Not since Richard Nixon has the American political stage produced a figure so nearly the stuff of classical tragedy as Hart: fascinating, obsessed, often impressive--and fatally flawed. Nixon's rampant insecurity and self-pity were visible almost from his opening scene (e.g. the Checkers speech), as were Hart's rebellious recklessness and identity problem (the '84 age fudge, the early name change). Nixon, however, at least had some awareness of his problem, strove to keep it under control, and convinced us that he had done just that--until Watergate. Hart's latest antics, by contrast, attest to his total lack of understanding of the nature of his problem--a gap in character and judgment.
Hart's obliviousness to his credibility gap is exceeded only by his perhaps unconscious contempt for his party. At this time the first winnowing of the Democratic field is under way. Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, Tennessee Sen. Albert Gore, and perhaps Illinois Sen. Paul Simon have emerged as maybe the most viable of the crop, but large questions loom.
If the grass roots embrace Hart for anything more than the briefest passing gust, then the Democratic harvest will be yet another in its remarkable string of crop failures, and the country will end up Bushwhacked.
JOHN B. DONOVAN