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Pushing our politicians: We profile US envoy Gary Hart

He is tasked with forging agreement between the Executive parties where others - most recently Dr Richard Haass - have failed. But former senator Gary Hart may just be the man for the job, writes Jim Dee.

This week the parties at Stormont got a chance to take measure of the latest American dispatched across the Atlantic to try to sort out some of the thornier remaining peace process tangles.

And, like his predecessor, Gary Hart faces a truly daunting task - one made all the more difficult by the crash landing of Richard Haass's talks last December.

But who exactly is the latest American asked to ride to the rescue? And does the 77-year-old former senator have the skill-set to help break the impasse?

Jim Lyons, a Denver lawyer who was Bill Clinton's economic envoy to Northern Ireland and the Republic's border counties from 1997 to 2001, thinks his longtime friend is up for the challenge.

When they first met in the 1970s, Lyons said, Hart was "very focused and very disciplined - as he still is".

"He's a very good listener. He's a very smart guy," he added. "Given his political instincts and background, I think he will look for what common ground can be developed and how that can serve as a platform for further agreement between the two communities and among the various parties."

Former Connecticut congressman Bruce Morrison, one of several prominent American backers of the peace process who recently wrote to the First and Deputy First Ministers urging Northern Ireland's parties to stretch further for a deal, said that Hart might bring a new dynamic.

"Americans can't solve the problems," he said, "But Americans can sometimes make suggestions that can be helpful."

Morrison feels the focus of the Haass talks was "too narrow, and too much of a zero-sum game." He hopes Hart's approach will be broader in scope, because "the broader the talks are, at least in the conception, the more possible it is to find trade-offs that don't leave winners and losers but instead have benefits for both communities".

It seems a damning indictment of modern society, that the scandal that sank Hart's 1988 presidential dreams is what most people know about him.

In a recently published book about Hart's downfall after his alleged 1987 extramarital affair with model Donna Rice, journalist Matt Bais argues that the scandal was the moment when the media's obsession with public figures' personal lives too often began to eclipse substantive policy analysis in the Press.

Gary Hart began life as Gary Hartpence in Ottawa, Kansas, born to parents who belonged to the Church of the Nazarene, an offshoot of Methodism that scorned drinking, smoking and dancing.

In 1958, he graduated from Bethany Nazarene College near Oklahoma City. He later graduated from Yale University's Divinity School in 1961 and Yale Law School in 1964. That year Hart, who'd changed his last name in 1961 because he felt it was "a lot easier to remember", began working for the federal government, first at the Justice Department and later with the Department of the Interior. In 1967, he moved to Colorado to practice law.

But Hart, like many young idealists of his era, had been bitten by the political bug after being inspired by John F Kennedy's brief presidency.

In 1972, he became campaign manager for Democrat George McGovern's ill-fated presidential bid against Richard Nixon. And, despite the fact McGovern won only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, Hart received praise for his organisational skills.

Two years later, he won his first public office, taking one of Colorado's seats in the Senate by pulling off an upset victory over two-term incumbent Republican Peter Dominick.

Once in the Senate, Hart joined the ground-breaking Church Committee, headed by Senator Frank Church of Idaho, that investigated JFK's killing and shone the first, glaring spotlight on the CIA's covert actions around the world.

Hart won re-election in 1980, albeit by the slimmest of margins, and by 1984 he had set his sights on the highest office in the land.

The 1984 primary season saw Hart emerge as the chief opponent of front-runner Walter Mondale, Jimmy Carter's vice-president.

Hart was criticised by some Democrats, who claimed his "new ideas" were too centrist and strayed from the party's long-held liberal policies.

The Mondale-Hart duel also produced one of the most memorable one-liners in American debating history, when Mondale quoted a line from a popular Wendy's TV commercial, quipping "Where's the beef?" when attacking Hart's policies as insubstantial.

In the end, the party hierarchy closed ranks around Mondale and Hart was defeated.

Then came a second bid for the White House, beginning in 1987, and the infamous picture with Donna Rice on the boat Monkey Business that ruined his campaign. Afterwards, he returned to Denver to practice law.

In 1998, five years after the first terrorist attacks on New York's Twin Towers, Hart was tasked by Bill Clinton to co-chair a commission studying American preparedness for fighting terrorism.

In 1999, the bipartisan US Commission on National Security/21st Century, aka the Hart-Rudman Commission, warned that, "Americans will likely die on American soil, possibly in large numbers".

But Clinton never acted on the recommendations to set up an agency similar to the Department of Homeland Security that was later created under George W Bush's administration. In January 2001, the Hart-Rudman Commission's final report again sounded the alarm about a growing terrorist threat.

Congressional hearings on the report were set for May 2001, but the Bush administration succeeded in having them stopped in favour of a committee headed by vice-president Dick Cheney. It was to have submitted its findings by late-2001.

In early-September 2001, Hart again raised the alarm of the increasing possibility of a devastating attack on the US during a speech in Montreal. The next day he flew to Washington to pass the message directly to National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, who said she'd convey his concerns to Cheney.

Five days later, the world changed forever when planes were flown into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.

Since 9/11, Hart has been a frequent critic of Washington's foreign policy priorities, which he says have too often damaged the country's global image.

In a 2007 article he penned for a Denver magazine, he slammed America's oil-driven foreign policy, writing: "In fact, we do have an energy policy. It's to continue to import more than half our oil and sacrifice American lives so we can drive our Humvees. This is our current policy and it is massively immoral."

That same year, in a letter announcing his founding of the American Security Project, Hart wrote: "American national security policy is adrift. In the five years since the attacks of 9/11, the United States has toppled autocratic regimes, cast aside collective security alliances, put its military into the field, expanded its covert battle against terrorists and simultaneously lost its moral standing in much of the world."

In addition to founding the ASP, recent years have seen Hart sit on several US State Department and Defense Department committees. He belongs to the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations.

Since 2005, he has blogged regularly for the Huffington Post. Since leaving the Senate, he's also found time to pen 15 non-fiction books and five novels.

But now Gary Hart has become the latest American to try to achieve a compromise deal on the parades impasse, flags and emblems, and how best to deal with the legacy of the Troubles.

And Jim Lyons thinks he has as good a chance as anyone of succeeding.

"Obviously, Secretary of State Kerry, who served with Senator Hart [in the Senate], knows his extraordinary talent," said Lyons.

"And I think has asked him to step in and see if he can be helpful here, to understand the moving parts that still divide the communities in Northern Ireland, and how those gaps can be overcome."

A life so far...

Born: Gary Hartpence, November 1936 in Ottawa, Kansas

Education: Graduated from Bethany Nazarene College, Oklahoma 1958; Yale University Divinity School 1961; Yale Law School 1964; Doctorate in Philosophy from Oxford University in 2001

Married: Oletha (Lee) Ludwig in 1958, with whom he still lives in a suburb of Denver

Political career: Two terms serving Colorado in US Senate from January 1975 to January 1987. Two failed presidential campaigns in 1984 and 1988, the latter imploding amid allegations of adultery with model Donna Rice

Life post-politics: Member of various commissions created by the US departments of State and Defense. Has also headed think tanks focusing on America's post-9/11 foreign policy choices. October 20, 2014 - Appointed as US Special Envoy to Northern Ireland

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