Lee Hamilton on Dumb Luck

Lee H. Hamilton is president and director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and director of The Center on Congress at Indiana University. Hamilton represented Indiana’s 9th congressional district for 34 years beginning January 1965. He served as chairman and ranking member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, chaired the Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East, the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the Select Committee to Investigate Covert Arms Transactions with Iran, the Joint Economic Committee, and the Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress. As a member of the House Standards of Official Conduct Committee Hamilton was a primary draftsman of several House ethics reforms.

Since leaving the House, Hamilton has served on several commissions including serving as Vice-Chair of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (the 9/11 Commission), co-chair of the Iraq Study Group, the National Commission on the War Powers of the President and the Congress, and the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States. He is currently a member of the FBI Director’s Advisory Board, the Defense Secretary’s National Security Study Group, and the US Department of Homeland Security Task Force on Preventing the Entry of Weapons of Mass Effect on American Soil.

  • Transcript


Well of course the big milestone was my first election to Congress. That’s a kind of an earth shattering event for me at the time, and I thought what a thrill it was. You know there’s a lot more luck in politics than most politicians will acknowledge. And I was a very lucky man. I’m a Democrat, and I happened to run in 1964, which was one of the strongest democratic years in that century. I’ve often said that any fool could get elected on the democratic ticket that year, and several did. But I was very, very fortunate because I . . . And lucky I ran in a year that was very beneficial to my party. I got elected. And because of really the advantages of the incumbency – and there are many – I was able to stay there. I went to Congress with no idea that I would be focusing on foreign affairs. I had an interest in getting on the agriculture committee and the public works committee – committees that I thought directly helped me in my constituency. I couldn’t get on, and one of the leaders came to me and said, “Well how would you like foreign affairs?” And I said, “Well I’ll try it for a year or two.” I tried it, I liked it, and I stayed there.

I didn’t seek these positions as the Vice Chair of the 9/11 Commission and Co-Chair on the Iraq Study Group. They came to me in a sense. And I don’t give myself any credit for it. I think any American approached to deal with those kinds of questions could not say no, and I accepted. And I didn’t have any grand idea of how it would turn out, but I felt that I was given an opportunity to try to help the country. I’ve always been interested in the direction and success of my country. In a strange sort of a way – this may sound odd – but I’m not really all that interested in politics. By that I mean I’m not interested in the nitty-gritty of getting elected. Precinct meetings, voter registration lists, public relations campaigns, spin and all of that. I put up with all that. I did it because you have to as an American politician; but my real interest has always been policy. And since I was in the Congress, I was able to engage in that. When I got out of the Congress, fortunately I was able to continue that interest.

Recorded on: 7/5/07