Lee Hamilton: Democracy needs people who’ll run

by PSA Staff | June 15th, 2015 | |Subscribe

Former Congressman Lee Hamilton (D-IN) is a member of PSA’s Advisory Board and director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. This article originally appeared on Omaha.com.

Democracy needs people who’ll run

I spend a fair amount of time talking to students and other young people about Congress and politics in general, and I’ve noticed something. It used to be that I’d regularly get asked how one runs for office. Nowadays, I rarely do.

This is a young generation that is famously leery of politics. Every year, the Harvard Institute of Politics surveys young Americans about their attitudes. In their most recent survey, only 21 percent of respondents considered themselves politically engaged. Last year, only a third counted running for office “an honorable thing to do” — compared with 70 percent who considered community service honorable.

A lot of young people are repelled by politics; they’ve lost faith in the system just as many other Americans have. And I fully understand that elected office is not for everybody. You can make wonderful contributions to our communities and to our society as a whole without holding office.

But look. If you don’t have people who are willing to run for office, you don’t have a representative democracy. As the leading edge of the millennial generation reaches the age where running for office is a realistic possibility, I hope they’ll consider a few things.

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Lee Hamilton: Congress is wrong to be shrinking from its war powers

by PSA Staff | June 1st, 2015 | |Subscribe

Former Congressman Lee Hamilton (D-IN) is a member of the PSA Board of Advisors and director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. This article originally appeared on Omaha.com.

Congress is wrong to be shrinking from its war powers

A few weeks ago, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia made a small splash in the press when he took Congress to task for failing to authorize our nation’s ongoing war against Islamic militants.

“The silence of Congress in the midst of this war is cowardly and shameful,” he said. “[T]his Congress, the very body that is so quick to argue against President Obama’s use of executive power … allows an executive war to go on undeclared, unapproved, undefined and unchecked.”

Those were strong words, meant to spur Congress to action. Yet after a day or two, they sank without a trace. No one in the media picked up the call. No one in a position to influence the Senate or the House made a move to advance a congressional war authorization.

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Advice to new grads from four PSA Advisory Board members

by Audrey Williams | May 21st, 2015 | |Subscribe

 

mortarboard pic

(Image credit: Jason Bache/Flickr)

It’s graduation season, and PSA Advisory Board members Nancy Kassebaum Baker, Madeleine Albright, and Thomas Pickering have all had the opportunity to speak to new graduates across the country over the past few weeks. It doesn’t matter if you’re a new grad or not – we can all learn something from their advice. (more…)

Money and Politics: We Need Change Now

by PSA Staff | April 29th, 2015 | |Subscribe

Lee Hamilton is director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University and current Advisory Board Co-Chair to the Partnership for a Secure America. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. The article originally appeared in Surfsky News.

Money and Politics: We Need Change Now

I’ve seen a lot over my decades in politics, and not much alarms me. But I have to be blunt: Money is poisoning our political system.

The people who matter most to a representative democracy – the ordinary voters in whose interests elected politicians are supposed to act – feel as though they’ve become an afterthought in the political process. The tidal wave of money washing over our elections, with no end in sight, is causing Americans to lose faith in the system. In that way, the course we’re on threatens the core values and principles that define us as a nation.

Oddly, many politicians see no problem – except perhaps the inconvenient need to spend a significant portion of every day dialing for dollars. They don’t, however, believe this is corrupting. They don’t believe they’re selling their votes, or even that money influences their behavior.

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Lee Hamilton: For the media, traditional values still matter most

by PSA Staff | April 17th, 2015 | |Subscribe

Lee Hamilton is director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University and current Advisory Board Co-Chair to the Partnership for a Secure America. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. The article originally appeared in Kokomo Tribune.

Lee Hamilton: For the media, traditional values still matter most

I have been involved in politics and policymaking for more than 50 years, and as you can imagine I hold strong feelings about reporters and the media. They’re not what you might think, however.
Far from considering journalists to be irritating pains in the neck — though I’ve known a few who qualified — I believe them to be indispensable to our democracy. Our system rests on citizens’ ability to make discriminating judgments about policies and politicians. Without the news, information and analysis that the media provides, this would be impossible. (more…)

It’s your country — join the fray

by PSA Staff | March 11th, 2015 | |Subscribe

Lee Hamilton is an Advisory Board member for the PSA and director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a Democratic member of the House of Representatives for 34 years. Article originally appeared in Press of Atlantic City.

It’s your country –join the fray

The question usually comes toward the end of a public meeting. Some knotty problem is being discussed, and someone in the audience will raise his or her hand and ask, “OK, so what can I do about it?”

I love that question. Not because I’ve ever answered it to my satisfaction, but because it bespeaks such a constructive outlook. Democracy is no spectator sport, and citizens are not passive consumers. I’m always invigorated by running into people who understand this. But that doesn’t make answering the question any easier.

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Lee Hamilton: Learning to be a citizen

by PSA Staff | March 5th, 2015 | |Subscribe

Lee Hamilton is director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University and current Advisory Board Co-Chair to the Partnership for a Secure America. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. The article originally appeared in Battle Creek Enquirer.

Lee Hamilton: Learning to be a citizen

The question usually comes toward the end of a public meeting. Some knotty problem is being discussed, and someone in the audience will raise his or her hand and ask, “Okay, so what can I do about it?”

