Lee H. Hamilton
The men and women I most admired embraced a life in politics because they believed they could make a difference. They had confidence in themselves, their ideas, and their ability to find their way out of tough spots. They were not dismayed by the give and take of politics — if anything, they relished it. They might have faced heavy criticism for a political stance or legislative maneuver, but they were never defeated by that. And they could master legislative detail. This may be hard to see from afar, but serious legislating requires mind-numbing work — sitting alertly through hours of expert testimony; digesting the reports of committees and subcommittees; thinking through how even small word changes can affect the course of legislation or the impact of a law;
The same held for Jim Wright of Texas and Hale Boggs of Louisiana, also both Democrats. They were great orators with vibrant, unique voices that drew audiences to the House floor and galleries simply to hear them. They seldom referred to notes, but I suspect they practiced — the chuckle in the right place, the extended pause at the perfect moment. They were masters at using humor as an effective weapon to counter an opponent and deflect critics.
> The Earth's climate changes all the time. But what we're seeing today is different: the increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather. Wet places are becoming wetter; dry places are growing dryer; where it was hot a generation ago, it's hotter now; where it's historically been cool, it's growing warmer. <
The biggest surprise is also among my biggest disappointments with American political life: the ongoing effort by politicians to suppress votes.
I can remember times on Capitol Hill when "debate" was actually more of a screaming match than a civil discussion. Back then, we had a colleague who invariably stepped forward at these times to remind each side that if we wanted to get anything done — rather than just shout at each other for the cameras — we had to have a measure of trust in one another.
It feels like half the people I run into just want to pull the covers over their heads and ignore the news. Dozens of vital issues, from economic inequality to cyber-security, are going largely unaddressed.
You could choose any number of marquee dilemmas to illustrate how broken congressional politics has become. Guns, Russian interference, climate change — Americans want progress on all of them and get little from Capitol Hill. But to my mind, nothing illustrates the dire state of our politics better than how we act on the federal budget. This is not a glamorous issue, but it goes to the heart of our democracy. The budget is our operating system; it determines what the government does.
Presidents need oversight and scrutiny, they need a Congress that will press them and insist on consultation. They get very little of that pressure today. Don't get me wrong: I favor a strong president, but I also favor a strong Congress. And these days, we have a Congress marked by passivity and inability to exercise its constitutional responsibilities.
For one thing, we've always been an open country, welcoming a great diversity of people and remaining open to their aspirations and ideas. But we've been losing this. At the same time, too many Americans feel excluded and alienated from economic opportunity and what should be shared institutions. All of this has been straining our politics. We are more polarized and politically divided than I've seen in my lifetime.
The two parties will continue to be highly polarized. It used to be that both the Republicans and the Democrats held a mix of liberal and conservative views. That has changed. The wings are coming to define what is "mainstream" in both parties. We've had an intensification of cultural divisions — President Trump has shown special interest in these issues, and a willingness to fan their flames.