Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Homecoming: Albert Pujols Returns to St. Louis

We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back home. – Pascal Mercier
There is something about being a baseball fan – a loyal, devoted lifelong fan of one team – that connects us to certain players in ways that are beyond comprehension to the non-fan. The players who wear the uniform of our team become part of our extended family. Like our siblings and our children, they are the ones we root for every day, who disappoint us regularly and give us immense joy when they do well, and to whom we confer unconditional love and grace and forgiveness. The players we grow up with become the heroes of our youth and fill us with lasting memories of a simpler, more innocent time, when our concerns were not the complex dimensions of complicated lives, but the happenings on expansive fields of green grass and dirt basepaths. As we grow older, the players we root for become adjuncts to our dreams of what might have been, if only we had the skill and luck and fortitude to have been good enough to play baseball for a living.

I grew up rooting for the St. Louis Cardinals when Bob Gibson and Lou Brock and Orlando Cepeda and so many other idols of my young life – the players whose baseball cards I longed for and who I searched for in the daily box scores, the names I wrote into the lineups of my Strat-O-Matic Baseball games through middle school and high school – inspired me to dream of major league glory. These were the memories of my youth, and they remain the memories I return to whenever I think back on the joys and heartbreaks of childhood.

As I enter my seventh decade of life, I am amazed at the extent to which I continue to rely on these youthful memories, and how certain players even today continue to catch my imagination and remind me of what I so much love about the game. For eleven seasons starting in 2001, Albert Pujols was the player who captured my attention and restored my faith in the game at a time when the demands and pressures of everyday life frequently interfered with the trivial passions of my youth. Although he was not selected until the 13th round of the 1999 Major League Draft, with 401 players picked ahead of him, by the spring of 2001, Pujols so impressed the Cardinals in pre-season play that they had no choice but to include him on the major league roster. He was the National League Rookie of the Year that first season, batting .329 with 37 HRs and 130 RBIs. He repeated or exceeded this performance for the next ten seasons, a uniquely talented ballplayer playing for a city that understood just how special a player he was.

For eleven years, Pujols was among the best players to ever play the game in St. Louis, a Dominican version of Stan “the Man” Musial. No one since Musial had produced the numbers that Pujols did in those first eleven seasons, when he batted a collective .328 and hit 445 home runs. Like Musial, Pujols was a line drive hitter of incredible consistency. In St. Louis, they called him El Hombre (“The Man”) because, like Musial, he was a once-in-a-lifetime player.

When Pujols left the Cardinals after their World Championship season of 2011, it was like losing a family member. When I learned he had signed as a free agent with the Los Angeles Angels that off-season, I was shocked and heartbroken. For Cardinals fans, the hurt and bitterness that followed was not entirely rational, for nothing about being a baseball fan is rational. It is all about feelings, emotions, magic and destiny.

I am certain there are many complicated reasons why Pujols left St. Louis to play for the Angels, but it seemed at the time that it was all about the money. For slightly less compensation, he could have stayed in St. Louis and been the most revered player in Cardinals history. But he is a proud and complex man, and in the high-profile, high-pressured world of modern-day professional baseball, there are inevitable slights and misunderstandings along the way. When he left the Cardinals, I convinced myself it was just as well. Age would eventually encumber his skills, and with time he would become less productive and a burden on the team.

But that was eight years ago, and time has a way of softening one’s outlook. When I learned earlier this year that Albert Pujols would return to St. Louis in late June for a three-game series with the Angels, I asked (okay, begged) Andrea if she would mind traveling to The Promised Land – uh, I mean, St. Louis, Busch Stadium to be precise – for an extended weekend of baseball in America’s heartland. Something compelled me to be there for Pujols’ return, for after eight seasons apart, it was time to relive and come to terms with the lapsed memories and suppressed emotions that Cardinals fans everywhere needed to confront. Time heals, and a reconciliation, a public group therapy session, was needed to bring closure to the pain and hurt and misunderstandings of this modern-day Prodigal Son.

