Button Menu

Lee Hamilton '52: "Ideological Divisions are Fundamentally a Sign of the Vitality of Our Politics"

Lee Hamilton '52: "Ideological Divisions are Fundamentally a Sign of the Vitality of Our Politics"

March 11, 2019

"One of the more striking political developments of the last few years has been the partisan sorting of American voters," writes veteran statesman Lee H. Hamilton in a newspaper column. "It used to be that both the Republican and Democratic parties covered some ideological ground. Now, it’s so habitual for conservatives to make their home in the GOP and liberals in the Democratic Party that party and ideological labels stand in for one another. Still, you have to be careful. Because when you’re talking about something as complex as Americans’ political beliefs, there’s really no such thing as uniformity."

A Democrat who served 34 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, Hamilton is a 1952 graduate of DePauw University.  He sees the potential for common ground on issues such as the role of government.

"You hear a good number of conservatives open to government assistance and government involvement in social and economic issues," he writes. "I’ve been surprised by the number of times I’ve run into conservatives who support particular government programs, and liberals who take a libertarian view on some question or another."

Hamilton continues, "Over and over, I’m reminded that learning a voter’s views on a given issue may tell you next to nothing about his or her views on others, or could actually mislead you. It’s pretty common these days to bemoan the ideological divisions evident in our politics, especially when the differences are weaponized for partisan purposes. But I’d argue that far from being debilitating, ideological divisions are fundamentally a sign of the vitality of our politics. The political debate they give rise to is a sign of the vigor of the political system."

He concludes, "Sure, trying to deal with deep-seated differences is extremely difficult for a politician. But it’s also part of the attraction and the challenge of politics. And if you see voters as the complex opinion holders they really are, common ground may not be as impossible to find as it can seem at first glance."

Access the complete essay at the website of the Daily News of Newburyport, Massachusetts.

A history major, Rector Scholar and basketball standout at DePauw, Lee H. Hamilton is now is a senior adviser for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a distinguished scholar of the IU Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies; and a Professor of Practice, IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs. Since retiring from the U.S. House of Representatives he has remained a prominent voice in American politics. 

A leading figure on foreign policy, intelligence, and national security, he has received many honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015. Hamilton is a member of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame and DePauw's Athletic Hall of Fame

Hamilton presented an Ubben Lecture at DePauw in 2011 and has received the University's McNaughton Medal for Public Service as well as an honorary doctorate from DePauw.  Hamilton spoke to graduates at his alma mater in 1971 and 1998.

On February 15, 2018, Hamilton and former U.S. Senator Richard Lugar took part in a discussion at DePauw, "Can We Talk?: Restoring Civility in Public and Political Discourse in the U.S. and Abroad."