Legendary Evansville politician Lee Hamilton turns 91
Arguably the most influential politician to come out of Evansville, Lee Hamilton belongs to a bygone, less toxic era in which he and Richard Lugar, another legendary Indiana politician, walked down the aisle and worked so bipartite.
“It was a great honor for me to work with Dick Lugar,” said Hamilton, who will celebrate his 91st birthday on Wednesday. “We were very close friends. We had been for years.”
Lugar, who served as a U.S. senator from Indiana from 1977 to 2013, died aged 87 in 2019.
“He was an extremely efficient public servant,” said Hamilton, who represented Indiana’s Ninth Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1965 to 1999. “I was a Democrat and he was a conservative and proud of that fact Dick was a pragmatist He wanted to get things done.
Despite their political differences, they saw much of the world through the same lens.
“We worked on dozens of issues together,” Hamilton said. “I am proud of this attachment.”
A former member of the United States Homeland Security Advisory Council, Hamilton headed the foreign affairs and intelligence committees, as well as a special committee that investigated the Iran-Contra affair.
He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is awarded to those who have made significant contributions to national security, world peace, or cultural developments, by President Obama in 2015. The White House announcement has called Hamilton “one of the most influential voices on the international stage”. relations and American national security” during his 40-year career.
After choosing not to run again, Hamilton headed the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars and was regularly invited to lend his expertise to various national commissions. He was vice-chairman of the commission that investigated the September 11 terrorist attacks and co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group.
Learn more about Hamilton:Former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton has fond memories of ‘Old Central/YMCA gym’
Hamilton also served on President George W. Bush’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Council, Obama’s Intelligence Advisory Council, and numerous other advisory boards.
The White House has called Hamilton a leading advocate for bipartisanship and effective governance through the Indiana University Center on Congress that he founded. He is Honorary Co-Chair of the World Justice Project, which works to lead a global, multidisciplinary effort to strengthen the rule of law for the development of communities of opportunity and equity. In 2018, IU announced that the School of Global and International Studies was renamed Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies.
Hamilton, who was inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 1982, propelled Central High School to the state semifinals in 1946, the state quarterfinals in 1947 as well as to the berth for the title match in 1948. He continued his playing career at DePauw University before graduating in 1952 and graduated from Indiana University Law School in 1956. Hamilton worked as an attorney in private practice, first in Chicago, then in Columbus, Indiana. Beginning his political career in 1960, Hamilton was persuaded to run for Congress in 1964 and won.
Since then, he is considered a winner.
Here’s a Q&A with Hamilton. It has been edited for length and clarity.
What are you most proud of, personally and professionally? In other words, what do you want your legacy to be?
I think when it comes to your legacy, other people have to judge. I think what gave me the most satisfaction was that I always had a seat at the table. I felt that I was able to make my point of view known regarding my own point of view.
Does the Presidential Medal of Freedom mean the most of all the awards you’ve received?
In my case, the Presidential Medal of Freedom stands out. It is the highest civilian honor bestowed in the United States. You appreciate the rewards more over time. Admittedly, this is an exceptional price.
Any special memories of Central High School? Who influenced you when you were a child?
I played basketball at one particular time. It was just after the end of the war. The NBA had only just begun. He didn’t have the prestige he has today. The same was true for the college game. “Hoosier Hysteria” was a real phenomenon, which it still is today. It was hard to walk down the street in Evansville without people recognizing you.
I was extremely lucky to play for the coaches I had, they were exceptional men. I learned a lot after training. Basketball was king.
What prompted you to become a politician?
I didn’t think much about politics beyond law school. But it was my unusual interest in public policy (that made me want to be a politician). I started reading The New York Times, The Economist and other popular newspapers. The Chicago Tribune had a lot of interest at that time. The Louisville Courier-Journal was nationally respected. They were good newspapers, with Cincinnati and Indianapolis and the smaller papers, much more (in number) than there are now.
What do you think of the work President Biden is doing? Has he done enough to help Ukraine? Has it done enough to fight inflation and fight COVID?
I served with Joe very closely. I was on the (House) Foreign Affairs Committee and he was on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Joe is a good man. He was born with the instinct of a politician. I think he did well in difficult circumstances. I support him in all his endeavors.
How did our country become so divided? How did the political atmosphere become so toxic and can something be done about it?
Politicians got all kinds of Super PACs. There’s a lot of money, there’s more at stake. It’s rising (animosity). Politicians reflect society and our society has become more divided.
Although imperfect, you said you believe our capitalist system is the best in the world.
We have no choice but to operate our system with all its pros and cons.
What role did the media play in the fracture of our country?
Fox’s media division, I can’t say they represent the real world. There are all kinds of people you will find…the media has produced good people. You must be selective. I tried to work with the good guys as much as possible. The bad guys I tried to stay away from. I knew who the direct shooters were.
I have tremendous respect for good journalists and I know how important journalism is. I try to follow the good ones and encourage them.