“Home is where somebody notices when you are no longer there,” wrote the Bosnian-American writer Aleksandar Hemon. On June 21, 2019, for the first time since he left eight years ago and never looked back, Pujols returned to Busch Stadium. For each of the three weekend games, every time he came to bat, he encountered wildly enthusiastic, standing ovations from 48,000 cheering fans. On Friday evening, the second largest crowd in Busch Stadium history turned out on a day that had experienced heavy rains and a tornado warning to welcome back El Hombre and convey how much he meant to them. When Pujols came to bat in the top of the first inning, everyone rose to their feet, politely at first, then to a growing crescendo of cheers and whistles – 48,423 baseball fans collectively expressing that we forgive you for leaving us, we appreciate what you gave us, and we thank you for giving us the best years of your career. As I took it all in, suddenly I was flooded by a wave of emotions and memories, as if acknowledging the return of my long, lost brother.

Yadier Molina, the Cardinals catcher and Pujols’ best friend, stood several feet in front of home plate to give the crowd time to pay tribute to El Hombre, who initially ignored the cheering as he dug into the batter’s box, kicking the dirt around home plate with his head down and bat in his right hand. Finally, Pujols stepped back and lifted his helmet to the crowd, circling to acknowledge everyone and gesturing to the Cardinals dugout, all to the crowd’s utter delight. When Molina started back towards home plate to resume play, Pujols patted him on the chest and he and Molina embraced – friends and brothers re-united. The crowd fell apart.

I felt the tears forming and my chest tightening as I thought of what once was, what might have been, and what it means to come home after a long, silent absence. I thought of the people no longer in my life, who left the world involuntarily, but who I wished at that moment could be there with me – my older brother Steve, who taught me how to play ball and let me play with him and his friends in the backyards and sandlots of our youth; my father, who accepted my irrational love of the Cardinals and once drove with my mom to St. Louis to spend the weekend with my daughters and me to watch the Cardinals and Albert Pujols play; and Andrea’s dad, who for most of his life was not a sports fan, but who became an honorary Cardinals fan in later years simply because he knew what baseball and the Cardinals meant to me.

Each time Pujols stepped to the plate throughout the weekend, the scene repeated itself with standing ovations and enthusiastic cheers. When Pujols hit a home run on Saturday afternoon – a classic Pujols line drive that never rose above fifteen feet off the ground until it landed in the Angels dugout in left field seconds later – the entire stadium erupted as if the Cardinals had won the World Series. It was a remarkable moment for which, I confess, I became choked up again, as I thought of the many joyful moments I experienced, often by myself on summer evenings, watching the beauty and artistry of Pujols’s outstanding, dominating play. It was a needed reminder of how quickly time passes in our temporary journey through life.

In a sense, Pujols’ return to St. Louis was a chance to reconcile conflicting emotions, to cleanse my soul; to remember, to forgive, and to once again dream. For Pujols, one sensed that he too needed a collective embrace from the city and fan base that loved him like no other. After he rounded the bases and entered the Angels dugout to the congratulatory high fives of his teammates – a temporary dose of reality that the opposing team had just hit a home run against us – Pujols returned to the top of the dugout steps a moment later and donned his cap to the Cardinals faithful, and we erupted in wild cheers all over again. The Prodigal Son had indeed returned home, and all was forgiven.

For me, the weekend in St. Louis was also a needed respite from the noisy and divisive times in which we presently live. For three days, tens of thousands of people of all political persuasions came to one place with one purpose. With the help of Albert Pujols, we temporarily forgot about all that divides us and showed that we are united in our passions, our hopes, our dreams, and our aspirations. He reminded us all once again of why we love baseball, for it keeps us connected to our youth, when we were defined by our dreams and embraced the mythological heroes of our favorite teams. The game and its players let us forget, if only for a moment, that adulthood forces us to grow up, to put away childish dreams, to go out into the world and confront the harshness and realities of life. The players we root for everyday become extensions of ourselves and our family. 

