he was the innovator and he continued to refine his ideas and search for others. Those ideas were the key to his stunning success in the early 1984 primaries and his ability to win a total of 26 primaries and caucuses. The large contingent of people who supported him in
87 did so because, as Hart himself often said -- ideas have power.
Hart s approach to most issues was to seek the third alternative. He believed the debate on most issues had become hopelessly polarized; that both the left and the right argued for policies of the past that were based on the problems of the past. It was time, he thought, to strike out in a new direction, to find new solutions.
Finding the third alternative meant realizing that in most cases, the world had changed so much that the debate was being waged on irrelevant questions. To look at solutions anew, contended Hart, we had to reexamine the relevance of the debate itself.
Military reform is a good example of Hart's approach. The traditional defense debate in Congress was based on a spending question -- more vs. less. In 1980 Hart and his Republican colleague Congressman William Whitehurst advanced the notion that it wasn t a question of spending at all. The question should be -- what must be done to build an effective defense? To answer that questionrequired looking at how the world had changed. Sheer force was no longer necessarily the best defense. Hart argued that today s world required a defense that was smarter, leaner, more effective. The debate slowly began to turn away from spending limits toward discussion of new approaches to hardware, warfare and training personnel.
Economic policy is another example. In the
84 election Democrats were still arguing about how to divide the economic pie. Hart closed the last chapter of that debate by challenging the frontrunner to look instead at howto make the pie bigger. Hart argued that the changing world economy required investments to prepare students, modernize industries and retrain workers. Presidential power mustwork to unite government, business and labor in agreements to recapture our leadership in the new global economy.
Hart challenged Americans to participate, to set aside narrow individual or institutional agendas, to make a contribution for the national good. Hart talked about a "true patriotism" that asked each of us to give something back to the country that has given us so much. If we want better teachers, we should pay them more. But teachers must also meet more rigorous standards and parents must make a commitment to participate in their children s education. Government must help workers prepare for transition into a new economy, but employers must contribute by modernizing and employees must be willing to be retrained.
An emphasis on ideas will help Democratic candidates capture the baby boomers. The key to this generation s involvement is not simply to evoke heartfelt memories of earlier activism. It is ironic that the candidate who seems to have done the most research and is making the most obvious appeal to the baby boom generation is the one who has it most wrong.
When I hear "the speech" Sen. Biden gives on the stump I feel as if he s trying to lead us into the future by tugging on our emotions of the past. I feel manipulated. Evoking the emotions aroused by heros of our past -- John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King -- may make us feel good, but it doesn t make the country any better prepared for the future.
We ve had enough of the kind of leadership that simply makes us feel good. Gary Hart got as far as he didby engaging people's intellects not their emotions.. Yes, in the late '60s and '70s, my generation was passionate, but passionate in our commitment to some very big ideas -- ending segregation, sexism, and the war.
If one wants to look to the past for clues to the future, the 1960 election is an importantexample. We remember JFK with emotions intensified by tragedy. His campaign, however, was not based on passion -- far from it.
In late 1959 Douglass Cater wrote an article in The Reporter magazine entitled, "The Cool Eye of John F. Kennedy." In describing Kennedy he said, "Talking to the Senator, one senses a cool detachment toward the business in which he is deeply involved." Cater concluded, "It may be that after eight years of emotional involvement with a father image, the United States will be ready for a bright, diligent, self-disciplined, and thoroughly unemotional young man."
Douglass Cater was right. By November of 1960 Americans were ready for an intellectually rigorous president. I believe such a time has come again. We ve been comforted and coddled by a reassuring, fatherly president. But Americans now know that our country's problems are serious,that dealing with them requires collective action. Most Americans, including baby boomers, are too busy moving ahead to spend time pouring over scrapbooks of the past. The candidate who can offer ideas to harness America s future will unleash the potential of the new generation's political clout. The way to the hearts of today s voters is through their minds.
Beth Hart was Gary Hart's communications director and is now a political and public-policy consultant in Denver.