Gary Hart, Superstar
"The great danger in the politicization of the early 21st Century religious revival or the religious occupation of politics is the corruption of both politics and religion. Organized religion that seeks to occupy political power loses its purity and its purpose." Gary Hart in God and Caesar in America (2006).
A luminous star in the University of Colorado Denver - School of Public Affairs' (SPA) stellar faculty lineup, former senator and prescient author Gary Hart took over the Wirth Chair in 2006 along with teaching foreign policy, conservation, and military reform graduate courses.
After a month of finagling, I finally got the chance to sit down with the twice presidential candidate to discuss a slate of policy issues that public administrators and public officials will have to face in an ever-increasing competitive global marketplace.
What attracted you to SPA and how did you become the Wirth Chair?
GH: It's a coincidence of timing and the opportunity or invitation to accept this position, so it worked out very well and I am enjoying the association.
Sen. Hart has earned a doctor of philosophy degree from Oxford University as well as graduate law and divinity degrees from Yale University. He was a visiting lecturer at the Yale Law School and is the author of a dozen public policy books and four novels.
You've invested a lot of time and energy in your education. Who had the most influence on you as a student?
GH: One of my role models was an extraordinary professor named Retired Prof. Prescott Johnson who taught at Bethany College in Oklahoma years and years ago. I've had hundreds of epiphanies. I'm thinking more about individuals than moments in time. I don't think that you can go to school, any school, without being enlightened in one way or the other.
"He really performed the function of a teacher," he said. "He opened my mind. He not only introduced me to the field of philosophy, but also to a broader way of thinking. And I think he probably had more impact on me than any other single individual."
What role does education play in the lives of ordinary citizens?
GH: In the Jeffersonian model, democracy won't work without a 'well-educated public' and that's why Thomas Jefferson founded the public education system in America. The founding father believed that American citizens needed to know the issues that affect their lives in order to select the people who represent them and who govern them. If you are ignorant of those issues, then you are going to be a victim of the political process rather than a part of it.
GH: In the practical model, the jobs of the future are going to require an understanding of information, knowledge, science, and technology. Fewer and fewer jobs will be open to people who can't think or read or understand history. Education is a lifelong [process] and I am an illustration of how people will need to go to school and to study all of their lives.
Why teach a graduate course with such an international focus to MPA students?
GH: The sweeping answer is that we are in a globalized world. Hopefully, students who graduate from GSPA will be involved in activities that have to do with the broader world, not just in Colorado or in the United States.
"All of us are internationalists whether we like it or not," he said. "And I think whatever course you take, the teacher should emphasize how it affects the nation's role in the world and the individual's role including employment, income, and the environment. We can't teach the environment as an American issue now—it's a global issue. Issues such as sustainability are all integrated into a global environment."
Will 9/11 forever dominate the public policy debate in this country?
GH: I imagine a time – 10, 20, 30 years from now – when 9/11 will no longer be a prevailing theme in history, but it will play a role the same way Pearl Harbor has. It's a turning point. It is certainly dominating a lot of what we do today both at home and abroad. But, I think as time goes on, if there are no major attacks, that 9/11 will revert to an important place and date in our history that proved our vulnerability more than anything else.
Sen. Hart was co-chair of the U.S. Commission on National Security for the 21st Century. The Commission performed the most comprehensive review of national security since 1947, predicted the terrorist attacks on America, and proposed a sweeping overhaul of U.S. national security structures and policies for the post-Cold War new century and the age of terrorism.
What if terrorist groups and 'rogue' nations refuse to accept The Fourth Power principles of constitutional liberties, representative government, and press freedom?
GH: I am not trying to get everybody to agree with American principles; however, the central issue in the book that I tried to emphasize is that America's constitutional principles define who we are as a people and what our values are.
"Right now, we are trying to impose those values on the Iraqi people," he said. "It is probably not going to work, so I'm not saying that we should convert the world to be like us. What I am advocating is that we conduct ourselves in our dealings with other countries even including using military power in a way that conforms to those principles we claim to believe. That rules out Abu Ghraib. That rules out torture. That rules out a lot of things that we've been doing."
How do Democrats compete with Republicans over traditional "values"?
GH: I wanted to suggest to fellow Democrats that they find ways – recognizing the First Amendment separation of church and state – to talk to people who are trying to figure out how their religious faith fits in with a secular democracy. An important part of any religious faith is to have accountability and to leave future generations with a better society.
"The central argument of the essay was that different people with different religions can come up with different conclusions unlike the religious right," he said. "One of the results of my religious training is that we have to protect the environment. I don't hear James Dobson or his followers talking much about environmental stewardship."
With the advent and blurring boundaries of modern city-states, is it realistic to expect a world of autonomous countries to "come together" and to solve such problems as global warming?
GH: After World War II, we realized that global problems such as economic security and stability, human health, etc., could not be solved by any nation or any small collection of nations, but it required the efforts of the United Nations and other international organizations.
During his 12 years in the U.S. Senate, Gary Hart played a leadership role in major environmental and conservation legislation, military reform initiatives, new initiatives to advance the information revolution, and new directions in foreign policy. He is widely recognized as among the first public figures to forecast the end of the Cold War.
"The importance of international cooperation is even greater [now] than it was 50 years ago, so we are increasingly being forced into seeking collective solutions to global problems," he said. "The United States can't solve all the world's problems and it can't escape from them all."