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.
I see a lot of things in American life and American society that disturb me. We have a marvelous country, and we’ve been given a marvelous heritage, terrific resources, great opportunities. And I don’t know of anyone who lives here who wants to live in another country. And I know millions of people who live elsewhere who would like to come here. So you begin with gratitude, I think, for what you have. But you also have to recognize our shortcomings. We have a political system today that’s not working very well. Just defeated an immigration bill. We cannot figure out how to give healthcare to everybody in this country. We have an education system that is deficient in so many ways that constantly come to our attention. The infrastructure of the country is crumbling in many, many respects. The institutions are not working as well as we would like them to work. So I think the challenges are immense. Now I don’t look at all of this and conclude it’s hopeless, or I’m a pessimist or anything of the sort; but I do have a real sense of the challenge. And neither am I a starry-eyed optimist. You see a lot of people who portray a kind of false optimism that is not based on fact, really, and the problems that we confront. So I just like the traditional, hardheaded, pragmatic, old-fashioned approach of Americans who see their country and their community as it is, and they want to make it better.
Recorded on: 7/5/07