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Presidential Candidates Dodging Important Issues, Opines Lee Hamilton '52

August 15, 2012

Lee Hamilton 2010Aug USTAccording to Lee Hamilton, former congressman and 1952 graduate of DePauw University, "what is good for a presidential campaign is not always good for the voter, as this year's contest so far proves." In a newspaper op-ed, the veteran statesman writes, "An immense gulf has opened between what the country needs from the candidates and the disappointing crumbs the candidates have offered. For the most part, the election thus far has been about the past -- Barack Obama's failure to put the economy on surer footing, Mitt Romney's tenure at Bain Capital. It has not focused much on the future, which is what matters to voters."

Hamilton continues, "And let's be clear: There's plenty to talk about. Income, especially for the middle class, continues to stagnate, while jobs and the national debt are on every policymaker's front burner. The middle class is in trouble and looking for prescriptions that will set its families on a more secure course. We have an education system that worries many parents and causes economists to fret about our future competitiveness. Our health care system remains bewilderingly complex and, for many Americans, at times dysfunctional. Questions about immigration and our openness to foreign talent remain unsettled. Yet it's hard to know from the campaign thus far what either candidate plans to do over the next four years on these and other issues."

A Democrat who served 34 years in the U.S. House of Representatives and later co-chaired the 9/11 Commission and Iraq Study Group, Hamilton is "reminded of the year I first ran for Congress, 1964. Lyndon Johnson ran that year on a very specific platform, so that when he came into office he had a mandate; the result was the Great Society. Can you tell me right now what positive mandate Obama or Romney will have come inauguration day next year? I didn't think so."

The partisan divide in Washington has cripped Congress, opines Hamilton, and both sides must give for key issues to be addressed. He notes, "As the centrist think tank Third Way has pointed out, to balance the budget, Democrats will have to accept meaningful reduction in the cost of entitlements, while Republicans will have to accept some tax increases. To address K-12 education, Republicans will need to agree to inject more money into school systems, while Democrats must accept the need for education reform. We will not resolve our immigration challenges without Democrats recognizing the need for high-skilled newcomers and Republicans bending on their willingness to accept higher levels of immigration. All of these issues have room for each side to accommodate the other. But it will take political leadership of the highest order to make progress -- and a president who's willing to exert it."

The column concludes, "Americans are worried about the country's future and the well-being of their children and grandchildren. Not surprisingly, they're looking for a candidate who will give them honest explanations of complex problems, lay out a path for us all to tackle them, and demonstrate that he has the fortitude and political skill to lead the nation at a troubled time. So far, they haven't gotten this from either candidate. It is time for voters to wrest control of the election campaign from the political pros who are giving us a largely depressing and irrelevant campaign, and insist that the serious business of our presidential campaigns Lee Hamilton Ubben 2011 2be conducted in a manner befitting a great nation."

Access the complete essay at the website of Indiana's South Bend Tribune.

Lee H. Hamilton is director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He is the author of Strengthening Congress; How Congress Works and Why You Should Care and A Creative Tension: The Foreign Policy Roles of the President and Congress. As a DePauw undergraduate, Hamilton majored in history and was a star player on the Tiger basketball team.  He was inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 1982 and the DePauw Athletic Hall of Fame in 1987.

On March 15, 2011, he returned to DePauw to deliver a Timothy and Sharon Ubben Lecture. A summary including video clips can be accessed here.

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