High-Profile Hearings "Showcase Best and Worst" of Congress: Lee Hamilton '52
July 17, 2010
July 17, 2010, Greencastle, Ind. — "Even before Tony Hayward,the embattled CEO of BP, appeared in front of a House investigative subcommittee on June 17, everyone knew why he was there," writes Lee H. Hamilton, a veteran statesman and 1952 graduate of DePauw University. "It was not to apologize for the Gulf oil spill or to explain his company’s behavior -- though all of this was expected of him. He was there, in large measure, so that members of Congress could vent their outrage -- and that of their constituents -- over the spill."
In a newspaper op-ed, Hamilton -- who served Southern Indiana for 34 years in the U.S. House of Representatives -- dissects the high-profile congressional hearing, "which, for better or worse, is where the American public often builds its impression of Congress. There are plenty of tedious hearings on Capitol Hill -- though they are often just as important, if not more so, as the ones that attract a media scrum. But the hearings that rivet the public’s attention, play to a packed room, and command that evening’s news cycle showcase Congress at both its best and worst."
The Democrat notes, "For the witnesses in the limelight, the stakes are high. Careers and reputations get made and broken in congressional hearing rooms, and causes advanced or destroyed. Yet in the end, hearings like these are part of the work of the Congress -- staged and run to serve the purposes of members."
With that in mind, Hamilton offers a series of tips for those who might someday be called before a congressional panel, along with an "overriding fact: The hearing is more about advancing the interests of the members attending than about you. The cameras may all be trained on you and the reporters jotting down every word you say, but you are there to serve the purposes of the politicians arrayed in front of you -- for publicity, for channeling public sentiment, for scoring political points, and even for digging deeply into a problem in a praiseworthy effort to build public understanding."
Read the complete column at the Web site of Vermont's Bennington Banner.
The author of Strengthening Congress, and How Congress Works and Why You Should Care, Lee H. Hamilton co-chaired the 9/11 Commission and Iraq Study Group and is currently co-chairing the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future. Newsweek has called him "Mr. Integrity," while the New York Times' David Brooks opined of Hamilton, "The country is hungering for leaders like him: open-minded, unassuming centrists who are interested in government more than politics." Access another of his recent op-eds by clicking here.Back