Congress, Presidents, and American Politics

Congress, Presidents, and American Politics

Fifty Years of Writings and Reflections
Lee H. Hamilton
Distribution: World
Publication date: 3/14/2016
Format: cloth 384 pages
6 x 9
ISBN: 978-0-253-02086-4
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When Lee H. Hamilton joined Congress in 1965 as a US Representative from southern Indiana, he began writing commentaries for his constituents describing his experiences, impressions, and developing views of what was right and wrong in American politics. He continued to write regularly throughout his 34 years in office and up to the present. Lively and full of his distinctive insights, Hamilton’s essays provide vivid accounts of national milestones over the past fifty years: from the protests of the Sixties, the Vietnam War, and the Great Society reforms, through the Watergate and Iran-Contra affairs, to the post-9/11 years as the vice chairman of the 9/11 commission. Hamilton offers frank and sometimes surprising reflections on Congress, the presidency, and presidential character from Lyndon Johnson to Barack Obama. He argues that there are valuable lessons to be learned from past years, when Congress worked better than it does now. Offering history, politics, and personal reflections all at once, this book will appeal to everyone interested in understanding America of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Author Bio

Lee Hamilton is a Distinguished Scholar at Indiana University. He was a member of the US House of Representatives for 34 years and Vice Chair of the 9/11 Commission. In 2015, Hamilton was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He is author of many books, including How Congress Works and Why You Should Care (IUP, 2004) and Strengthening Congress (IUP, 2009).


"Hamilton provides a solid look at the thinking, actions, and failures from the Lyndon Johnson years to the present. . . . Hamilton's views on politicians might just renew some readers' faith in our elected officials. At once encouraging and enlightening, his writings stir hope, and what he says is still important all these years later. . . . The book—essentially an encapsulation of the author's philosophy of politics and politicians—is a good choice for those who want to believe in government again." —Kirkus Reviews

"His writings will appeal to everyone interested in understanding America in the 20th and 21st centuries." —Indiana University Alumni Magazine

"This book is a treasure trove of insightful, real-time commentaries from a consummate legislator highly respected by members of both parties. Hamilton's observations could not be more relevant today, as they illustrate how the political process can, in fact, be made to work; and that thoughtful, principled compromise in both the legislative and executive branches is a lynchpin for producing solutions and the best possible policy for America's future." —Senator Olympia Snowe

"Lee Hamilton offers a sweeping and insightful history of America's governmental structure, contemporary politics, and the responsibility of citizens in our representative democracy. Given his 34 years of first-hand experience, a reader could not ask for a more informed guide through the controversies and debate that shaped the United States during the second half of the 20th Century. This work will be valuable to anyone interested in understanding our political/governmental past, contemplating how we might make the future better, and grasping what each of us can do to be informed and effective citizens." —Senator Evan Bayh

This superb collection of Lee Hamilton’s commentaries about Washington reminds us why he was a great bipartisan leader for half a century: he understood politics, and he always put his country first. Here, readers can see how Hamilton kept his balance and good sense, from Vietnam to Watergate to Iraq. If you want an inside look at how the federal government really works, read this powerful book." —David Ignatius, Columnist, The Washington Post

"Lee Hamilton is a careful writer, and here he draws on his many years of public service in Congress, at the Woodrow Wilson Center, and on commissions and other special executive branch assignments. This is an original work stemming from the combination of his experience." —
James A. Thurber, author of Rivals for Power: Presidential-Congressional Relations

"A balanced treatment that does not assign the blame for current political dysfunction solely to members of Congress, donors, interest groups, or any other single cause." —C. Lawrence Evans, co-author of Congress under Fire

"This is a chronicle of a fascinating odyssey. It is a trip, not by the "wise Odysseus" from Troy to Ithaca, but the story of the more than fifty-year journey of the sage former congressman and senior statesman Lee Hamilton from the first of his thirty-four years in Congress during the Johnson Administration to the present day. . .One of the most remarkable and valuable characteristics of the work is that it is written at a level that is readily understandable by the average citizen for whom the newsletters it contains were written. It is essentially an exercise in civic education and enlightening not only for the general populace, but also for teachers and students of American government throughout the nation." —Chuck Quigley

