Gary Hart's rekindled campaign is scarcely related at all to his much-advertised "new ideas," a reality underscored by what caused his former national campaign manager, William Dixon, to tip off Hart's attempted political resurrection last September.
While he had talked to Hart, Dixon had no signal then that he would get back in the race. Still, he was sure he would, because he knew his man. Hart was appalled by his new place in history as Donna Rice's boyfriend, illuminated by Gail Sheehy's prose and Regardie's magazine's degrading cover photo. Dixon knew that sooner or later, Hart would return to the race to redo that blotted page.
Of course, that has nothing to do with Hart's claim to "a set of new ideas . . . that no one else represents." His re-announcement statement in Concord came no closer than previous efforts to set himself off from other Democratic candidates scolding about the budget and trade deficit and combat forces in the Persian Gulf. Democratic activists across the country, while displaying rare unanimity on how much Hart's reappearance disturbed them, agree he sounds better than the six candidates he joins. They concede he may run very well in Iowa and New Hampshire despite shortcomings in organization, funds and credibility. That is a gloomy commentary on the party's condition as it approaches a presidential election it really can win.
There surely was no groundswell for Hart's return, as witness the meager collection of former troops returning to his colors. In a year when Democrats routinely deplore the available choices and yearn for Mario Cuomo, Bill Bradley and sometimes Sam Nunn, Hart's name has not been mentioned.
Hart represents no cause or movement in the manner of Ronald Reagan, George McGovern or George Wallace. The paralyzing debate question from Walter Mondale -- "Where's the beef?" -- has been answered with a torrent of proposals difficult to describe or remember.
The only pressure on him to run came from his own children and longtime Hollywood buddy Warren Beatty. They argued long and hard last May against his getting out, and they never ceased to tell Hart and others thathe should return. But as Hart perceived that his place in history would be as a target of smutty derision, he sealed his decision months ago.
That was the conclusion reached last September by Dixon, who had quit as campaign manager after learning of Hart's cruise to Bimini on the Monkey Business. He got no argument then when he told Hart he was going public with that conclusion. Thus, Dixon was not prepared for the harsh repudiation from Hart press secretary Bill Shore.
That repudiation three months ago suggests calculation. One former Hart adviser -- one of the few who applaud his return -- believes he waited until almost the Dec. 18 New Hampshire filing deadline because an earlier entry might have prematurely shuffled the deck and brought in Cuomo. The same adviser applauds Hart for passing up an entry in Iowa and choosing instead New Hampshire, from which he had catapulted to national prominence in 1984.
Actually, he was scheduled the night before his Concord appearance to be in Waterloo, Iowa, "to see old friends." But local politicians who were neither old nor terribly friendly were invited. Only bad weather, whichprevented him from getting to Waterloo,kept him from exploding his bombshellin Iowa. There is on this small point, aswith much about Gary Hart, a whiff of misdirection.
The consensus in the party is that Hart, unapologetic and waving the banner of unspecified "new ideas," will resume front-runner status for the same reason he was leading in May: lack of opposition. Those Democrats rejoice who want a brokered convention and pray for a Cuomo or Bradley rescue.
But early polls show massive losses by Hart nationally and put him behind Michael Dukakis in New Hampshire. His return may in fact be more related to easing his own torment about his place in history than to influencing the 1988 Democratic nomination for president. If so, the preoccupation of the political community this week has been with one man's ordeal, not a political party's malaise.