Skip to main content

In Washington, ideology need not reign supreme

09/04/2013 12:56PM, Published by ACL, Categories: In Print, Opinion



By Lee H. Hamilton

As I speak to people about the Congress, one question arises more than any other: Why is Congress gridlocked? People are perplexed and disappointed with its performance, and are searching hard for an answer.

The roots of Congress’s dysfunction are complex. But the fundamental reason is that real differences in ideology and principles about both government and governance exist among the voters. At heart, the reason it’s become so hard for Washington to act is that the two parties are being driven by fundamentally incompatible views.

Conservatives place a heavy emphasis on liberty, individual freedom, and self-reliance. They have little confidence in government’s ability to play a role in improving society or the economy, and many of them look upon government as destructive, a force that undermines our basic freedom. They are fearful of centralized power, opposed to redistribution of any kind, and opposed to new government programs — or even to improving existing government programs they’d rather see cut. They reject entirely the notion of raising taxes or imposing new regulations on the private sector.

Moreover, a belief has taken hold among some conservatives in recent years that compromise and accommodation are betrayals of their cause. This has put great pressure on GOP leaders not to budge in their negotiations with the White House and Senate Democrats.

Meanwhile, on the “progressive” side — a label that has come to supplant “liberal,” in part because Republicans in the 1980s and 1990s were so effective at demonizing liberals — there is much greater emphasis on using government to narrow economic disparities and help those at the bottom of the income scale. They emphasize its role in providing equality of opportunity for all and individuals’ responsibility to the community around them. Because they have more confidence in government as a constructive force, they have no trouble with the notion of expanding government’s scope to improve Americans’ lives.

In fact, unlike conservatives, they think government can expand freedom when it’s properly applied, by reining in the power of monied interests. While they do not favor a radical centralization of power in the federal government, as some conservatives charge, they are more willing to accept government action — and the legislative compromises that make it possible. Because they have less confidence in the market to solve all problems, they support both the taxes they believe necessary to run programs they like, and regulations to limit the private sector’s more predatory impacts on the environment or society.

The gap between these views appears unbridgeable. It is not, nor are the differences between the two sides as wide as they appear.

That is because most Americans find themselves somewhere between the extremes, able to see merit in both conservative and progressive ideas. When I was in office, I often found myself thinking that many of my constituents were conservative, moderate, and liberal all at the same time. That hasn’t changed. As a whole, Americans do not want excessive government or heavy-handed bureaucracy, but they do want programs that help them, like Social Security and Medicare. They are dedicated to both individual freedom and opportunity and to community obligation, and they don’t see them as mutually contradictory. More than anything else, especially these days, they want to see moderation and cooperation from their political leaders.

There may be dysfunction in Washington, but the system can still work. When policy makers gather (I’ve seen this countless times) ideology fades, pragmatism rises, and the question becomes, What can we do to fix the situation? That’s where most Americans find themselves. They do not see government as evil, though they are often disappointed in its practice and its practitioners. They are wary of excessive government, but again and again they turn to government at some level to help solve the problems they complain about, and they want it to work effectively and efficiently.

In the end, Congress usually ends up about where most Americans are and want it to be. So I’m not surprised to find how, when dire problems confront them, both conservatives and progressives in Washington find their inner pragmatist.

 

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.


Like what you're reading? Subscribe to Chester County's free newsletter to catch every headline



congress opinion


You might also like

Why I still have faith in Congress

Lee H. Hamilton for the week of June 4, 2014.

Get ready for more of the same

Lee Hamilton for the week of May 21, 2014.
Thumb_ryan-costello

The Republican Party’s rising star

County Commissioner Ryan Costello will win his party’s nomination for the 6th congressional district seat next Tuesday. He will be favored to win the seat in November. Local Republicans believe that the 37-year-old’s political future is a bright one

  • Gentle Yoga

    06/03/2015
    05:00pm — 06:00pm

    Reduce the aches and pains of age by increasing your range of motion through the practice of yoga...


  • Hatha Yoga

    06/03/2015
    06:30pm — 07:30pm

    This series of vigorous exercises is designed to strengthen the body and increase flexibility whi...


  • Sunday Brunch

    06/04/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • Where: 372 Lamborntown Road, West Grove, Pa. (Best access is off Rt. 842) What you need to b...


