Hart forgets that politics takes guts, not just brains


April 19, 1993|By ROGER SIMON

Gary Hart can't get no respect. And he is looking for it in all the wrong places.

Hart, former U.S. senator and failed presidential candidate, whined to the New Yorker magazine last week that he had finally figured out the difference between his escapades and Bill Clinton's escapades:

"They say Clinton handled his situation better than I did. Poppycock. It wasn't the decision to go on '60 Minutes.' It was the editorial decision not to pursue it any further. I didn't see editors this time sending reporters halfway around the world to peek in a politician's window."

Translation for those who live outside the Capital Beltway and are happy they do: When Hart was accused of adultery in 1987, the press hounded him out of running for president. But when Clinton was accused of adultery in 1992, the press went easy on him.

And Gary Hart knows why. "The idea is that somehow I carried away the burden of scandal," Hart says.

In other words, Gary Hart died for our sins.

It is not surprising that Hart sees himself as a martyr. It is certainly easier than seeing himself as many see him: as a washed-up pol who blew his chances for the White House because he couldn't stop his insatiable tom-catting.

But let's take a look at how Hart and Clinton really differed when accusations of scandal broke:

When news of Hart's alleged affair with Donna Rice broke, when pictures appeared in the National Enquirer of Donna Rice sitting on Hart's lap, her dress riding up her thighs, Hart's hand around her hips, her arms around his neck, Hart was convinced the public did not care.

Only the press was making a big deal out of it and he could take care of that.

So he called a press conference in New Hampshire and when a reporter asked him if he had ever committed adultery, Hart replied: "Um, I do not have to answer that. Because it gets into some really fine definitions."

Really fine definitions? Like what? And why had he called a press conference to answer questions about adultery without being prepared to talk about adultery?

I will tell you why: Hart thought reporters would never have the nerve to ask him directly about his affairs. Not him! Not the man of New Ideas!

But reporters did ask him and Hart couldn't handle it and he cut the press conference short and fled the room.

And that night, when he learned that there might be more stories about more affairs, he cut and ran back to Colorado and withdrew from the presidential race.

I wrote at the time that this was a bad idea. I wrote that Hart should have stayed in the race and let the people judge him. But Hart couldn't hack that.

So on May 8, 1987, Hart withdrew. And then he discovered something: He couldn't hack obscurity either.

On Dec. 8, Channel 9 in Denver asked Hart to come on the air and discuss the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty just signed by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. Afterwards, the anchorman asked Hart: "Are the media finally leaving you alone?"

"Oh, yeah," Hart replied. "Maybe a little too much."

Seven days later, Hart re-entered the race in New Hampshire. He had decided to let the people decide after all.

And they did. Hart got 4,888 votes, coming in last among the mainstream candidates with 4 percent of the vote.

Flash forward to 1992. There were charges that Bill Clinton had fooled around with Gennifer Flowers. There were accusations that Bill Clinton had dodged the draft.

But did Clinton withdraw as many in the press assumed he must?

Nope. He decided to let the people decide. He and his wife decided to face the bad stories in the newspapers and the bad jokes on late night TV. They just gritted their teeth and went on campaigning.

And you know what? The voters of New Hampshire gave Clinton a quarter of the vote. He finished second in the Democratic primary and from then on he was known as the Comeback Kid.

Is there a lesson here? You bet.

Gary Hart is so proud of his brains he forgets that politics takes something else. It takes guts.

Clinton has 'em. Hart lacks 'em.

And that is why one is busy running the country today and the other is busy running his mouth.

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