"A Voice for Democracy: The Center on Congress at Indiana University"

Center on Congress 10th Anniversary Celebration Dinner
Tudor Room, Indiana Memorial Union
October 9, 2009


Thank you, Mike.

I am very pleased to welcome all of you to this evening’s 10th anniversary celebration of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. Tonight we are delighted that Senator Luger, Congressman Hamilton, and Congressman Donnelly are with us and will be speaking later. Mike will offer more fulsome introductions of each a little later. In addition to them, I would like to introduce a number of people, including the First Lady of Indiana University, Laurie Burns McRobbie. I am also pleased to introduce our IU Trustees. Would you help me welcome Abbey Stemler and Sue Talbot, who is joined by her husband Bob?

I would also like to welcome former IU Trustee P.A. Mack.

Would you also help me welcome Representative Peggy Welch, who is joined this evening by her husband David; Senator Brent Steele; former congresswoman Jill Long Thompson, who is joined this evening by her husband Don; and Scott Bowers, Deputy Secretary of State?

Finally, it is my great pleasure to extend a warm welcome to the members of Lee Hamilton’s family who were able to join us this evening. Would Lee’s family stand for our welcome?

Tonight, we honor the outstanding success of the Center on Congress over the last 10 years and salute the vision and leadership of its founding director, the Honorable Lee Hamilton.

As we celebrate this milestone event, let us also pay tribute to the late Myles Brand, Indiana University’s 16th president. Myles was a great leader, colleague, and man, and a close friend of many of us here. He shared Lee’s view that Americans should have a greater understanding of their government. The Center on Congress, established during Myles’ tenure as president, is testament to his visionary leadership at IU and to his belief that the university should take a leading role in fulfilling its civic mission.

A Voice for Democracy

In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book Profiles in Courage, then-Senator John F. Kennedy wrote, “In a democracy, every citizen, regardless of his interest in politics, “holds office’; every one of us is in a position of responsibility; and, in the final analysis, the kind of government we get depends upon how we fulfill those responsibilities.” 1

Kennedy’s statement has deep roots in American history. It was Thomas Jefferson who argued that the success of liberal republican democracy requires an educated populace, one that understands the issues about which they are making decisions. The health of any democratic system also depends on civic engagement. As Kennedy said, every citizen has the potential within this system, and the vote becomes a realization of that potential.

But democracy does not exist in isolation. Our elected officials are subject to the same temptations and frailties as the rest of us, but their public position shines a spotlight on their behavior. The names of certain public officials have become familiar to many Americans not because of their dramatic contributions to the health of our democratic system. In fact, those names and others have become synonymous with American distrust of their elected officials and signal a growing feeling of disillusionment with our participatory government.

The Center on Congress Fights the Tide of Distrust

The Center on Congress is among a number of organizations fighting this tide of disillusionment and distrust by instilling in all Americans—young and old—a greater understanding of their political heritage and the obligations of citizenship. In a climate where it is fashionable to tear down our public servants, the Center has remained committed to ensuring that Congress advance the principles that motivated our Founding Fathers, including civility, compromise, and consensus.

The Founding Fathers did not arrive at these principles in a vacuum. They were highly educated men who had a thorough grounding in the classics—as was then customary—as well, of course, as in other areas.

Their meditations upon the centuries of history and thought of the Greeks and Romans underscored the internal dangers to a republic of inflexibility, intolerance, and concentrated power, while reinforcing the importance of compromise and consensus in the context of forthright and constructive debate.

The center’s commitment to these principles translates into reaching out to a remarkable array of audiences including students and their teachers; reporters; immigrants seeking naturalization; and concerned citizens all across the country. It translates into revolutionizing the way civics are taught using Web-based, interactive tools to encourage learning about our legislative branch. It translates into partnerships with national organizations such as the Library of Congress, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Education Association, among many others. All of these outreach efforts encourage people to learn about Congress, to believe in our system, and to participate.

