Book Notes: Gary Hart and Abe Lincoln

Portrait of President Abraham Lincoln, circa 1860s. (Photo by Fotosearch/Getty Images).
Portrait of President Abraham Lincoln, circa 1860s. (Photo by Fotosearch/Getty Images).

LINCOLN. There are nearly 22,000 Abraham Lincoln books clickable at Amazon including the most peculiar Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, which turns the Great Emancipator into the Great Decapitator. To this tsunami of Lincoln lit, please add Todd Brewster's detailed reporting, Lincoln's Gamble: The Tumultuous Six Months that Gave America the Emancipation Proclamation and Changed the Course of the Civil War. This is a seven-hour-and-14-minute audiobook about one president's extraordinary executive action (print: 368 pages). Brewster is one of the very few writers whose narration actually benefits his own material.

If you are not up on your Lincoln-alia or haven't read anything by Prof. Alan Guelzo, Director of Gettysburg College's Civil War Era Studies Program, you will discover that, while Lincoln believed in equal rights, he did NOT believe that African Americans were equal to whites, writing, "The two races are incompatible." Brewster writes that the president actually favored colonization, which was an elegant term for "send them all back to Africa."

The Proclamation was strictly a military tactic. Lincoln was very clear about his feelings on slavery,

"My paramount object in the struggle (Civil War) is to save the Union. It is not to save, or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it. And if I save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it. And if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that."

Listeners/readers can't help but note this epic slave-freeing use of executive power is the very same presidential action every White House has used since and is, once again, a contentious tactic between this Congress and the current president.

HART. To folks under 30 the name Gary Hart will not ring many bells. Thanks to veteran news producer and journalist Matt Bai's essential All The Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid, the Hart name will resonate for those who view politics as a contact sport -- a sport with serious consequences. Gary Hart was a major player who sustained serious damage, is a significant marker in American politics and is the subject of this nine-and-a-half-hour audiobook about D.C. sex and scandal (print: 288 pages).

Backstory: 1987, the Democratic presidential primary. Colorado Senator Gary Hart is the front runner for his party's presidential nomination. He is "...widely acknowledged to possess one of the great political minds of his time." A graduate of a Nazarene College and the Yale Divinity School, Hart is also the guy who, when asked about marital infidelities, says to the media, "Follow me around. I don't care. I'm serious. If anybody wants to put a tail on me, go ahead." They do. And the picture of Sen. Hart with a former Miss South Carolina on his lap aboard a yacht called Monkey Business is like chum in shark-infested waters. A week later Gary Hart suspended his campaign.

One of the take-aways from Bai's excellent reporting is the notion that Hart's sexual scandal paved the way for Bill Clinton surviving his lascivious affair and having an eight-year presidency. Bai tweaks the NY Times saying that when the Hart story broke, the squeamish editors reluctantly "...placed it there with a pair of tongs so as not to sully themselves."

In essence, All the Truth Is Out is really about the media and the political discourse it affects. As John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate told Time magazine, "Every candidate knows that a single misspoken line, a single emotional or ill-advised candid moment can become a full blown existential crisis by the time the bus pulls up to the next rally." As a result, every candidate knows not to "...even try to explain their ideas or theories anymore."

Whatever became of Gary Hart? He's currently the U.S. Special Envoy for Northern Ireland. But the nub question is this: If the Hart sexcapade happened today, would the outcome be the same? My guess: It wouldn't even qualify as a "B" story on TV's Scandal.