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Lee Hamilton: Are we doomed to polarization?

by PSA Staff | July 14th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Lee Hamilton: Are we doomed to polarization?

Lee Hamilton is director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. He is also Co-Chair of  PSA’s Board of Advisors. This article originally appeared in the Rock River Times.

We Americans are trapped in a political dilemma. We all like representative democracy, but we don’t much like the way it’s performing.

The reason for this dissatisfaction is clear. Polls in recent years detail a polarized nation, divided both ideologically and politically. This is, as the Pew Research Center put it recently, “a defining feature of politics today.” In the public’s eye, Washington gets most of the blame for this.

Yet, Congress and the political world around it reflect the rest of the country more than we’d like to believe. Our nation is divided ideologically. It’s also segregated politically, with many Americans preferring to associate with and live near people who share their views; gerrymandered districts and closed primaries intensify the effect. Our media are more partisan than they used to be. Interest groups — many of them funded by ordinary Americans who want their voices magnified — are more engaged than they were a generation ago. And though we deplore negative politics, we respond to it and even encourage our favorite partisans to engage in it.

Anyone who becomes president today does so with nearly half the country opposed to him the day he takes office. Moreover, we face a long list of issues where decisive action may be impossible: abortion, gun control, climate change, a host of budgetary and economic problems, the death penalty, tax reform, immigration, drug laws. These issues don’t just divide Congress; they divide the nation, with no clear path forward.

Our admired political system, in other words, is not working well. In Pew’s survey, the extremes make up just more than a third of the American public, but because they’re disproportionately active, they drive our politics. The larger, more diverse center can’t agree on a direction for the country, but its members are united by their distaste for the tone of politics and the unwillingness of politicians to compromise and break the stalemate. We are not getting the politics we want.

So, how do we resolve our dilemma?

Many procedural steps can ease the gridlock on Capitol Hill. Among them, the House and Senate could schedule themselves so they’re in session at the same time. Congressional leaders and the president ought to meet at least once a month. Congress needs to work the same five-day week the rest of us do, and reduce its centralized leadership by empowering committees. Open primaries would help moderate the nation’s politics, as would bipartisan redistricting commissions capable of doing away with gerrymandered districts. Increasing voter participation and improving the integrity of our elections would also help. Limiting the Senate filibuster and allowing minority parties in both chambers more of an opportunity to offer amendments, would open up debate and forestall endless stalemates.

But resolving our dilemma is unlikely to happen quickly. It’s hard to see either side in this partisan divide winning or losing decisively in the elections immediately ahead. Even if one party wins both houses in Congress, it’s not easy to move when the White House is in the control of another party. With the need for 60 votes in the Senate, the minority party can always find ways to slow things down.

Still, it’s worth remembering that American politics is dynamic, not static. Change occurs, sometimes quickly, but more often slowly. We won’t forever be this evenly divided, because public opinion will eventually evolve and the system will respond.

Which raises my final point. Even when our frustration with division and discord spills over into impatience with the system itself, our obligations as American citizens remain the same. We face complex problems that don’t have simple solutions. They demand a willingness to exercise the values of representative democracy: tolerance, mutual respect, accepting ideological differences, working to build consensus.

Our core values accept that the differences in opinions among us will continue, but also compel us to find a way through them so the country can move forward. By accepting the challenges that come with living in a representative democracy and renewing our confidence in it, we can lay the groundwork for change. In the end, we created our political dilemma and are responsible for working our way through it.

Lee Hamilton: What our country needs from the press

by PSA Staff | June 13th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Lee Hamilton is director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. Lee Hamilton is also the Co-Chair of PSA’s Board of Advisors. This article originally appeared in the Record Times.

Lee Hamilton: What our country needs from the press

These days, the scandal involving long wait times at VA hospitals can feel like some made-in-Washington spectacle generated by politicians looking for headlines. But it isn’t. It had its genesis in a late-April report on CNN that as many as 40 veterans may have died waiting for appointments at VA hospitals in Phoenix.