  • Clutterers Anonymous

    06/04/2015
    06:00pm — 07:00pm

    Clutterers Anonymous℠ (CLA℠) is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strengt...


  • 5th Annual Twisted Vintner

    06/04/2015
    06:00pm — 09:00pm

    Concordville - Chadds Ford Rotary's fundraiser to support local charities includes Wine, Beer and...


  • Gentle Yoga

    06/03/2015
    05:00pm — 06:00pm

    Reduce the aches and pains of age by increasing your range of motion through the practice of yoga...


  • Hatha Yoga

    06/03/2015
    06:30pm — 07:30pm

    This series of vigorous exercises is designed to strengthen the body and increase flexibility whi...


  • Sunday Brunch

    06/04/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • Where: 372 Lamborntown Road, West Grove, Pa. (Best access is off Rt. 842) What you need to b...


  • Clutterers Anonymous

    06/04/2015
    06:00pm — 07:00pm

    Clutterers Anonymous℠ (CLA℠) is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strengt...


  • 5th Annual Twisted Vintner

    06/04/2015
    06:00pm — 09:00pm

    Concordville - Chadds Ford Rotary's fundraiser to support local charities includes Wine, Beer and...


  • Milburn's Grand Re-Opening of the Farm Market, BIG BackYard, and Orchard View Deck is Friday, Jun...


  • Sunday Brunch

    06/05/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • On June 6th, the Avon Grove High School Football Team will be hosting a community yard sale. Tab...


  • The Chester Springs Studio wood kiln is a two chamber noborigama, constructed in 2014 during a wo...


  • Sunday Brunch

    06/06/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • 2015 Chester County Blues Barbeque

    06/06/2015
    02:00pm — 07:00pm

    The Chester County Blues BBQ is an annual event sponsored by the Coventry Lions Club featuring re...


  • Sustainable Splurges: A Feast for the Senses

    06/06/2015
    06:00pm — 08:00pm

    Enjoy delicious, locally made foods – wine, chocolate, honey and cheese – while roaming an exclu...


  • 150th Anniversary Civil War Reconciliation Ball

    06/06/2015
    06:00pm — 10:00pm

    Dinner, Dancing and an Auction! Reconciliation Ball to Commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the e...


  • The Chester Springs Studio wood kiln is a two chamber noborigama, constructed in 2014 during a wo...


  • Half the Money, all the bottle. Every Tuesday

    06/07/2015
    11:00am — 09:00pm

    EVERY TUESDAY ‎Half the money, all the bottle.1/2 Price Bottle of Wine / Every Tuesday with your...


  • Steamin' Day at Auburn Heights

    06/07/2015
    12:30pm — 04:30pm

    Join the Marshall Steam Museum at Auburn Heights for the first Steamin' Day of the season! New fo...


  • Taste Kennett Food Tours

    06/07/2015
    01:00pm — 04:00pm

    Taste Kennett Food Tours, creators of memorable, unique and fun food experiences, offer three-hou...


  • Taste Kennett Food Tours

    06/07/2015
    01:00pm — 04:00pm

    Taste Kennett Food Tours, creators of memorable, unique and fun food experiences, offer three-hou...


  • Mt. Cuba Center Plein Air Workshop

    06/08/2015
    09:30am — 03:30pm

    Appreciate the intricacies of painting outdoors as you interpret the beauty of Mt. Cuba Center's ...


  • Half the Money, all the bottle. Every Tuesday

    06/08/2015
    11:00am — 09:00pm

    EVERY TUESDAY ‎Half the money, all the bottle.1/2 Price Bottle of Wine / Every Tuesday with your...


  • Monday's are Whiskey nights at Minihane's

    06/08/2015
    05:00pm — 11:00pm

    Whisky is not the same as Whiskey! There is some debate about whether or not Scottish distill...


  • Debtors Anonymous

    06/08/2015
    06:00pm — 07:00pm

    In D.A., our purpose is threefold: to stop incurring unsecured debt, to share our experience wit...


  • Mt. Cuba Center Plein Air Workshop

    06/09/2015
    09:30am — 03:30pm

    Appreciate the intricacies of painting outdoors as you interpret the beauty of Mt. Cuba Center's ...


