Lee Hamilton' 52 and Richard Lugar encourage students to "speak up"

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Richard Lugar and Lee Hamilton ('52) exchange ideas on stage. BYRON MASON II
Richard Lugar and Lee Hamilton ('52) exchange ideas on stage. BYRON MASON II

Two Indiana politicians known for their bipartisanship say it is up to this generation to better the United States.

Former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar and DePauw University alumnus and former U.S. Congressman Lee Hamilton spoke at Meharry Hall on Feb. 15 to talk about restoring civility in American civic life.

They acknowledged that the United States is currently undergoing a lot of stress, and also called on students to become more involved in fixing it. “Dick and I are here because we want to say to you, all of you at the campus, that we want you to step up, and if you don’t step up-your generation-we’re in trouble,” said Hamilton.

While Hamilton is a Democrat and Lugar is a Republican, the two have been able to work out their political differences as they travel around the country discussing different issues and serve as an example of how bipartisanship can work.

Hamilton called out his own political party and said that while he could mention a lot of things that are wrong with the Republican party, the Democratic party needs to step up as well. He said the Democrats need to do more than just criticize the President. “I’m tired of hearing about it [Trump]. . . I want to know what the Democratic party stands for,” said Hamilton.

Lugar commented on the difficulties that stem from a president that does not seem to care about bipartisanship and a Congress that has not “stepped up to the plate” with a few exceptions, such as the recent tax bill. “This has been a very, very non-productive year because there has not been a consensus, there has not been civility among the members of Congress of either party in relationship with the President,” said Lugar.

When asked about the idea that politicians and political parties see their role in government as winning or losing, Hamilton joked that the only place for winners and losers should be in the Monon Bell game. “Winning and losing is fine for the DePauw and Wabash [College] football game. There, let me be very clear, I want DePauw to win, but I don’t think that win [or] lose is the frame of mind that you should bring to the community,” said Hamilton.

Greencastle resident Carolyn Newton Shotwell attended the event in hopes of listening to politicians from opposite sides of the aisle communicate efficiently, a concept she does not think the current government has grasped. “In today’s world we do too much cell phoning and texting, but we don’t talk, we don’t communicate and that’s what’s wrong with a lot of our politicians now; they don’t know how to communicate, how to get along,” said Newton Shotwell.

The recent school shooting at South Florida high school on Feb. 14 was brought into the conversation.While Hamilton said it is not likely that conversations of gun control remain civil, he believes that citizens should hold their representatives accountable. “You have to insist, I have to insist, that our representatives speak to one other in a civil way.”

Lugar said that gun control is a big issue in this country as well as a controversial one for Congress, and that it will take courage to make a change. “It takes members [of Congress] who are prepared to really raise the issue, and I say the consequences of doing that might be the end of your political career,” said Lugar.

Both Hamilton and Lugar said that until the United States solves the problem of money in politics, problems such as gun control cannot be solved. The former Congressman pointed out that the average Congressional campaign can cost more than $7 million; thus, making money crucial to any election. “Money talks,” said Hamilton, “and it talks big time in American politics.”

Hamilton said that if he were to announce that he is running for Congress one of the first calls he would get would be from the National Rifle Association (NRA) asking his views on the Second Amendment in order to know whether they would write a check for him. “I am, like Dick, deeply worried about the impact of money on representative democracy; it distorts the entire system.”

Throughout the press conference Hamilton and Lugar called on students to become more involved; whether that be in public office or as citizens. They agree that the office of the President of the United States should be respected, but that it is the citizen’s duty to express their opinions. “Speak up, speak your mind, but do it courteously; courtesy is contagious, civility is contagious,” said Hamilton. “We’ve had our shot, now it depends on you.”