This investigative piece was notable for two reasons. It’s been a while since a news story so quickly provoked such a storm of public indignation that a cabinet secretary — deservedly or not — had no choice but to resign. And it’s a reminder of just how important old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting remains to our system of government, especially when it uncovers official misdoing. (more…)

Albright: D-Day about national service

by PSA Staff | June 11th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Madeleine Albright served as secretary of State in the Clinton administration. She is chair of the Albright Stonebridge Group and a member of the Leadership Council of the Franklin Project. This post is originally from sheboyganpress.com Madeleine Albright is also a member of PSA’s Advisory Board.

Albright: D-Day about national service

Like many Americans of a certain age, I have always felt a direct connection to the events of D-Day, 70 years ago Friday. I was 7 years old, living in London, when the liberation of Europe – and eventually the liberation of my parents’ home – began in the early morning of June 6, 1944. My family had fled from Czechoslovakia following the Munich Agreement, which legitimized Adolf Hitler’s dismemberment of a neighboring nation and became a symbol of the West’s impotence and division.

D-Day was the opposite historical pole to Munich. It was not only the decisive battle in a great war, it also was the demonstration that a great alliance, led by America, could achieve unprecedented strategic, technical and moral purposes. The first wave of Operation Overlord carried150,000 men and 1,500 tanks to the French coast, essentially transporting a small city across the English Channel through a hail of artillery and machine gun fire. This achievement set the tone for a generation, in which the task of saving the world became a normal, expected part of Americans’ calling.

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Lee Hamilton: Why I still have faith in Congress

by PSA Staff | June 11th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Lee Hamilton is director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. Lee Hamilton is also the Co-Chair of PSA’s Board of Advisors. This article originally appeared in the Rock River Times

Lee Hamilton: Why I still have faith in Congress

It’s depressing to read poll after poll highlighting Americans’ utter disdain for Congress. But it’s my encounters with ordinary citizens at public meetings or in casual conversation that really bring me up short. In angry diatribes or in resigned comments, people make clear their dwindling confidence in both politicians and the institution itself.

With all Congress’s imperfections — its partisanship, brinksmanship and exasperating inability to legislate — it’s not hard to understand this loss of faith. Yet, as people vent their frustration, I hear something else as well. It is a search for hope. They ask, almost desperately sometimes, about grounds for renewed hope in our system. Here’s why I’m confident we can do better.

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After Ukraine, Obama Keeps an Eye on the Baltics

by PSA Staff | June 11th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Tara Sonenshine is distinguished fellow at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs and former under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs. She is also a former member of PSA’s Board of Directors. This article originally appeared in Defense One.

After Ukraine, Obama Keeps an Eye on the Baltics

In the wake of the Ukraine election, all eyes are on Russia and President Vladimir Putin for signs of a full withdrawal of Russian troops along the Ukrainian border or an escalation of tensions in and around Kiev.

But there is another related hotspot to be watching:  the Baltics. While political analysts are busy imagining a new Ukraine with quasi-independent states or neutral, federated regions and political power-sharing arrangements, the Obama administration is rightly considering beefing up its military presence in Europe, perhaps going so far as granting a Baltic request for permanent NATO military bases. Having been somewhat blindsided by Ukraine, neither this administration nor European leaders want to take any chances.

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Lee Hamilton on Congress: The poisonous power of money in politics

by PSA Staff | May 14th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Lee Hamilton served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. He is currently a member of PSA’s Advisory Board and is the director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. This article was originally published on Glen Rose Current

The poisonous power of money in politics

Many trends in American politics and government today make me worry about the health of our representative democracy. These include the decline of Congress as a powerful, coequal branch of government, the accumulation of power in the presidency and the impact of money on the overall political process.

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I Spy, You Spy: Limiting Government Surveillance of Private Citizens

by PSA Staff | May 9th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Morton Halperin is a former member of PSA’s Board of Directors and is currently a senior adviser at the Open Society Institute. This article was originally published on Huffington Post Blog .

I Spy, You Spy: Limiting Government Surveillance of Private Citizens

During their visit last week, U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel did not succeed in resolving their disagreement about American spying on German officials and private citizens.