I love that question. Not because I’ve ever answered it to my satisfaction, but because it bespeaks such a constructive outlook. Democracy is no spectator sport and citizens are not passive consumers. I’m always invigorated by running into people who understand this. But that doesn’t make answering the question any easier. (more…)

Lee Hamilton: What lies ahead

by PSA Staff | March 3rd, 2015 | |Subscribe

Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University and current Advisory Board member to the Partnership for a Secure America. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. Original article appeared in the Rockford Advocate.

Lee Hamilton: What lies ahead

Given all the words and images devoted to the midterm elections over the past few weeks, you’d think the results had told us something vital about the future of the country. In reality, they were just a curtain-raiser. It’s the next few weeks and months that really matter.

The big question, as the old Congress reconvenes and prepares to make way for next year’s version, is whether the two parties will work more closely together to move the country forward or instead lapse back into confrontation and deadlock. I suspect the answer will be a mix: modest progress on a few issues, but no major reforms.

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Welcome to the Money Primary

by PSA Staff | February 18th, 2015 | |Subscribe

Gary Hart is a former US Senator and current Advisory Board member for the Partnership for a Secure America. The article originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Welcome to the Money Primary

The first presidential primary is underway, not simply because the political press cannot wait but because he or she who signs up the most megabucks wins that primary and is well on the way to a nomination. Step right up and participate–that is if you can write a very large check.

This is the saddest commentary on the state of American “democracy” a concerned citizen can think of. Campaigns cost money, a lot of money. Somewhere between 75% and 90% of that money goes to media advertising, even as media commentators (whose salaries it pays) deplore how mercantile campaigns have become. What’s left over goes to compensate increasingly highly paid “strategists”, consultants, media advisors, time buyers, professional organizers, and so forth.

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Lee Hamilton: Lobbyists the New Fourth Branch of Government

by PSA Staff | November 19th, 2014 | |Subscribe

PSA Board of Directors Member and current director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University, Lee Hamilton, discusses the influence of lobbying groups in American politics. The Rock River Times Op-Ed

The Power of Lobbyists 

Because of its power to influence public affairs, the press has long been known as “the Fourth Estate.” But I think the media may have been displaced. These days, it’s lobbyists who seem to carry the most clout in Washington.

Here’s a case in point. When Congress closed at the beginning of August for its end-of-summer recess, it faced wide-scale derision for having accomplished next to nothing during the year. In fact, the Pew Center ranked the session as the least productive in two decades.

But it wasn’t entirely unproductive. Just before they left town, members of Congress did manage to get three things done: they passed a Veterans Administration reform package; they increased aid to Israel; and they kept highway construction projects around the country from losing funding.

Why did these three measures find success when so many others did not? There’s a two-word answer: powerful lobbyists. Veterans, supporters of Israel, and the combined weight of highway construction interests and state and local governments are among the most influential forces in Washington.

Last year, some 12,000 active lobbyists spent $3.24 billion on trying to influence the federal government, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. I don’t know of any other country where lobbyists have those kinds of numbers, spend that kind of money, or get the kinds of results they’re able to achieve here — in Congress, in the executive branch and, increasingly, in statehouses around the country.

But even among all those lobbyists, some stand out for their effectiveness. The National Rifle Association (NRA), the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), veterans’ groups, the AARP: all are very good at obtaining laws and policies in their interests and blocking laws and policies they consider harmful.

I don’t mean by this that they’re all-powerful. They don’t win every battle. But they do win most of them.

How do they do this? To start, lawmakers have to get elected. Good lobbyists don’t just provide large amounts of money for campaigns, they provide early money and expert help. They donate, they introduce you to other donors, and they help you establish connections that can help during your campaign and later on. Early money in politics is better than late money. Candidates remember that sort of thing. They also remember that if you oppose these organizations’ views, they’ll come at you hard.

Good lobbyists and their organizations also provide information in easily digestible form. They’ll assign particular staffers to develop relationships with members of Congress — people who can write a speech or testimony or legislative language quickly. They and their colleagues are sophisticated observers of public affairs who know whether, when, and how to approach government policy makers, along with the particular policy maker who can help them best.

They are deeply knowledgeable about the process of government and have a wide network of friends on Capitol Hill, in the agencies, and in members’ districts — often, their most effective voices aren’t Washington lobbyists, but the grassroots networks they’ve built back home. They understand that at heart, lobbying is about establishing relationships long before any particular issue affecting them comes up, so that when they go to talk about a bill, they’re going in to see a friend.

They build relationships in several ways. There are all kinds of approaches to members — the annual policy conferences to which members of Congress flock, the sponsored trips and meetings in out-of-the-way resorts where a lobbyist can get a few days of a member’s undivided attention. But the best lobbyists are also friendly, approachable people who know how to talk to members and policy-makers of both parties.

The best lobbying groups also have a lot of money and resources not just to woo policy makers, but to shape public discourse. They make good information available to their advocates, and make sure that the advocates who speak for them on television, online, and in newspapers are well informed. They know that part of the battle is to shape public dialogue.

The best lobbyists are masters at making the system work for them. My guess is that their influence over policy surpasses the media’s clout, and they have now become the fourth branch of government.

Lee Hamilton was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

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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.