"[R]eaders who expect dry-as-dust policy analysis or self-serving political pablum will be surprised by this delightful collection. Hamilton does far more than reproduce the original newsletters, which were written to explain current issues and Congressional procedures for the folks back home. Each newsletter is accompanied by Hamilton's insightful, often humorous, reminiscences." —
Bloom Magazine

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Table of Contents


1. The Johnson Years (1965—1968): A Remarkable Time to Begin in Congress
Passing Medicare
The Other War in Vietnam
Thanksgiving 1966
Luncheon at the White House
Visit to the CIA
President Johnson Off the Record
Urban Riots
The Regular Order
The U.S. Role in the World
Senate Hearings on the Vietnam War
Civil Disorder after Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
The Assassination of Robert Kennedy

2. The Nixon Years (1969—1974): Accomplishments Amid Turmoil
Christmas at the Nixon White House
Changing the House Seniority System
Meeting with Student Protesters
Reducing the Voting Age
Setting up our System of Government
Reports on Trip to War Zone
The Pentagon Papers
Nixon's Trip to China
Evaluation of the Apollo Program
Inauguration 1973
The Costs of the Vietnam War
The Vice President's Resignation
The House Judiciary Committee and Impeachment
After Watergate

3. The Ford Years (1974—1976): A Needed Respite
The Pardon
As We Leave Vietnam
The Middle Class
The Women's Rights Movement
Democracy and Capitalism
Big Government
Congress and Foreign Policy

4. The Carter Years (1977—1980): Intra-party Discord
Inauguration Day 1977
Human Rights
Reorganizing the Federal Bureaucracy
The Panama Canal Treaty
An Assessment of the Carter Administration
The Congressional Budget Process
A Good Word For America
The Gasoline Shortage
The Iranian Hostage Crisis

5. The Reagan Years (1981—1988): Letting the Democratic Process Work
President Reagan Looks at Social Security
Improving Intelligence Analysis
The Week the Government Stopped
Reflections on the 97th Congress
The Military Balance
Religion in Politics
How a Member Decides
The Appeal of Congress
Our Constitutional Heritage
Issues of the Future
Covert Actions in a Democratic Society
The Reagan-Gorbachev Summit
The Budget Legacy of the Reagan Years
The Quiet Crisis

6. The George H. W. Bush Years (1989—1992): A New World Order
SDI reassessment
House Ethics Reform
Supply-side Economics
National Spending Priorities
Lessons of the Great Society
The United States Flag and the Constitution
The Balanced Budget Amendment
The President's Arms Control Speech
Congressional Perks
The Confirmation Process
Iraq and the Persian Gulf War One Year Later

7. The Clinton Years (1993—2000): Opportunity Lost
Questions About Congress
Reinventing Government
Public Cynicism
The Term Limit Movement and Congressional Change
The Contract with America
A Sensible Role for Government
The Budget Battle
Civility in Congress
The Budget Surplus
The Starr Report and the Congressional Response
The Work of Congress
The Record of the 105th Congress
Why Voting Matters

8. The George W. Bush Years (2001—2008): A Timid Congress
Why the President Needs the Help of Congress to Make Foreign Policy
The Merits of Citizen Engagement
Why Congress Needs to Assert Itself
Oversight At Last
We Urgently Need Redistricting Reform
Our Leaders Must Find a Balance on Iraq
What Politics Should Be About
The Ten Commandments of Citizenship

9. The Obama Years (2009—2014): Continuing Struggles
Is Congress Up To The Task Before It?
Polarization Will Not Disappear Quickly
Here's An Idea For Congress: Try Democracy
In Congress, Going Big Isn't Always the Answer
It's Not Just Congress: Citizens Also Have Room to Improve
The Invisible Lawmakers
The Justices and the Scramble for Cash
Now It's Time to Focus on the Economy
The Summer of Our Discontent

10. Some Concluding Thoughts
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