It appears that Germany still wants a “no spy” agreement with the United States, meaning that the two countries would cease and desist from spying on each other’s government officials and citizens.

But such an agreement was never a real possibility. No two nations have ever had a total ban on spying on each other. All governments seek to read the diplomatic traffic of all other governments, friend or foe. And all spy in some circumstances on residents of other countries as well as their own citizens.

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A Truly Strong Foreign Policy

by PSA Staff | May 9th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Gary Hart served as US Senator of Colorado from 1975-1987 and is currently a member of PSA’s Advisory Board. This article was originally published in the Huffington Post

A Truly Strong Foreign Policy

The weekend media featured an uncommon amount of navel gazing about foreign policy. Except the navel being gazed at belonged to Barack Obama. To the degree that pundits ever agree, they seemed to agree that the Obama foreign policy was “weak.” Predictably, there was little if any agreement as to what “strong” would look like.

Much of this desire for “strength” reflects a longing for the relative clarity of the Cold War: Democracy versus Communism; West versus East; NATO versus Warsaw Pact; our military versus their military. An all-out arms race was supportable because our economy was growing throughout most of this period (1947-1991).

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Russia Violates International Law & Complicates International Priorities

by PSA Staff | April 29th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Gregory Gleichauf is a foreign affairs intern at Partnership for a Secure America. He currently attends James Madison University.

Russia Violates International Law & Complicates International Priorities

“I was in the middle of a phone call—I won’t tell you with whom—but with a prime minister from a country somewhere, and in the middle of it, I swear to God, the phone call got dropped twice while we were talking, so we had to reconnect and that’s why I’m late and that’s modern communications, I guess.” Even before he had gotten to the substance of his presentation, Secretary of State John Kerry had hinted at an underlying theme. On March 18, the Dean Acheson Auditorium of the U.S. State Department was filled with college students who had gathered to hear Secretary Kerry’s presentation entitled ‘Making Foreign Policy Less Foreign’ where he addressed some of the major issues facing American foreign policy today. The Secretary showed that even though the world has become more interconnected through globalizing forces, there are still countries that operate as he described as “on the wrong side of history.”

Innovations during the past century and into today have toppled barriers that inhibited greater international cooperation and connectivity among countries with mutual interests. Technology now allows for a Philadelphia corporation to talk with a partner in London in real time. With transportation advancements, a plane can leave Miami and land in Madrid just hours later. With these and other major developments, doors have opened to allow a greater and more rapid flow of culture, ideas, information and commerce that help bring the world closer together. With this increased cooperation and interdependence, enforcement of international law became a necessity to govern the workings of the world.

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The unfinished business of foreign aid reform

by PSA Staff | April 28th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Lugar served as senator from Indiana from 1977 to 2013, and was twice chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and twice chairman of the Agriculture Committee. He currently runs TheLugarCenter.org.  Berman represented congressional districts in California’s San Fernando Valley from 1983 to 2013 and served as chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. He is currently a senior adviser at Covington & Burling. Kolbe represented Arizona congressional districts from 1985 to 2007, and is a senior Transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund and senior adviser at McLarty Associates.  The three serve as honorary co-chairs of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network. This article was originally published in The Hill

The unfinished business of foreign aid reform

In 2008 a group of foreign policy luminaries issued a proposal to promote a “fresh, smart approach to U.S. foreign policy and engagement in the world.”  As the name of their new coalition implied, the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) sought to reform a foreign aid system that was badly outdated and poorly equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century.  MFAN offered a set of core principles and priority actions for making foreign assistance more effective, more efficient, and better at serving our national interests.  Their ideas inspired each of us to engage in foreign aid reform from our individual leadership positions within and outside of Congress.

Over the intervening six years, notable progress has been made.  Both the President’s Policy Directive on Global Development and the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review sought to elevate the role of global development in our foreign policy, and to adopt a more evidence-based and results-oriented approach to aid.

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All blog posts are independently produced by their authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of PSA. Across the Aisle serves as a bipartisan forum for productive discussion of national security and foreign affairs topics.