Common Ground Requires Conversation

Blog Post
Tuesday, September 01, 2020

On the latest Facing the Future, I was joined by former United States Representative Lee Hamilton, who served Indiana’s 9th district from 1965 to 1999, Concord Coalition Executive Director, Bob Bixby, Concord's National Field Director, Phil Smith, and Indiana-based Fiscal Lookout, Kevin Wiley. We discussed how Congress has changed over the decades, the need for a pragmatic approach to tackle issues of the day, the importance of civics education and engagement, as well as the role of Concord's volunteer Fiscal Lookouts and how you could become one. 

[Note: Portions of this week's Facing the Future can be seen in the video clip posted below.]

Representative Hamilton is an advocate for better civics education and engagement. He believes that participation in the political system can be enjoyable and satisfying. 

“I know, of course, that politics is not everybody’s cup of tea,” Hamilton said. “It’s not for everybody, but I think politics can be a source of joy and satisfaction.” 

“Deep friendships can be gained and continued, even with those with whom you disagree,” he added. “Politics can be a lot of fun; it was for me.”

Hamilton said he thinks that this era of politics is so deeply divided and ideological because the premise has changed.

“Several decades ago, we came to the table, all of us, with the view that we had to reach agreement,” he said. “We had to be pragmatic … you solve the problems you can and you work with the people you can.” 

“The premise was that we had to find, if not a solution, at least some steps forward in solving problems,” Hamilton said. “The premise now is, in many ways, they would rather make an ideological statement than try to solve a problem.” 

He added that policymakers have to be willing to give and take, compromise, negotiate and find common ground.  

“If you’re not willing to do that, you ought to get out of the game,” Hamilton said, “because that’s the very essence of the political system that we have.” 

In fact, in order to tackle the biggest issues facing the nation and find compromise, he said, it is not easy but the key point is to talk. 

“That may sound simplistic, but I don’t know another way to put it,” Hamilton added. “You have to talk and talk and talk … you don’t solve problems without talking.” 

The former Congressman believes that one of the biggest challenges facing our political system is the need to educate and engage each new generation in the system so that they become informed citizens. 

“There’s a tendency to assume that we all know how to be good citizens; we don’t,” Hamilton said. “I’m a great believer in civics education; I think it should begin in kindergarten and keep going right through the PhD degree.” 

“We cannot solve the problems that we confront unless citizens step forward, he added, step forward when they see the problem, and do their best to define it, advocate a solution and try to work through to a mutually acceptable arrangement.” 

 

Wiley and Smith joined the program to provide insight on Concord’s nationwide Fiscal Lookout program. In 2018, Wiley was also the recipient of Concord’s Tom Rogers Volunteer of the Year Award at our annual Economic Patriot Dinner.

Smith said, “Fiscal Lookouts for The Concord Coalition have an absolutely key role … they’re volunteer, statewide leaders, like Kevin in Indiana, who quite literally look out for opportunities to get information out, to educate people.” 

Some typical examples of such opportunities include speaking to civic groups and working with students on college campuses. 

“We have a wide variety of Fiscal Lookouts across the country,” Smith said. “They come from all different backgrounds … we have Republicans, Democrats and independents who make up our team of Lookouts across the country.” 

“I think the biggest commonality that the Lookouts have is a concern for where our country is going over the long term,” he added. They often see issues through a generational lens and want to leave the nation better off for those that come after them. 

As a call to action, Smith called upon policymakers and the public to do what it takes to tackle the current health crisis so that we can get to a post-pandemic world, but we also need a fiscally responsible plan for the future. 

Wiley said, “For fellow Americans … I tell them one of the best things they can do is call their Congressmen and Senators, thank them for the work they do, but tell them what you’re concerned about specifically; don’t just send an e-mail that may or may not get answered by a staffer.” 

“As far as the policymakers themselves … you have to be a proactive communicator, and you cannot sit back,” Wiley said. “This is not time to sit back; if ever there was a time to step forward, this is the time.”

Hear more on Facing the Future. I host the program each week on WKXL, NHTalkRadio.com (N.H.), and it is also available via podcast. Join me and my guests as we discuss issues relating to national fiscal policy with budget experts, industry leaders and elected officials. Past broadcasts are available here. You can subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, Google Play Music or with an RSS feed. Follow Facing the Future on Facebook and watch videos from past episodes on The Concord Coalition YouTube channel.