And so it is that Jeffrey Hart counts himself a member of Obama's “new American majority” -- a group of voters the Illinois senator says are fed up with the partisan excesses and wrangling of the last two decades and eager for a practical, cooperative approach to the issues that have divided Washington.
“It turns out that these political parties are not always either liberal or conservative, Democratic or Republican,” Hart, a 77-year-old with thick white hair who lives in Lyme, said in an interview at his home yesterday. “The Democrat, under certain conditions, can be the conservative.”
Hart's estrangement from George W. Bush's brand of conservatism -- which Hart describes as “radicalism,” citing an expansion of federal spending and aggressive foreign policy -- began some time ago. After voting for Bush in 2000, Hart says he supported Sen. John Kerry in 2004. In the 2006 Congressional elections, Hart cast a ballot for Democrat Paul Hodes -- not Charlie Bass, the Republican whom Hart had voted for six times — out of frustration over the Iraq War, which he says has been mishandled.
“It's all wrong,” Hart said. “It's not going to be a beacon of liberty. There's no indication that Bush or Wolfowitz or Cheney looked at Iraq and said, ‘What are the problems here?' It’s as if Eisenhower did D-Day not knowing whether they had a cliff or a swamp on the other side.”
There are other problems with today's Republicans, according to Hart. He said his erstwhile party allied itself too closely with activist evangelical Christians. Perhaps more significantly, Hart said, the party has failed to adapt in order to address urgent domestic issues such as healthcare policy and the future of Social Security, thus forgetting Burke's famous caveat to conservatives: “A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation.”
The current Republican field does nothing to raise Hart's hopes. He said McCain is “candid and authentic” but too committed to keeping up the U.S. military presence in Iraq; former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Hart said, “would say anything to get the nomination.”
In Obama, by contrast, Hart sees a Great Communicator in the mold of Reagan, John F. Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt, a leader who can inspire Americans to work together on the problems of the 21st Century.
By the end of the line, that train car might be very crowded.
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