Voters to Choose Between "Two Very Different Approaches to Wielding Power": Lee Hamilton '52

Voters to Choose Between "Two Very Different Approaches to Wielding Power": Lee Hamilton '52

June 18, 2012

Lee Hamilton 010sv"Political campaigns are not just about who will govern, but also about the candidates' vision and how they plan to achieve it," writes Lee Hamilton, veteran statesman and 1952 graduate of DePauw University, in a newspaper op-ed. Noting the chasm that exists between Republicans and Democrats in Washington, Hamilton, who served 34 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, notes, "This is not the first time in our history that two very different approaches to wielding power were on offer."

The first of those approaches, according to the Democrat, "has characterized most of our nation's history: a willingness to engage in robust debate over competing ideas, work across ideological divides, negotiate differences, seek consensus, and above all find a way to strike a deal and move forward. Its emphasis is on problem-solving and finding workable solutions to the great problems that confront our nation. Its Lee Hamilton Ubben 2011 1motivating philosophy is that politicians' ultimate responsibility is to make the country work -- not merely to satisfy their own, partisan beliefs. It is what has made possible most of the great pieces of legislation that have shaped this nation -- everything from rural electrification to federal highways."

According to Hamilton, "In recent months, the U.S. Senate has moved toward this approach, voting to overhaul the U.S. Postal Service, fund transportation programs, confirm judges and in other ways try to make government work."

He continues, "The other approach has been on view more often than not in the House, and was prominent in the Indiana Republican primary that recently ended in the defeat of Sen. Richard Lugar. It holds that in order to achieve policy goals it's crucial to purify the party, purge it of moderates, and work hard to reach overwhelming, possibly even permanent, political victory. It rests on a belief that the political philosophies at large in the country right now are irreconcilable, and that reaching a compromise in the interest of moving legislation is impossible without betraying core principles. In this view, Washington does not Lee Hamilton Basketball DePauwneed more collegiality, it needs less. It does not need cooperation, but confrontation. It needs purists who will stick to their fundamental beliefs, do their best to keep winning elections, and ultimately control the White House, the House and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate."

Hamilton points out, "This is not an irrational or illegitimate approach to governing. There are plenty of politicians of both major parties who have, at one time or another, advocated this approach. But there's a practical problem with it: It is very hard to make work. The kinds of majorities that make ideologically pure legislating possible don't come along very often —- and when they do, they don't tend to last very long ... Moreover, our system is designed to make it difficult for majorities to have their way. That's what the separation of powers is about, and the pivotal notion of 'checks and balances.' "

In conclusion, Hamilton writes, "in the upcoming election these two approaches —- negotiation and flexibility vs. unyielding dedication to an ideology -- will both be part of the package of issues that voters must weigh ... Their answers will make a difference in how we as a nation tackle the challenges that confront us. So as campaign season truly gets under way and the candidates who would represent you start showing up to ask for your vote, don't let them off the hook: Ask them not just what they want to accomplish, but how they'll go about it."

Read the complete essay at the website of California's Santa Monica Daily Press.

A history major and basketball standout at DePauw, Lee Hamilton co-chaired the 9/11 Commission and Iraq Study Group and is director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. 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.