  • Half the Money, all the bottle. Every Tuesday

    06/09/2015
    11:00am — 09:00pm

    EVERY TUESDAY ‎Half the money, all the bottle.1/2 Price Bottle of Wine / Every Tuesday with your...


  • Fitness Walks

    06/10/2015
    08:30am — 09:30am

    Turn off the treadmill and forget the gym! Start your day with an invigorating hour-long hike thr...


  • Mt. Cuba Center Plein Air Workshop

    06/10/2015
    09:30am — 03:30pm

    Appreciate the intricacies of painting outdoors as you interpret the beauty of Mt. Cuba Center's ...


  • Gentle Yoga

    06/10/2015
    05:00pm — 06:00pm

    Reduce the aches and pains of age by increasing your range of motion through the practice of yoga...


  • Hatha Yoga

    06/10/2015
    06:30pm — 07:30pm

    This series of vigorous exercises is designed to strengthen the body and increase flexibility whi...


  • Mt. Cuba Center Plein Air Workshop

    06/11/2015
    09:30am — 03:30pm

    Appreciate the intricacies of painting outdoors as you interpret the beauty of Mt. Cuba Center's ...


  • Sunday Brunch

    06/11/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • Clutterers Anonymous

    06/11/2015
    06:00pm — 07:00pm

    Clutterers Anonymous℠ (CLA℠) is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strengt...


  • Mt. Cuba Center Plein Air Workshop

    06/12/2015
    09:30am — 03:30pm

    Appreciate the intricacies of painting outdoors as you interpret the beauty of Mt. Cuba Center's ...


  • Sunday Brunch

    06/12/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • Enjoy a night out with friends at Mt. Cuba Center! Unwind as you sip wine and create garden maste...


  • Indian turnip, eye medicine, war paint - Native Americans depended on plants for food, clothing, ...


  • The Chester Springs Studio wood kiln is a two chamber noborigama, constructed in 2014 during a wo...


  • Sunday Brunch

    06/13/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • The Chester Springs Studio wood kiln is a two chamber noborigama, constructed in 2014 during a wo...


  • Half the Money, all the bottle. Every Tuesday

    06/14/2015
    11:00am — 09:00pm

    EVERY TUESDAY ‎Half the money, all the bottle.1/2 Price Bottle of Wine / Every Tuesday with your...


  • Taste Kennett Food Tours

    06/14/2015
    01:00pm — 04:00pm

    Taste Kennett Food Tours, creators of memorable, unique and fun food experiences, offer three-hou...


  • Taste Kennett Food Tours

    06/14/2015
    01:00pm — 04:00pm

    Taste Kennett Food Tours, creators of memorable, unique and fun food experiences, offer three-hou...


  • Tropical Fun Night in Penn Park

    06/14/2015
    06:00pm — 08:00pm

    Penn Township Board of Supervisors are holding their first park event of the year! Sunday, June...


  • Half the Money, all the bottle. Every Tuesday

    06/15/2015
    11:00am — 09:00pm

    EVERY TUESDAY ‎Half the money, all the bottle.1/2 Price Bottle of Wine / Every Tuesday with your...


  • Monday's are Whiskey nights at Minihane's

    06/15/2015
    05:00pm — 11:00pm

    Whisky is not the same as Whiskey! There is some debate about whether or not Scottish distill...


  • Debtors Anonymous

    06/15/2015
    06:00pm — 07:00pm

    In D.A., our purpose is threefold: to stop incurring unsecured debt, to share our experience wit...


  • Half the Money, all the bottle. Every Tuesday

    06/16/2015
    11:00am — 09:00pm

    EVERY TUESDAY ‎Half the money, all the bottle.1/2 Price Bottle of Wine / Every Tuesday with your...


  • Fitness Walks

    06/17/2015
    08:30am — 09:30am

    Turn off the treadmill and forget the gym! Start your day with an invigorating hour-long hike thr...


  • Native Plants of Summer

    06/17/2015
    09:30am — 11:30am

    When the exuberant spring wildflower display is over, summer challenges us to find eye-catching p...


  • Top 10 Wildflowers

    06/17/2015
    10:30am — 11:30am

    Save time and money by using plants that grow back every year. Instead of buying petunias, marigo...


  • Gentle Yoga

    06/17/2015
    05:00pm — 06:00pm

    Reduce the aches and pains of age by increasing your range of motion through the practice of yoga...