Of course, we all must grow up and go our own way; our children leave us and make their own lives; our siblings leave home and pursue their dreams. Disappointments and sorrow inevitably follow, along with moments of joy and celebration. Over time, we lose the people we love, some to death, others to the precariousness of life. But we are always welcomed home to the embrace of family.

A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it. -- George Augustus Moore

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Re-Assessing the Carter Presidency

“The sad duty of politics,” noted the great 20th Century Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, “is to establish justice in a sinful world.” It is a sentiment most certainly shared by James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, the former Governor of Georgia and peanut farmer from Plains who became the 39th President of the United States. Raised in the Southern Baptist tradition of his native Georgia, Carter was a man of deep religious conviction who talked openly of his “personal relationship to Jesus Christ” and believed, as he wrote years later in Faith: A Journey for All (Simon & Shuster, 2018), that “Christians are called to plunge into the life of the world and to inject the moral and ethical values of our faith into the processes of governing.” Although he opposed the rightward shift of most Evangelical Christian leaders of the time, and respected the separation of church and state, Carter’s faith was often misunderstood and made some of his supporters uncomfortable. Partly because of his faith, he remained an enigma as president and never fully connected to the American people, at least until later in life.

Carter was eight months into the presidency when I left for college in the fall of 1977. He had been elected president in November 1976 as a refreshingly honest, reform-minded response to Watergate, corruption, and growing public cynicism. The United States had recently ended its disastrous involvement in Vietnam, Nixon had been pardoned for his criminal cover-ups and dirty tricks, the country was facing increasingly militant demands for social and political equality on the basis of race and sex, and volatile oil markets were driving home the reality of limited resources and an interdependent world. Carter seemed an unlikely candidate for president when he ran in 1976, but there was something oddly reassuring in his southern charm and toothy grin that juxtaposed his obvious intellect and seriousness of purpose.

As an undergrad still trying to find his way in the world, I did not personally consider Carter an exciting or inspirational leader. By the summer of my sophomore year, I had finished reading Robert Kennedy and His Times (Ballantine Books, 1978) by Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and was moved by Kennedy’s passion and idealism. I believed the times called for a president who could reconcile racial and class divisions, bring the country together, and make the United States a leading force of world peace, environmental protection, social justice and economic prosperity for all. I wanted a national leader who combined an appeal to the common good with Kennedy’s charisma, youthfulness, and other intangible traits that Carter lacked.

First impressions are difficult to overcome, and I remained ambivalent about the 39th President for most of his four-year term. When in 1980, at the age of 21, I voted in my first presidential election, I cast my ballot for the highly articulate John Anderson, a liberal Republican from Illinois running as an independent. It was not that I disliked or disapproved of Carter, and I was fully aware that he had experienced a trifecta of bad luck with the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979, an unprecedented level of stagflation (high inflation combined with high unemployment), and a world energy crisis, none of which was the result of anything he did as president. But Anderson proposed bold energy and environmental policies that I believed better addressed the pressing issues of the day.

After he lost his re-election bid to Ronald Reagan in 1980, Carter was dismissed as a one-termer, his presidency deemed a failure. The pundits claimed that Carter never embraced the ways of Washington; he disdained politics and the political deal making that greased the wheels of Congress. He could be aloof and socially awkward, possessed an off-putting moral pietism, and micro-managed the minutia of governing, once drafting a detailed memo to staff on use of the White House tennis courts. He did not effectively communicate to the American people and – as with his “crisis of confidence” speech after the 1979 oil shock – lectured when he needed to inspire. Although the country acknowledged his fundamental decency as a human being, the sincerity of his religious faith, and his good intentions, and although his post-presidential life is widely respected and admired, he is generally remembered as an indecisive and ineffectual president.

Fortunately, the passage of time allows us to reflect on the past with a more expansive historical perspective. In President Carter: The White House Years (St. Martin’s Press, 2018), Stuart Eizenstat, who served as Carter’s Chief Domestic Policy Advisor during all four years of his presidency, persuasively argues that it is time to fundamentally re-assess Carter’s legacy as president. Eizenstat’s well-written and thoroughly documented 900-page account of the Carter presidency contends that Carter’s White House years are underrated and underappreciated. Despite inheriting a troubled economy and contending with the competing demands of labor unions, civil rights groups, the women’s movement, northeastern liberals and southern conservatives, Carter left office with significant achievements in foreign and domestic policy that materially improved the lives of Americans and our standing in the world.

