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Articles written by Lee H Hamilton

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  • The U.S. has no choice but to lead

    Lee H Hamilton|Jul 15, 2020

    The United States is the most powerful country in the world. By any measure, we are preeminent. We have challenges and vulnerabilities, and we are not as dominant as we once were, but no one else comes close to America’s military, economic and political might. Whether we like it or not, we cannot escape the responsibility for global leadership our power places upon us. Many Americans are ambivalent about this. They like having the U.S. out in front, but they have doubts about paying the price. They wonder if the benefits of being a world l...

  • How presidents get their facts

    Lee H Hamilton|Jan 15, 2020

    Here’s a basic truth about people who make decisions about public policy: they rarely have all the facts they want. Yet policy has to get made anyway. No one is confronted more often with this conundrum than the President of the United States, though members of Congress can come close. The challenge is that purported facts are dynamic — they keep changing. Additional facts come to light. Others are found to be wrong. Some are clearly reliable, others more dubious. And regardless, they come at high-level policy makers quickly, relentlessly, fro...

  • We need regular ways to hold presidents accountable

    Lee H Hamilton|Oct 30, 2019

    “I ask how and why this decision was reached,” Utah Sen. Mitt Romney said in the Senate recently. He was calling for an investigation into President Trump’s decision to pull US forces out of Syria. “Are we so weak and so inept diplomatically that Turkey forced the hand of the United States of America?” A good question, but if the Senate does launch an investigation, do you imagine Romney will get even close to posing it directly to the President? I didn’t think so. We have a presidential accountability problem that has significant...

  • Why people prefer democracy

    Lee H Hamilton|Oct 2, 2019

    A wave of protests is roiling Moscow. Millions of people, young and old, have been crowding the streets in Hong Kong. If democracy is on the ropes worldwide, as many voices currently insist, you’d have a hard time making the case from these headlines. In fact, at a time of concern and, in many quarters, cynicism about democracy and its prospects, they remind us of a basic truth: people want a say in how they’re governed. They prefer living in democracies. And when they don’t feel the popular will can find expression, at some point condi...

  • Compromise is the essence of our democracy

    Lee H Hamilton|Jun 12, 2019

    You may not be ready for next year’s elections, but in political time, they’re coming up fast. Which means that at some point you’re almost certain to hear someone announce, sternly, “I. Will. Not. Compromise.” And if you’re there in the crowd and agree with his or her position, you may even join the applause. Which is understandable, but let me tell you why, far from applauding that line, I shy from politicians who use it. In a democracy, being able to compromise — and knowing how — is a core skill for governing. Shouting “No Compromise!...

  • What would make Congress better?

    Lee H Hamilton|May 1, 2019

    A couple of weeks ago I was speaking to a group of students and decided to start with a point-blank question: Is Congress doing a good job? There were perhaps 100 people in the room, and not a single one raised his or her hand. So I asked the question a different way: Is Congress nearly or completely dysfunctional? Most hands went up. These were not experts, of course. But they weren’t wrong, either. Things aren’t working well on Capitol Hill. I can tick off the problems, and so can you. Congress doesn’t follow good process. It’s too polarized...

  • What does it really mean to be patriotic?

    Lee H Hamilton|Nov 28, 2018

    Patriotism has been on a lot of people’s minds lately. French President Emanuel Macron recently criticized President Trump and other world leaders for their “us versus them” view of patriotism. “By putting our own interests first,” he said, “with no regard for others, we erase the very thing that a nation holds dearest, and the thing that keeps it alive: its moral values.” Meanwhile, just ahead of the midterm elections, The New York Times noted that two clashing visions of patriotism were heading to the polls. President Trump and Republicans s...

  • Here's why I believe in America

    Lee H Hamilton|Sep 19, 2018

    It’s so easy these days to despair about the future of our country. It feels like half the people I run into just want to pull the covers over their heads and ignore the news. There’s dysfunction at the highest levels of government. Recent reports — the new book by Bob Woodward and a New York Times op-ed — reveal that top administration officials are so worried about the President’s impulses that they’ve formed a sort of “resistance” movement to thwart them. Many Americans express their disappointment in so many other Americans for supporting...

  • Forest management reforms needed to stop our forests from going up in smoke

    Lee H Hamilton|Aug 29, 2018

    The sight and smell of choking haze and dangerous levels of smoke from burning forests have become all too common during our Pacific Northwest summers. Major fires have struck Central Washington time and again, year after year, and nothing will change until we decide we have had enough. This year, Central Washington communities are grappling with the Boyds, Cougar Creek, Crescent Mountain, Grass Valley, McCleod, and Miriam fires, adding up to thousands of burned acres. Okanogan County Fire District 8 volunteer firefighter Brett Read was...

  • Washington's latest deal is little cause for celebration

    Lee H Hamilton|Nov 18, 2015

    You can understand why President Obama and congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle sought to cast their end-of-October budget deal in the best possible light. They avoided a potentially catastrophic national default. They reduced the possibility of a government shutdown. And they raised the debt ceiling until March 2017, taking that bargaining chip off the table until the next president is in the White House. For a last-minute, secret, backroom deal, that’s not too shabby. It was bipartisan and took modest steps in the direction of p... Full story

  • This time was supposed to be different

    Lee H Hamilton|Aug 12, 2015

    The most important function Congress serves is to debate and pass the federal budget. I know — it also levies taxes, imposes or relaxes regulations, and once in a while nudges our social, economic or political order in a meaningful way. But the budget tells the government what to do and makes it possible to do it. Everything else follows from that. Even at the best of times, passing a budget is a test of Congress’s abilities. And these aren’t the best of times. Its two houses are controlled by Republicans who don’t see eye to eye. The White Hou... Full story

  • We need both insiders and outsiders in Congress

    Lee H Hamilton|Jul 1, 2015

    Members of Congress get categorized in all sorts of ways. They’re liberal or conservative; Republican or Democrat; interested in domestic affairs or specialists in foreign policy. There’s one important category, though, that I never hear discussed: whether a member wants to be an inside player or an outside player. Yet where members fall on the continuum helps to shape the institution of Congress. Insiders focus on making the institution work. They give fewer speeches on the floor, issue fewer press releases, and spend less time con... Full story

  • Why run for office?

    Lee H Hamilton|Jun 17, 2015

    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. A lot of young people are repelled by politics; they’ve lost faith in the system just as many other Americans have. 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 offic... Full story

  • Now it's time to focus on growing the economy

    Lee H Hamilton|Dec 31, 2014

    Recent economic news has been broadly reassuring. Retail sales are strong, November saw the best job gains in three years, the federal deficit is shrinking, the stock market is robust, and the Fed is expressing enough faith in the economy that an interest rate bump next year is considered a certainty. Yet the public remains unconvinced. This is partly because perceptions haven’t caught up to reality. For many middle- and lower-class families, economic circumstances have not changed very much. Strong numbers do, however, offer one unambiguous p... Full story

  • Look up, Americans, it's not as bad as you think

    Lee H Hamilton|Dec 17, 2014

    We are one glum country. Trust in the federal government is at historic lows, according to Gallup. More than half of the respondents to an October Rasmussen poll think our best days are behind us. And just a few weeks ago, an NBC/Wall St. Journal poll found that the one thing Americans agree upon whatever their race or circumstances is that the system is stacked against people like them. Scratch an American, it seems, and you’ll get a litany of complaints about our representative democracy. I see this defeatism all around me. When I speak to c... Full story

  • What lies ahead

    Lee H Hamilton|Dec 3, 2014

    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:... Full story