Lee Hamilton asked and answered a most important question to an audience of nearly 500 people at Wednesday night’s 2012 Indiana Chamber Legislative Dinner.
The presentation from the 80-year old former Indiana congressman and longtime statesman was titled “Can This Nation Long Endure?” It was the same question Abraham Lincoln posed 149 years ago in his famed Gettysburg Address. (Hamilton noted that the prayer opening that event was longer than Lincoln’s three-minute talk, a speech that Hamilton once had recited to him word-for-word in Beijing by the president of China).
Today’s response, according to Hamilton: “The answer lies with you and me. There are plenty of good reasons to get frustrated and angry. My guess, my hope, is that Americans will accept the burden and challenge and make the adjustments necessary to ensure that American long endures.”
Hamilton outlined the negatives. They include the polls (83% worried about our nation’s future and only 19% who believe the U.S. will continue to be the most powerful country in the world), the headlines from respected publications ("The End of Western Dominance"; "Is America Done?") and the scholars who question whether American is “coming apart,” among other concerns.
The path to the future, however, lies in our past.
“Our challenges are formidable but not unmanageable … our problems are discouraging, not crippling,” explains Hamilton, noting the durability of our Constitution for more than 200 years. “Our public institutions may be under some stress, but they have stood the test of time. We have a multitude of talented people dedicated to the public good.
“In return for our freedom is responsibility; in return for liberty is obligation. What’s more important than what we think about our nation’s future is what we do about it. We need leaders who give us straight talk about the true nature of our problems and solutions on how to deal with them.
“We don’t need a new system of government,” Hamilton concludes. “We need a renewed willingness to make what we have work.”
Hamilton, who represented Indiana in Washington from 1965 to 1999, is currently director of The Center on Congress at Indiana University, a non-partisan educational institution seeking to improve the public’s understanding of Congress.