Energy and the Environment. Carter was the first president to actively champion energy conservation and environmental protection. He enacted national fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks and created federal subsidies for wind and solar power to promote research and development in clean energy sources. He lifted price controls for domestic oil and gas, which substantially reduced our energy consumption and reliance on foreign oil supplies. He protected more than 100 million acres of land from development through the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which Eizenstat notes is “one of the most important pieces of environmental legislation in the nation’s history,” and he greatly expanded the national park system.

Consumer Protection. Carter was also the “most consumer-friendly president in the nation’s history,” according to Eizenstat. By deregulating the trucking and airline industries, President Carter enhanced economic efficiencies that placed downward pressures on prices and democratized air travel, making it accessible to nearly everyone. He appointed disciples of Ralph Nader to head key regulatory agencies who implemented significant improvements to consumer product safety and occupational health and safety, mandated automobile airbags, placed limits on child advertising, and reformed the banking industry’s lending practices, all of which we take for granted today.

Women’s Equality. Carter was the first president to truly embrace and materially advance women’s equality. When Carter took office in 1977, only one of 97 judges serving in the federal judiciary was a woman.  By the time he left office in 1981, he had appointed 40 women to the federal bench, five times more than all the presidents in U.S. history combined. He issued a presidential executive order prohibiting sex discrimination in the federal workplace and appointed women to top positions in the White House, regulatory agencies, and executive branch departments, including the Department of Defense.

While all these accomplishments have had lasting effects on the everyday lives of Americans, it was in the realm of foreign policy where Carter achieved his most historically significant successes: peace between Israel and Egypt, the elevation of human rights as an instrument of U.S. foreign policy, and ratification of the Panama Canal Treaty.


Middle East Peace. Eizenstat skillfully writes a detailed account of the behind-the-scenes maneuvers and negotiations that occurred at Camp David between Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Both of those men had deep-seated distrust of the other, and both were stubborn and tough negotiators. Begin particularly refused to budge on several key issues, to the point that negotiations seemed hopeless and destined for defeat until the final minutes of the very last day. It was only Carter’s perseverance, his grit and determination, and his willingness to endure extreme domestic political heat – straining relations with the American Jewish community, which constituted a key base of his support in the 1976 election – that created the successful conditions for a binding agreement.

Carter was so personally invested in peace, so knowledgeable and entrenched in the details of the negotiations, that it is difficult to imagine any other American president, past or present, who could have accomplished the cold but firm peace that was agreed to at Camp David in 1979 and which remains embedded in history. “This was Jimmy Carter at his best,” writes Eizenstat, “his attention to detail, his recognition of the limits to which he could push Begin and Sadat, and his appreciation of their starkly different personalities.” Carter’s achievement was “without precedent in American diplomatic history . . . a peace between two former enemies that has lasted into the next century – and without a single violation.” The Camp David Accords will remain indelibly linked to the history of the Middle East and the security of Israel for decades to come, and it remains a model for future peace deals in that region. Camp David opened the way to the 1993 Oslo Accords that resulted in mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO, and the 1994 peace agreement between Israel and Jordan.

Human Rights. Carter was also the first president to genuinely promote and permanently institute human rights as a formal aspect of U.S. foreign policy. Indeed, his human rights policy provided inspiration to the leaders of liberation movements in what were then Communist Bloc countries, including Vaclav Havel in Czechoslovakia and Lech Walesa in Poland. He successfully pressured the Kremlin to greatly increase the number of Soviet Jews allowed to emigrate to Israel and the United States. In Latin America, Carter’s emphasis on human rights greatly improved our relations with Latin American democracies and pressured military dictatorships and authoritarian regimes to lessen human rights abuses.