A Tribute to the Honorable Lee Hamilton

More than any of these efforts, the center’s director Lee Hamilton may be one of the most powerful reasons for the American people to have faith in our democracy. He offers a model of integrity, patriotism, and leadership that considers the public good before personal profit.

An extraordinary public servant, Lee has dedicated his life to improving the lives of others, and he has been a great friend to the state of Indiana and to Indiana University.

As you all know, Lee represented Indiana’s ninth district for more than three decades, serving under seven different presidents. During his tenure, he chaired the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Joint Economic Committee, the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress.

In these and his many other assignments, he established himself as a leading congressional voice on matters of economic policy, congressional reform, national security, and international affairs. Indeed, along with Senator Lugar, Lee Hamilton is one of the most widely known and respected names in American politics around the world. Both are internationalists of the highest order.

I remember long before I came to the United States hearing the name Lee Hamilton. He has long been highly respected around the world. The first time I officially met Lee about ten years ago, he mentioned having met the past nine prime ministers of Australia. Those would be all of the Australian prime ministers to have held office between 1966 and 2000. That would be from Menzies to Howard, and he has probably since met the present Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. I was even more deeply impressed with Lee’s broad and penetrating knowledge of foreign affairs.

Today, the congressman remains an active and important voice on matters of international relations and American national security. In recent years, he has served as co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group and as vice-chairman of the 9/11 Commission, whose members were among the nation’s most highly respected public officials. These were two of the most important committees established in this country in recent times to consider the most difficult problems in the areas of national and international security.

A highly decorated public servant and citizen, Lee Hamilton is among Indiana University’s most distinguished graduates. We are proud that he is an alumnus and deeply appreciate that Lee has entrusted the Lilly Library with his congressional papers.

Let me also pay tribute to Lee’s wife, Nancy, who has been by his side and has been his closest confidant and supporter for, I believe, over 55 years.

The Center on Congress: A Second Decade

During his tenure in Congress and beyond, Lee Hamilton has become a true symbol of the tremendous potential of bipartisan politics.

The Center on Congress reflects Lee’s own bipartisan approach to public policy and his deeply rooted belief that working together is the only way we will we solve the most critical issues facing our nation and world. All that Lee Hamilton and his dedicated staff have achieved at the Center on Congress in its first decade suggests what is in the center’s future. Continuing to work even more closely with IU schools, departments, programs, institutes, and professional units, the Center will broaden its impact as it develops more innovative teaching tools, increases its visibility, and becomes even more integrated with the life of the university.

Like so many of our schools, centers, and institutes, with experts in many different areas, the Center on Congress has the potential to draw scholars and citizens from across Indiana and across the nation who are in search of expertise and special resources.

Like the John Brademas Center for the Study of Congress at NYU, named after another distinguished Hoosier member of Congress, whose district now forms part of Congressman DonnellyՉ۪s second district, the Center on Congress will grow as destination for policymakers and business leaders who are trying to answer some of the most difficult questions of the next decade: Questions about the formation of voting districts; Questions about the concentration of power in committee chairs; Questions about how to further restore American belief in the integrity of their democracy.

Conclusion: Looking Toward the Next Decade

As the Center seeks to take a more active role in building a more responsive and effective democracy, may it continue to be guided by the words of the venerable American statesman Daniel Webster. These words—etched in the marble of the United States Capitol—read: “Let us develop the resources of our land, call forth its powers, build up its institutions, promote all its great interests, and see whether we also in our day and generation, may not perform something worthy to be remembered.” 2

Congratulations to Lee Hamilton and the staff of the Center on Congress for a remarkable decade of service to our nation, and may the center continue to serve as a leading voice for democracy, civic engagement, and the common good.

Thank you.

Source Notes

  1. Kennedy, John F. Profiles in Courage. 1955. New York: HarperCollins, 2004. Page 224.
  2. Carrier, Thomas J. The White House, the Capitol, and the Supreme Court: Historic Self-Guided Tours. Charleston: Arcadia, 2000. Page 84.