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Articles written by Lee H. Hamilton


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  • Matter of Motives

    Lee H. Hamilton|May 6, 2021

    One of the aspects of life that is sometimes tricky to discern and weigh is one’s motives. I do not always question my motives; however, it is helpful to do so pretty often. With just about every act we could pause and ask a few related questions… Why am I about to do this? What was the reason I said that? Why am I thinking what I am thinking right now? What is the reason I want to buy this? Why am I eating or drinking this at the moment? Give it a try. Why are you reading this column? It...

  • The Faith We Place in Our Elections

    LEE H. HAMILTON|Sep 17, 2020

    I’ve lost track of the times over the years I’ve heard a politician say, “This is the most important election of my lifetime.” In fact, I’ve said it myself. I’m sure we all believed it at the time, but in my case, at least, I know I was wrong in the past. Because this year’s election is the most important of my lifetime. Elections are the crown jewel of a representative democracy. We do at least three things when we vote: we vote for our preferred candidates; we vote to direct policy; and we place our stamp of approval on the...

  • How Do We Keep Our Democracy Healthy?

    Lee H. Hamilton|Dec 19, 2019

    Representative democracy is based on a simple premise. It’s that ordinary citizens can make satisfactory judgments on complex public policy and political issues – or at least grasp them well enough to decide who should be dealing with them. But the significance of that premise isn’t simple at all. It means that our country’s future depends on the quality of democratic participation by its citizens. Collectively, we have to make discriminating judgments about politicians, policies, and issues. Not just once, but repeatedly and...

  • Why Trust Matters

    Lee H. Hamilton|Dec 12, 2019

    To me, it was a thunderclap. Years ago, when I was in Congress, we were in the midst of a tense, contentious debate. Members had gotten irritated, levying charges back and forth, and tempers were rising. It was starting to look like we might just go off the rails. Then one member stood up, asked for our attention, and said to us, “Let’s remember: trust is the coin of the realm.” His statement at that moment hit me broadside: If we were to have any hope of progress, we had to have some faith in one another — even our opponents....

  • Other Voices

    Lee H. Hamilton|Jul 11, 2019

    By LEE H. HAMILTON A few months ago, the federal debt we have accumulated over the past decades crossed the $22 trillion mark. That’s a record. And it’s surely not going to be the last. According to Congressional Budget Office estimates, annual federal deficits over the next decade – the deficit is the annual figure for how much more Congress and the president opt to spend than the government takes in as revenue – are expected to average $1.2 trillion. Overall, the debt held by the public amounts to about 78 percent of our gross...

  • Other Voices

    Lee H. Hamilton|Jun 20, 2019

    You may not be ready for next year’s elections, but in political time, they’re coming up fast. Even politicians who aren’t running for president are crafting their stump speeches. Which means that at some point you’re almost certain to hear someone announce, sternly, “I. Will. Not. Compromise.” And if you’re there in the crowd and agree with his or her position, you may even join the applause. Which is understandable, but let me tell you why, far from applauding that line, I shy from politicians who use it. In a democracy, being a...

  • Other Voices – What Would Make Congress Better?

    Lee H. Hamilton|May 9, 2019

    A couple of weeks ago I was speaking to a group of students and decided to start with a point-blank question: Is Congress doing a good job? There were perhaps 100 people in the room, and not a single one raised his or her hand. So I asked the question a different way: Is Congress nearly or completely dysfunctional? Most hands went up. These were not experts, of course. But they weren’t wrong, either. Things aren’t working well on Capitol Hill. I can tick off the problems, and so can you. Congress doesn’t follow good process. It’s too po...

  • Other Voices

    Lee H. Hamilton|Mar 28, 2019

    As various U.S. House committees gear up for a season of investigations and hearings on President Donald Trump and his administration, a lot of people are worried that progress on the nation’s challenges will grind to a halt. I would argue just the opposite: the wheels of government are turning in favor of accountability. Our system rests squarely on the notion that government officials – whether elected or appointed – need to be accountable to the people they govern. They are responsible for their behavior, their decisions, and the...

  • Practicing Politics at a High Level

    Lee H. Hamilton|Jan 24, 2019

    Over a lifetime in politics, I’ve met a lot of interesting, impressive politicians. But those I truly admired were men and women who were adept at the arts both of politics and legislating – a rarer combination of talents than you’d hope for in our representative democracy. They’re a reminder these days of what consummate skill looks like. For instance, Wilbur Mills, a Democrat from Arkansas who chaired the House Ways and Means Committee, was a master of legislative detail. When he brought changes to the tax law to the floor, members...

  • The Political Landscape Ahead

    Lee H. Hamilton|Jan 3, 2019

    By LEE H. HAMILTON In the days following George H. W. Bush’s death, it was impossible to ignore the yearning for the civility, dignity and inclusiveness that the former president represented. It was a form of bipartisan nostalgia for a time when the nation seemed to work. As we head toward 2019, it’s equally hard to ignore the ground this yearning sprang from: a deep-seated doubt that the system can work, and great worry that our democratic institutions are failing. A lot of trends feed this. There’s the intensifying partisan divide,...

  • Among My Biggest Disappointments

    Lee H. Hamilton|Dec 13, 2018

    The other day, a friend asked what surprised me most about politics. This may seem strange, but I’d never really thought about the question. My response was off-the-cuff but heartfelt. The biggest surprise is also among my biggest disappointments with American political life: the ongoing effort by politicians to suppress votes. Yes it’s gone on for years. And in some respects, limiting the vote has been a feature of American politics since the beginning, when only white men with property could cast ballots. But when I began in politics, I a...