Politics, While Often Not Pretty, are Essential: Lee Hamilton '52

Politics, While Often Not Pretty, are Essential: Lee Hamilton '52

June 6, 2017

"I’ve had a number of conversations recently that convince me our country is divided into two political camps separated by a deep and uncomfortably wide gap," writes Lee H. Hamilton, veteran statesman and 1952 DePauw University, in a newspaper column. "No, I’m not talking about liberals and conservatives, or pro- and anti-Trump voters. I’m talking about people who believe in politics and our political system, and people who don’t."

Hamilton continues, "I’ve found this latter view expressed most frequently among young people. In lecture halls and in informal conversations, I’ve spent some uncomfortable hours serving as a human pincushion for their pointed barbs about the system they’ve grown up in."

The Democrat who served 34 years in the U.S. House of Representatives says the discouragement and pessimism about politics "as a worthy pursuit or even as an honorable vocation" is widespread.

"They have a point. There are many reasons for disappointment in our groaning system, and the descriptions they give have much merit. Yet I still consider politics a worthy profession. It can be pursued in a manner that deserves respect, even admiration. I’ve known a lot of good people in politics, men and women who are in it for all the right reasons, take pride in pursuing a political career, and embrace it as the best route available for solving our common problems." (at left: President Ronald Reagan and Lee Hamilton share a laugh)

Hamilton notes, "Politics is rarely a struggle between good and evil; it’s how we Americans try to make the country work better. It’s our opportunity to help our neighbors, to give us better schools and hospitals and highways, to make our communities safer and more orderly. It’s a means of resolving our differences through dialogue and compromise, rather than through ideological battle or pitched warfare.

"So I find myself wondering how those of my persuasion might win these young people over. Discourse matters, obviously. Tolerance of others’ views does, too. And I consider the 240 years of our history, despite all the obvious blemishes, to make a pretty good case for the political system’s accomplishments."

Hsmilton, a senior adviser for Indiana Univeristy's Center on Representative Government and professor of practice with the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, states, "We live in a complicated country and there are a lot of disappointments inherent in trying to make change. But it’s the only way we’ve got." He concludes, "Those of us who believe in the system must shoulder the burden of persuasion -- and I’m worried about what happens if we don’t meet it. If we lose the argument and the next generation turns away, we face dangers and risks -- chaos, authoritarianism -- that are far worse than what we face now."

You'll find the complete essay at the website of Indiana's Kokomo Tribune.

Lee Hamilton was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015. He was inducted into the Capital One Academic All-America® Hall of Fame and has also received the Churchill Award for Statesmanship, the Eisenhower Medal for exceptional leadership, the Distinguished Service Award from the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress, and the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute Freedom From Fear Award, among many other honors. He's also a member of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame and DePauw's Athletic Hall of Fame.LGL 2988

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."  The Chicago Tribune's Mike Dorning declared, "In an era of politics dominated by partisan warriors, Hamilton commands respect across party lines. And at a time when retiring members of Congress routinely rush out the door to lobbying firms where they can sell their influence to the highest bidder, he passed up the chance for big money and retains unquestioned independence."

A history major and basketball standout at DePauw, Congressman Hamilton has been a frequent visitor to his alma mater over the years.  He delivered an Ubben Lecture on March 15, 2011 as well as his alma mater's commencement addresses in 1971 and 1998.

Source: Kokomo (Ind.) Tribune