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Some Thoughts on Governing

by Lee H. Hamilton

I have been working in or around government for over 50 years, and if you asked me to boil down what I’ve learned to one sentence, it is this: Governing is much harder work than most people imagine. This doesn’t excuse its lapses or sluggish rate of progress, but it does help explain them.

Why is it so hard? Partly it’s the country we live in.

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Viewing Political Corruption More Broadly

by Lee H. Hamilton

Earlier this year, veteran political writer Thomas Edsall reported an eyebrow-raising fact about Americans’ views toward government. Polling by Gallup, he noted, found that the proportion of Americans who believed that corruption is “widespread” in government had risen from 59% in 2006 to 79% in 2013. “In other words,” Edsall wrote, “we were cynical already, but now we’re in overdrive.”

Given the blanket coverage devoted to

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The Summer of Our Discontent

by Lee H. Hamilton

Despite these last few months of hot and lazy days, it’s been hard not to notice a cold political wind blowing through the country. The magazine Foreign Affairs captured it with its latest cover, a mockup of a travel poster featuring a crumbling U.S. Capitol with the tagline, “See America: Land of Decay and Dysfunction.”

Americans are clearly uneasy. I know it anecdotally, because at virtually

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Why Government Openness Matters

by Lee H. Hamilton

One of the fundamental lessons of the 9/11 tragedy was that our government carried a share of blame for the failure to stop the attacks. Not because it was asleep at the switch or ignorant of the dangers that Al Qaeda posed, but because the agencies charged with our safety did not share what they knew, either up and down the chain of command or with

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Why Government Fails, and What We Should Do About It

by Lee H. Hamilton

As election season approaches, I’ve been pondering a crucial issue about the role of government in our society. It’s that our government often fails — and that we need to address this. What’s odd is that while the frequent failures in government’s performance are very much on ordinary people’s minds, politicians don’t talk much about fixing them.

True, you might hear a few words about the

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Get Ready for More of the Same

by Lee H. Hamilton

I felt a brief surge of hope about Congress a few weeks ago. It was returning from Easter recess, and Capitol Hill was filled with talk about immigration reform, a minimum-wage bill, a spending bill to keep the government operating, and maybe even funding for transportation infrastructure. But, as I said, it was brief.

That’s because the talk turned out to be just that. Immigration reform

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The Justices and the Scramble for Cash

by Lee H. Hamilton

Editor’s note: Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. We frequently provide space for Mr. Hamilton for his insight and unique perspectives. On this particular topic, Mr. Hamilton says “Over many years both inside and outside Congress, I saw very little outright corruption. But frequently I saw money’s

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Government as Innovator? You Bet!

by Lee H. Hamilton

Five years ago, the federal government spent $169 billion to fund basic research and development. This fiscal year, it’s down to $134 billion.

People who believe in public belt-tightening applaud drops like that. I understand why: there are many reasons to reduce government spending. But in this case they’re wrong. We need to boost the government’s investment in R&D, not slash it.

Let’s begin with the

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Time to Fix Government

by Lee H. Hamilton

In 1965, the chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, Wilbur Mills, brought legislation establishing Medicare and Medicaid to the floor of the U.S. House. That was my first year in Congress, and I remember vividly the moment when Mills came to the Democratic caucus to explain his plans.

Many of us had been swept into office in the 1964 Democratic wave that accompanied Lyndon

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