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Lee Hamilton '52 Writes of "Presidential Accountability Problem"

Lee Hamilton '52 Writes of "Presidential Accountability Problem"

October 30, 2019

"We have a presidential accountability problem that has significantly worsened over the years," writes Lee H. Hamilton in a newspaper op-ed. The veteran statesman and 1952 DePauw University graduate argues, "We’re losing -- or maybe we’ve already lost -- the ability to call presidents to account on a regular basis for their actions, their conduct and the way they fulfill the responsibilities of office."

Hamilton elaborates, "What I’m talking about is a way for knowledgeable people to step beyond the White House’s control of presidential appearances, ask tough questions, and get real answers so that the American people can judge the president’s actions and reasoning. Instead, these days presidents appear only in highly structured circumstances, avoid specificity and candor, and sidestep detailed discussion of the issues and policies they’re pursuing."

The Democrat who served 34 years in the U.S. House of Representatives recalls, "It didn’t used to be this way. When Franklin Roosevelt was president, he would call the Washington press corps into the Oval Office and hold extended conversations. Reporters could ask anything they wanted; Roosevelt of course used them for his own purposes, but the press corps had plenty of opportunities to hold his feet to the fire. When more formal press conferences took hold, they were frequent and generally free-wheeling affairs. Americans learned a great deal both about the men who inhabited the Oval Office and their thinking. Over time, however, press conferences became infrequent, stage-managed performances. All of us remember Ronald Reagan walking by a group of reporters, holding his hand up to his ear and answering only the questions he wanted while claiming he couldn’t hear the rest. President Barack Obama held only a handful of formal gatherings with the press each year. Mr. Trump holds almost no solo press conferences."

Hamilton notes, "True, when Congress is working properly it can hold presidents and their administrations accountable through hearings, probes and formal investigations. These are vital, but they don’t offer a regular window into what’s going on, and they don’t have the president him- or herself answering questions before the American public. Simply put, that’s what we should be doing: On a regular basis, presidents should have to answer questions about their thinking and their policies, put to them by people who know enough to dig deep. In a representative democracy, that’s how we citizens can judge whether our chief elected leader is representing us and living up to his or her responsibilities."

Access the complete essay at the website of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

A history major and Rector Scholar at DePauw, Lee Hamilton remains a prominent voice in American politics. He is currently senior advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a Distinguished Scholar at the IU Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies; and a Professor of Practice at the IU O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs.

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.  The longtime congressman spoke to graduates at his alma mater in 1971 and 1998.

In May, he was back on campus for a program marking the 100th anniversary of the Rector Scholar program. Video of the presentation is below.