The Panama Canal Treaty. On September 7, 1977, Carter reduced the perception of American hegemony over Latin America by ending U.S. ownership of the Panama Canal, which had been a sore spot in the region for decades. The Panama Canal Treaty opened a new chapter in U.S. – Latin American relations and gave the United States a leg up in its Cold War competition with the Soviets for allies and friends. “Americans want a more humane and stable world,” Carter said on that historic day. “We believe in good will and fairness as well as strength.” Carter understood the intense feelings of many Americans who opposed the treaty and believed that, because American engineering and ingenuity had built the canal 75 years earlier, we had a right to permanently control that strategic passageway. But Carter’s strength as president was that he did what he believed was right even if it hurt him politically. “This agreement with Panama is something we want because we know it is right,” he said. The agreement was “not merely the surest way to protect and save the canal; it's a strong, positive act of people who are still confident, still creative, still great.”

Carter the Ex-President. Of course, Carter will forever be lauded for his singular devotion to the betterment of humankind during the last forty years of his life. Since Carter left the White House in January 1981, he has easily been the most accomplished and substantial ex-president in American history. Through his work at The Carter Center, which he founded in 1982, he has helped eradicate diseases in Africa and established village-based health care delivery systems in thousands of African communities, monitored 105 elections in 39 countries, and mediated peaceful solutions to some of the world’s most intractable foreign conflicts. Through his work with Habitat for Humanity, he and Rosalyn, one of the most graceful First Ladies in American history, have devoted thousands of hours to building houses for impoverished families. A prolific author, Carter has written over three dozen books on peace, human rights, women’s equality, democracy, and world affairs. A man of deep and abiding faith, he continues to teach Sunday school at his church in Plains, Georgia, while accomplishing more in his post-presidential life than most presidents accomplished while in office. And he has done it all with a quiet and sincere humility that is difficult to fully comprehend in the Age of Trump.

There is, admittedly, something unrelatable to me about Carter, his unwavering seriousness, or aloofness, or maybe his distinct southern mannerisms, that prevent me from being personally drawn to him in the ways I have been to Obama and the Kennedys. But the current state of affairs in the United States, the meanness and selfish individualism that so dominates our political life today, has appropriately, if belatedly, elevated Jimmy Carter’s standing in history. He is a statesman, peacemaker, model of human generosity; a sincere person of faith who lives out his convictions through his actions. He’s a mensch, a genuinely decent human being. And throughout his life he has done his Niebuhrian-inspired best to “establish justice in a sinful world.”

Sunday, June 2, 2019

The End of Privacy: Gary Hart and the Decline of Journalistic Standards

I recently finished reading The Front Runner (originally published as All the Truth is Out) by Matt Bai, which along with the accompanying motion picture starring Hugh Jackman by the same title, is an engagingly piercing retrospective on the collapse of then Colorado Senator Gary Hart’s presidential campaign in 1987. As anyone over the age of 40 likely recalls, Hart’s presidential ambitions were destroyed following revelations of his alleged extra-marital affair with Donna Rice, a young and beautiful pharmaceutical representative and former actress. The story became front-page news in The Miami Herald after two of its reporters staked out Hart’s Capitol Hill townhouse and observed Hart and Rice leave and return together multiple times that weekend. The story, published on Sunday, May 3, 1987, led to a national media frenzy the likes of which had not been seen before in presidential campaign history. Hart’s campaign never recovered, his political career ruined not by financial scandal or corruption, but by the media’s pietistic concern for his alleged personal sins.

I first took notice of Senator Hart in February 1984 when he upset former Vice President Walter Mondale in the New Hampshire Democratic primary. As a young law student with an interest in politics and government, I liked that Hart was an “ideas” man, socially liberal but not rigidly ideological, well respected by members of both parties, and refreshingly more thoughtful and intellectual than the average politician. I perceived Hart as an exceptionally talented and intelligent public official, who offered new and thoughtful legislative strategies that looked to the future and discarded the stale, special interest politics that was then holding back the Democratic Party. As described by journalist and author Matt Bai, “Hart was invariably described as a brilliant and serious man, perhaps the most visionary political mind of his generation, an old-school statesman of the kind Washington had lost its capacity to produce.”

