Gary Hart comes out
The former Senator and ex-presidential candidate reveals that
he's thriller writer John Blackthorn
By Andrew Ferguson
January 17, 2000
Web posted at: 12:32 p.m. EST (1732 GMT)
Here's an unlikely bit of news for an election year:
politically, Gary Hart is dead, but Che Guevara isn't. O.K., so
it's a little more complicated than that. Che is the hero of a
just released political thriller from John Blackthorn, whose
Sins of the Fathers was a mild success last year. Like the
earlier book, I, Che Guevara (William Morrow; 369 pages; $24) is
set in Cuba and carries a tantalizing tease on the book jacket:
"John Blackthorn is the pseudonym of a political figure whose
name is well known in international capitals and intelligence
circles." Last week, as I, Che hit bookstores, the tease was up.
John Blackthorn, it turns out, is Gary Hart, former Senator and
two-time presidential candidate whose public career came to a
spectacular halt in a 1987 sex scandal.
Now a lawyer specializing in international law, Hart has traveled
several times to Cuba, often conveying messages unofficially
between Fidel Castro and the Clinton Administration; hence the
pseudonym. "I wanted to tell these fictional stories," he says,
"but I didn't want to jeopardize any value I could add to my
messenger role." He unveiled himself last week because "people
were beginning to ask questions about Blackthorn's identity. I
didn't want to dissemble, so we decided to come out."
I, Che rests on an unlikely premise: it is 1999, and Castro steps
down and calls free elections in return for a lifting of the U.S.
embargo. Erstwhile communists and right-wing Cuban exiles in
Miami form opposing political parties, hoping to manipulate the
populace to their own ends. But out of the mountain villages, a
mysterious stranger suddenly appears, bearing an eerie
resemblance to the legendary revolutionary who was assassinated
in 1967. His message: Cubans can reclaim power over their own
lives in a "radical democracy" without pollsters, socialists or
corporate capitalists. As the movement grows, the evil forces
dispatch assassins to kill its prophet.
Che Guevara, reborn democrat? Unlikely, sure, but so is Gary
Hart, novelist. His characters wade through the plot as if it
were molasses. Hart tries to goose things along with lengthy
quotes from Che's diary: "The revolutionary is a visionary. He
sees things other people don't see, the 'practical ones.' The
'practical' person operates within the boundaries of what is. The
revolutionary sees what ought to be." A few hundred pages of
this, and the reader starts rooting for the assassins.
During his years of political exile, Hart developed a radical if
unoriginal critique of American democracy, an ideal irredeemably
corrupted by money, cynicism and campaign trickery. Here, his
fictional hero is his mouthpiece. Hart could have eliminated the
middleman--Che, in this case--and written a straightforward tract
on his theory of radical democracy. Sure enough: "That's my next
book," he says. But without a thriller wrapped around them--and
without John Blackthorn--his ideas may be a tougher sell.