Former Sen. Gary Hart, a Colorado Democrat who is considering a run for his party’s presidential nomination, may have put his foot in his mouth with comments criticizing Americans who confuse loyalty to the United States with loyalty to their “original homelands.”
In two speeches in the San Francisco area this week, Hart made comments that some political commentators interpreted as a blanket criticism of Jews or immigrant groups.
“We must not let our role in the world be dictated by ideologues with their special biases and agendas, by militarists who long for the clarity of Cold War confrontation, by think-tank theorists who grind their academic axes, or by Americans who too often find it hard to distinguish their loyalties to their original homelands from their loyalties to America and its national interests,” Hart said.
It was the last line of the statement that some interpreted as an attack on Jewish Americans who lobby Congress to support Israel.
“I think we know exactly he’s referring to,” CNN’s Tucker Carlson said on Crossfire Tuesday. ” He was talking about Jewish Americans.”
“That last line was loathsome,” concurred Paul Begala, a former Clinton political adviser who cohosts the program with Carlson.
But Hart said the line was not directed to Jews, but referring to any ethnic group that exerts a “disproportionate” influence on U.S. foreign policy.
After Hart finished a speech at the Stanford Law School Wednesday, a reporter from ABC News’s Internet-based newsletter “The Note” asked him to whom or what he was referring.
ABC’s report said Hart was at first reluctant to give specific examples, but then offered up Irish Americans and Cuban Americans as two of many examples of lobbying groups who, in his view, sometimes exercise disproportionate power and skew U.S. policy.
Hart has been on a national tour, speaking before think tanks, universities, and Democratic-party groups while measuring support for a run at the presidency. He said he would announce his presidential intentions in the spring.
While the comments about “homeland loyalty” appear unlikely to derail Hart’s burgeoning campaign, political analysts said that the Colorado senator’s bid represents a long shot at best.
“There is absolutely no way the Democratic party is going to throw away its nomination on a two-time loser from the ’80s who is scandal-tinged,” said Larry J. Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia. “I don’t care what he has to say about terrorism.”
Hart has said repeatedly in the past month that the U.S. is not prepared for another terrorist attack, and that the Bush administration’s homeland-security moves have been insufficient. He co-chaired the U.S. Commission on National Security, which warned in January 2001 of a devastating terrorist attack on the United States was likely within years.
Sabato said Hart’s chances were comparable to those of controversial New York reverend Al Sharpton.
Stuart Rothenberg, a veteran pollster and political handicapper, said Hart will have a hard time convincing voters to see him as a fresh face.
“Hart is about 15 years too late,” Rothenberg said. “One of his fundamental problems is that Democrats generally prefer new faces and new ideas. Hart benefited from that a lot in 1984. It didn’t get him nomination, but he got a lot of juice from that.”
Hart was briefly the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination in 1984 before being overtaken by former Vice President Walter Mondale. He again led the Democratic pack in 1988, but his run was derailed by a sex scandal over an extramarital affair the senator had with a young model named Donna Rice.
Rothenberg said he thinks that for many Democrats, Hart is just too old a voice and face to represent the party’s aspirations in 2004.
“This is a party that nominated Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, and George McGovern,” Rothenberg said. “It often prefers youth, energy and an outsider.”
Besides the earliest of opinion polls, Hart also trails well behind most other Democratic candidates in terms of campaign organization. Both Rothenberg and Sabato also pointed out that many of the other potential Democratic nominees have not only announced their candidacies, but are raising money and hiring staff in key primary states
“Hart seems to be on yet another quest for redemption,” Sabato said. “Apparently no one has ever told him one can be redeemed without running for president.”
— Jim Geraghty, a reporter for States News Service, covers Washington for several newspapers across the country including The Pueblo Chieftain.