When last we saw Gary Hart, he was a victim of Lust, that most beguiling of the Seven Deadly Sins. Now, in his dramatic 11th-hour re-entry into the presidential race, he returns as a monument to the folly of Vanity, in its sense both as emptiness and as self-regard. In a brief address announcing his new candidacy, Hart said that as President he would be a national teacher. Well, he won't be President, but he still has something to teach us about a common human failing that politicians embody in tumescent proportions.
To begin with, Hart's case should cause us partly to supplement a dollop of the conventional wisdom about politicians, and partly to expand on it. The dollop that I have in mind is associated with the late Harold Laswell, a pioneer in the psychoanalytic understanding of politics. Politicians, Laswell taught, are driven to solve on the public stage, if only symbolically, problems that they are unable to solve in their personal lives. That explanatory construct fits Hart rather nicely.
This self-destructive man, whose conflicts between instinct and reason are the stuff of Johnny Carson's jokes, wants to bring rationality to American politics, and indeed to American society generally. This creature of drives wants to build a campaign, so he said in his announcement, on "ideas." This flagrant Lothario calls for national "reform." He wants to do for us, in short, what he can't do for himself--reform, bring order out of chaos, let reason rule over instinct.