Lee Hamilton on Dumb Luck

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



Lee Hamilton was very lucky to have run for Congress as a Democrat in 1964.

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