Although Mondale ultimately won the Democratic nomination that year (before losing in a landslide to President Reagan), Hart was well positioned to become the Democratic nominee for President in 1988. I enthusiastically supported Hart when he announced his candidacy in the spring of 1987 and promised to run a campaign focused on ideas. Hart had a prescient understanding of world economic trends and America’s interconnectedness to the global economy. He promoted collaboration between government and private enterprise to address pressing environmental and energy concerns and to transition the United States from the Industrial Age to the Information Age. As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Hart had advanced a series of policies (that were eventually widely embraced) to reform the U.S. military’s reliance on large-scale weapons systems and better defend against new forms of stateless terrorism. He seemed destined to lead at a time when the Democratic Party lacked any other true superstars.

But then, based on whispered rumors of Hart’s reputation as a womanizer and a “tip” from someone who claimed to have inside information about Hart’s marital infidelities, two reporters from The Miami Herald set-up surveillance of Hart’s D.C. residence. In a moment of “gotcha” journalism one would expect of The National Enquirer, not a mainstream news organization, The Herald reported its findings in a front-page story that treated the alleged Hart-Rice affair as if Hart had committed treason. Suddenly, the Washington press corps cared nothing about Hart’s ideas for the future of the planet and only about his sex life. The resulting coverage was relentless. It encompassed all the major news organizations, print and television. The Hart campaign was blind-sided, and, in a matter of weeks, he withdrew from the race.

Throughout the fast-moving media circus that followed The Herald’s stakeout, it seemed that all voices of common sense and good judgment were drowned out by sensational hype. I recall minimal coverage devoted to thoughtful reflection on the questions I and others asked at the time: Why is Gary Hart’s sexual life a relevant consideration to his fitness for office? Why did the press suddenly believe the private lives of public figures were fair game? If it didn’t matter that FDR, Dwight Eisenhower, JFK or LBJ were adulterers, why should it matter if Gary Hart committed adultery? Assuming Hart did in fact commit adultery (to this day, both Hart and Rice have denied a sexual relationship and Hart remains married to his wife of nearly sixty years), what was it about Hart’s private sexual life that was fundamentally different or more important than the private sex lives of past presidents, prime ministers, Cabinet officials, or congressional committee chairmen?

The Herald defended its reporters’ tactics and the resulting coverage of Hart by suggesting that Hart’s apparent marital infidelities reflected negatively upon his “character” and “truthfulness.” Defenders of the media argued that the real concern was not that Hart may have slept with Donna Rice, but that he misled and lied to the American people. That a substantial majority of Americans did not think Hart’s private sex life was relevant seemed not to matter.

“Gary Hart has now become the first American victim of Islamic justice,” wrote Hendrik Hertzberg in The New Republic on June 1, 1987, shortly after Hart dropped out of the presidential race. “He has been politically stoned to death for adultery. The difference is that in Iran, the mullahs do not insult the condemned prisoner by telling him that he is being executed not for adultery but because of ‘concerns about his character,’ ‘questions about his judgment,’ or ‘doubts about his candor.’”

Even if Hart lied about his private life (in fact, he steadfastly refused to say anything about his private life), did that mean he would lie about fundamental matters of public policy, war and peace, or the future direction of our country? I think not. When I vote for a candidate for public office, I am not concerned about who the candidate is sleeping with any more than I care about the candidate’s sexual orientation. Somewhere along the way we seem to have lost the ability to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant facts, between the trivial and important matters.

Hertzberg accurately noted that, in the past, the private failings of our political leaders were only deemed a fit subject for public exposure in respectable news publications if they contained some connection to one’s fitness for office and the performance of his or her public duties. But in the spring of 1987, journalistic standards suddenly and dramatically changed. The Miami Herald story did nothing to test the merits of Hart’s ideas for leading a nation, or whether he had the leadership qualities to help prepare the United States for the 21st Century. Instead, in the post-Watergate mentality which makes journalists aspire to be the next Woodward and Bernstein, reporters wanted to know why Hart had separated from his wife on two past occasions, why his family had changed his name from Hartpence to Hart two decades earlier, why he had altered the look and style of his signature, and why there appeared to be a one-year discrepancy in his birth certificate.