  • Hatha Yoga

    06/17/2015
    06:30pm — 07:30pm

    This series of vigorous exercises is designed to strengthen the body and increase flexibility whi...


  • Sunday Brunch

    06/18/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • Clutterers Anonymous

    06/18/2015
    06:00pm — 07:00pm

    Clutterers Anonymous℠ (CLA℠) is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strengt...


  • Chester County Balloon Festival

    06/19/2015
    09:00am — 09:00pm

    9th Annual Chester County Balloon Festival New Garden Flying Field June 19th, 20th, 21st 2015 ...


  • Sunday Brunch

    06/19/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • LaMancha Animal Rescue's Yappy Hour

    06/19/2015
    04:00pm — 08:00pm

    June 19th 4pm-8pm 855 Doe Run Rd, Coatesville Pa 19320 Yappy Hour Please join us at LaMancha...


  • Plant Propagation

    06/20/2015
    09:00am — 01:00pm

    Increase your garden’s splendor with plant propagation. Find out how to multiply your native plan...


  • The Chester Springs Studio wood kiln is a two chamber noborigama, constructed in 2014 during a wo...


  • Sunday Brunch

    06/20/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • The Chester Springs Studio wood kiln is a two chamber noborigama, constructed in 2014 during a wo...


  • Half the Money, all the bottle. Every Tuesday

    06/21/2015
    11:00am — 09:00pm

    EVERY TUESDAY ‎Half the money, all the bottle.1/2 Price Bottle of Wine / Every Tuesday with your...


  • Taste Kennett Food Tours

    06/21/2015
    01:00pm — 04:00pm

    Taste Kennett Food Tours, creators of memorable, unique and fun food experiences, offer three-hou...


  • Taste Kennett Food Tours

    06/21/2015
    01:00pm — 04:00pm

    Taste Kennett Food Tours, creators of memorable, unique and fun food experiences, offer three-hou...


  • Delaware Aerospace Academy

    06/22/2015
    09:00am — 04:00pm

    Day Academy, June 22-26 for Destination Sky and Beyond, entering 3-4th grade; Destination Space f...


  • Youth Theatre Camp

    06/22/2015
    09:00am — 03:00am

    A fun musical theatre camp for ages 7 and up! We spend a week learning the ins and outs of puttin...


  • Half the Money, all the bottle. Every Tuesday

    06/22/2015
    11:00am — 09:00pm

    EVERY TUESDAY ‎Half the money, all the bottle.1/2 Price Bottle of Wine / Every Tuesday with your...


  • Monday's are Whiskey nights at Minihane's

    06/22/2015
    05:00pm — 11:00pm

    Whisky is not the same as Whiskey! There is some debate about whether or not Scottish distill...


  • Debtors Anonymous

    06/22/2015
    06:00pm — 07:00pm

    In D.A., our purpose is threefold: to stop incurring unsecured debt, to share our experience wit...


  • Youth Theatre Camp

    06/23/2015
    09:00am — 03:00am

    A fun musical theatre camp for ages 7 and up! We spend a week learning the ins and outs of puttin...


  • Half the Money, all the bottle. Every Tuesday

    06/23/2015
    11:00am — 09:00pm

    EVERY TUESDAY ‎Half the money, all the bottle.1/2 Price Bottle of Wine / Every Tuesday with your...


  • The Spayed Club now has THREE transport locations throughout the Greater Philadelphia area -- Pot...


  • Fitness Walks

    06/24/2015
    08:30am — 09:30am

    Turn off the treadmill and forget the gym! Start your day with an invigorating hour-long hike thr...


  • Youth Theatre Camp

    06/24/2015
    09:00am — 03:00am

    A fun musical theatre camp for ages 7 and up! We spend a week learning the ins and outs of puttin...


  • Native Plants of Summer

    06/24/2015
    09:30am — 11:30am

    When the exuberant spring wildflower display is over, summer challenges us to find eye-catching p...


  • Gentle Yoga

    06/24/2015
    05:00pm — 06:00pm

    Reduce the aches and pains of age by increasing your range of motion through the practice of yoga...


  • Hatha Yoga

    06/24/2015
    06:30pm — 07:30pm

    This series of vigorous exercises is designed to strengthen the body and increase flexibility whi...


Chester County High School Sports