nanos gigantum humeris insidentes

If you look at politicians unplugged is sometimes a study in pathos and despair.

Shorn of the trappings of office they appear even weaker than an average ordinary joe. Anyone who saw the TV expose of former British ministers, who engagingly told a hidden camera that they were "cabs for hire", part of a "girls gang" and who exaggerated the extent to which they could influence those in power could only conclude that without a car, a PPS, a few SpAds and a raft of carefully worded briefings, not to mention political spinners who could spot the scam a mile away, these people were vapid; quite devoid of noble motives and imagination. The men looked gauche and venal, the women looked like ingenues.

When John Profumo resigned in 1963 over his affair with a call girl and his subsequent lies to Parliament, Profumo did the decent thing and withdrew from public life. This goes back to the days of Elizabeth I, when a courtier, the Earl of Oxford broke wind loudly, in her presence. At that moment of this indiscretion, he made his mind up to go. He left the country in self imposed exile for seven years. Upon his return the Queen welcomed him and said, "My Lord, I had forgot the fart". Profumo went to a charity and offered to clean lavatories and wash dishes. He spent the rest of his life working for the same charity and largely avoiding the public spotlight. Whatever he was once, he had repented and in becoming nothing, gained so much more.

When one reads the lives of great politicians one begins to understand what made them great. There have been a few men who, had they not been scuppered by trivial scandals, might have become inspiring leaders and agents of progressive change. Gary Hart was one such man. I remember seeing him interviewed years after he gave up trying to be President and he was assured, bright and wise and very much happy in his skin. He graduated from Oxford with a Doctorate in Politics in 2001. It had been quite an odyssey but Hart was an intellectual and a realist and if nothing else it exemplifies a man who, even after seeking the highest office, still felt the need to learn more because he was still seeking to understand the truth.

Hart ran for the office of President of the United States of America in 1988. Because of the scandal of an affair, and quite possibly a campaign by the CIA, Hart's candidacy for the Democratic nomination was rendered moribund. The running list that year ended with Dukakis/Bentsen for the Democrats and Bush/Quayle for the GOP. Lloyd Bentsen, you will remember, demolished Quayle in the VP debate when Dan Quayle had the temerity to liken himself to JFK. Bentsen said, "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy. Peter Goldman and Tom Mathews wrote in The Quest for the Presidency 1988 that Bentsen "was the forgotten man" of the campaign until the exchange with Quayle. Thereafter, his "gray solidarity" was "made luminescent by the pallor of the other three men". At that moment, Quayle was revealed to the world as a dwarf and yet he became Vice President of the United States. After one of the dirtiest campaigns in US Presidential history, Bush won comfortably, more comfortably than at almost any other time. It's hard to say why Dukakis lost but it is interesting to speculate how history might have been different had Gary Hart won the Democratic nomination.

I am going to include a long video, with Hart speaking. Its a book promo, and it is long, so you need to be patient. There is an introduction, Hart speaks for a little over half an hour and then takes questions. It is better to watch it without my adding a comment, for I want you to engage with it without prejudice.

And my point is? Can you imagine our erstwhile ministers devoting their lives to anything so cerebral or indeed public spirited in terms of devotion to political discourse? Tonight, is Alan Johnson thinking about writing a book on the morality of Keynsian economics or is he, now stripped of the shoulders of giants on which to perch, returning to the miasma of mediocrity from which he crawled?

Here is Gary Hart talking about his book God and Caesar in America: an essay on religion and politics You can watch the full programme by following the link on the video bar.

Further reading:

1 comment:

Jim Baxter said...

What a windy bore. Still in love with himself after all these years.

Never mind what Dorothy Parker said about him when he was gone, give me Calvin Coolidge, 'Mr President, I have a bet that I can get you to say more than two words'. 'You lose'.