Distrust in Government the Result of "Desperately Off-Kilter" System: Lee Hamilton '52
November 22, 2011
November 22, 2011, Greencastle, Ind. — As polls show confidence in Congress and government as a whole at historic lows, Lee Hamilton observes, "When so many Americans believe that their representatives in Washington do not have their best interests in mind, something is desperately off-kilter. It means that Americans feel betrayed by how the political class operates."
In an op-ed appearing in newspapers across America, Hamilton -- a 1952 DePauw University graduate who served 34 years in the U.S. House of Representatives -- writes, "So the question becomes what can be done to restore the people’s trust in government. May I suggest it involves more than changing policies. It means paying attention to the values that people would like to see embodied in government."
The Democrat who later served as co-chair of the 9/11 Commission and Iraq Study Group believes voters "want fairness from Washington. Whatever you think of the Tea Party or Occupy Wall Street, both have touched a nerve, a sense that our political leaders have not just grown distant from the concerns of ordinary Americans, but actively discriminate against them in one way or another. I’ve always been impressed by the importance Americans place on fairness; they strive to be fair to those around them, and they expect government to do the same."
Government must also strive to be open and transparent, Hamilton opines, as well as accountable. "It is very hard to determine who’s responsible for any given situation in the federal government -- so many people have their hands on promoting or blocking a given initiative, it can seem that the entire political system is designed to shrug off responsibility. When the economy is floundering, Americans are desperate for work, and Washington seems incapable of coming to grips with the nation’s needs, this is a huge problem. It is hard to respect institutions whose leaders refuse a forthright accounting of, or deny responsibility for, their failures."
He continues, "Americans do not expect miracles or understate the difficulties of governing. They do not expect a single person to right the ship of state. Quite the contrary. They want a collective effort, a sense that people in government, regardless of party, are rolling up their sleeves and working together to resolve their differences."
Lawmakers must also offer remedies to the nation's problems and be honest about the issues they're confronted with.
Hamilton concludes, "Lack of trust in government is a far more serious problem than most politicians believe, one that cannot be resolved easily. The solution can only come from a patient, long-term effort to return to our fundamental values and instincts.
You'll find the complete essay at the website of the Daily Gazette of Taunton, Massachusetts.
Now director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University, Lee H. Hamilton was recently appointed co-chair of the Indiana Bicentennial Commission. On March 15, he returned to DePauw to deliver a Timothy and Sharon Ubben Lecture. A summary including video clips can be accessed here.