“What all these things have in common,” contended Hertzberg, “is that they are trivial.” Such questions tell us nothing about a candidate’s character or “the collection of qualities that make one person distinct from another . . . the overall moral pattern of a life and work” that “is woven through the total pattern of a person’s life.” Besides, added Hertzberg:
If Gary Hart is a man of bad character, surely the voluminous public record of his actions, decisions, statements, writings, and political maneuvers over the last 15 years must be replete with examples. Those who have condemned his character on the basis of the Donna Rice affair have been quite unable to point to such examples. If character is something that manifests itself solely in a person’s private sexual behavior, yet leaves no trace in the rest of his life, including his work life, then “character” is not very important after all—and the sexual details tell us nothing. If character is something that manifests itself in the totality of life, then we don’t need the sexual details to discern it.
Yes, but wasn’t the issue Hart’s lack of candor, his untruthfulness? He lied about adultery, so therefore he is a liar. Why doesn’t the public have a right to know this? Because in real life, there are just certain things that even presidential contenders should have the right to say is “none of your damn business.” And when you lie about or falsely deny something that is none of anyone’s damn business, it says little about your overall truthfulness or character – it simply means there are boundaries to what you will discuss. “The fact that a person will lie in the context of adultery proves nothing about his general propensity to lie,” suggested Hertzberg. “[I]f Hart is a liar there must be one or two more lies among the millions of words he has spoken as a public man. Let them be produced.” In all the scrutiny of Hart’s life, then or later, I have seen no examples of lies or misleading statements from Hart on any matters of substance or public import. Contrast that with the current president, for whom in two years The Washington Post has compiled a list of over 10,000 lies and misleading statements on matters of substance.

Character and integrity matter. But character and integrity in public life has little to do with living a life of saintly purity. History has proven that many of our greatest presidents were flawed human beings. But their public virtues outweighed their private moral failings. Give me a president with the character and fortitude to rise to the occasion and do great things in times of stress and urgency, to always put the national interest ahead of personal concerns, and to tell me the truth about the things to which I have a right to know, and I will happily forgive his human shortcomings.

Gary Hart will forever be remembered as the politician who got caught with a woman on his lap on a boat called The Monkey Business. His entire life of public service essentially erased from public consciousness because he expected that there remained a circle of privacy even for presidential candidates. It seems incredibly naïve to think such a thing today, but that was not so in 1987. Maybe Hart was his own worst enemy. He should have known better than to be reckless under what he knew to be heightened scrutiny. Nevertheless, America lost the services of an exceptionally talented presidential contender in 1987 because the rules of engagement between the press and political candidates suddenly and unexpectedly changed; the focus shifted to the trivial and personal at the expense of serious public discourse.

I want leaders who genuinely care about the future of our planet, the quality of our public discourse, and the ideals of American democracy; who favor peace and diplomacy over war and conflict; and who believe in the dignity of all human beings. Most importantly, I want men and women of good will and intelligence, who demonstrate character through acts of kindness, decency, compassion, and empathy, and who have the backbone to make tough, unpopular decisions for the benefit of the greater public good. I am simply not interested in the private lives of our public leaders, so long as such private conduct does not interfere with the exercise of their public duties. I will continue to distinguish between public morality and private morality.

Matt Bai concludes The Front Runner by noting that, in the years since the Hart scandal first broke, Hart has maintained an unwavering silence about the details of whatever did or did not happen between him and Donna Rice in 1987. He has done this, Bai contends, because “he harbored a fierce conviction that private affairs had no place in the public arena, and he was going to hold fast to that conviction until his dying breath, no matter how anachronistic it seemed to others. There’s a way to describe a man who holds that tightly to principle, whatever the cost. The word is character.”