H-A-R-T. The guest at the Plaza in New York spells out his last name for a front desk clerk, then for a maitre d' in the famed Palm Court tea room. In return, he receives bemused looks. Clearly, both hotel employees recognize Gary Hart.
So do four women from out of town who stop him in the lobby, produce a camera and corral him in a group photo as his face turns red.
So does a gentleman who's surprised to see him in New York.
"Gary Hart? How are you?" He gives his name. "Remember me?"
"Ah, sure," Hart replies. "Let's see. We had lunch together. Wasn't it at '21'?"
"That's right. And at my home in Beverly Hills. That's when you were . . ." The man stops himself.
"Yes," Hart says, "that was a long time ago."
A long time ago, after the telegenic and cerebral former Colorado senator emerged from the 1984 presidential primaries a strong second to Walter Mondale to loom as the Democrat to beat in 1988. He was the candidate of "new ideas," but his second campaign for the White House would be derailed by disclosure in the Miami Herald of his extramarital relationship with Donna Rice.
Hart's days under media assault--he quit the race in disgust but later revived his doomed candidacy--were a full-throttle preview of the Monica Lewinsky frenzy. From then on, politicians' private conduct would come under journalistic scrutiny even when their behavior was not directly tied to public performance.
But if Hart, now a grayer 61, seems long weary of being identified by the media primarily as the scandal-marred candidate of three campaigns ago, he insists on getting past that to discuss the new ideas and policy issues that continue to engage him.
His new book, "The Minuteman: Restoring an Army of the People," published by the Free Press, is his fifth since quitting politics to pursue the life of a globe-hopping corporate attorney who's been to Russia alone more than 100 times in the past decade.
Drawing deeply from history and his 12 years on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Hart argues forcefully for a radical downsizing of the post-Cold War military. His proposal: a smaller standing Army--a rapid-response force equipped to address immediate crises--backed up by citizen-soldiers to be called up in the event of widespread hostilities.
"There's been no defense debate in this country since the end of the Cold War," Hart said in a recent interview. "Bush didn't want to talk about it, Clinton doesn't want to talk about it, Dole didn't want to talk about it. And there is a consensus around maintenance of the Cold War army for economic reasons."
He summons up what he calls "Eisenhower's nightmare," a reference to President Dwight D. Eisenhower's warning that "a military-industrial complex" might become a self-perpetuating behemoth.
"Nobody wants to question the status quo because too many people are benefiting from it," Hart added. "This is not an anti-Pentagon book. It's an anti-military-establishment book."
Hart sketches the kinds of crises he believes are likely to arise in the 21st century and suggests more flexible ways to face them. One scenario is what he calls "Persian Gulf II," the possibility of a war for oil. He also envisions more "peacekeeping, rapid-response, intervention kinds of activities," such as in Bosnia and Somalia.
It took months, Hart observes, to transport personnel and equipment to the Persian Gulf in 1991.
"The limitation is on the lift--air and sea lift. And so why have 1 1/2 million people under arms if you can't get them there?
"People say, 'Don't we need to respond quickly?' Of course, that's what 500,000 to 700,000 (regular troops) will do. . . . They are the point of the spear. The question is: Is the shaft of the spear reserve or regular Army?
"The Air Force, more than any service, has integrated its regular and reserve forces profoundly. . . . The Marine Corps is almost there. The Navy has gone a long way . . ." but "the Army doesn't want to give up its 10 standing divisions."
It's no surprise that a book-jacket endorsement for "The Minuteman" comes from Maj. Gen. Edward J. Philbin, USAF (Ret.), executive director of the National Guard Assn. of the United States, which has made the proposed National Guard and Reserve Components Equity Act of 1999 its top legislative priority. The measure would advance the group's effort to better utilize the Guard and the Army Reserve to maintain adequate readiness.
Hart was calling for military reform as early as his 1984 campaign. He also has entree to those at highest levels who might consider his ideas--President Clinton and Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen.
In recent years Hart has volunteered memos to the president on foreign policy and military affairs. Cohen, who served with Hart in the Senate and in 1985 coauthored a spy novel, "The Double Man," with him, recently appointed Hart to an advisory group of military experts.
"I had lunch with Cohen yesterday, and I gave him the book," Hart said. (A call to a Cohen aide for reaction was not returned.) Earlier, Cohen told the National Journal that it costs more to activate Guard and Army Reserves for deployment than active-duty forces but that his "real problem" with Hart's idea is that "we would lose our presence around the world."
So what did Hart hope to achieve by writing the new book?
"Start a debate," he responded immediately. "You know, the best thing that could happen to me would be if Bill Cohen or somebody attacked this book. I'm intentionally provocative, or try to be. I want somebody to say, 'This is the stupidest idea I ever heard, and here are 10 reasons why.' "
For all of his passion for big ideas, Hart said he doesn't miss politics--and certainly not campaigning.
"I miss the big debates. But they don't happen very often."
In fact, he added, he's always been basically shy.
"Reporters never figured this out. Until I won the New Hampshire primary [over Mondale], the key on the typewriter was 'Cool and Aloof.' It was just basic shyness. But I came to enjoy meeting people and to overcome a lot of that shyness."
Hart has not been shy--up to a point--about discussing the media's unyielding investigation of Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. Journalism, he acknowledges, is an industry, partially driven by bottom-line and circulation imperatives. While the Clinton-Lewinsky story may be news, he contends, it doesn't rate the coverage it's received--and the Lewinsky matter is ancillary to the Clinton presidency.
"The more Miss Lewinsky occupies Page 1, the less other issues occupy Page 1. The public's attention span is only so large and only so long--and the more it's filled up with scandal, the less it's filled up with public business. "
As a candidate, Hart, who is widely credited with helping to move the Democratic Party beyond New Deal nostalgia, was skilled at using the media to his advantage--only to see his candidacy burn up in its glare.
"In some ways, Hart is certainly a tragic figure, but he is also a godfather to Bill Clinton," said Steven M. Gillon, author of "The Democrats' Dilemma: Walter F. Mondale and the Liberal Legacy" and dean of the Honors College at the University of Oklahoma. "Hart was the first one to be subject to that kind of media intensity. . . . He also left a legacy. . . . His vision of where to move the party helped the Democratic Party to claim the White House."
Nevertheless, Hart will forever remain linked to the Donna Rice episode and its fallout.
"But not so much with ordinary people, who are fine," Hart said. "It's a journalistic thing. There's a sense that we need to remind people."
So he would never run for office again?
"Never's a long time. I don't have the need. I do have a compulsion for public service. . . . I'd like to contribute. That's the strongest impulse I have--it's public service."