Fall 2010 Newsletter

From the Director, Lee H. Hamilton 

Comments on Congress: 
We'll Never Settle On The Right Role For Government
This year's election, with its arguments over the size and scope of government, is just the latest installment in one of the longest-running debates in American politics.
An election always seems like it's of the moment. The concerns voters carry with them into the booth spring from recent headlines, nonstop online arguments, and the latest coffee-shop debate. They can be as fresh as the day's news.
Yet this year's election reminds us that in our democracy, the politics of the day can also be rooted in arguments of centuries' standing. The rise of the Tea Party is a response in part to health-care reform and other policies undertaken by the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress. But it is also the latest manifestation of the great debate between Alexander Hamilton, the champion of centralized government power, and Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, advocates of a more limited view of federal power.
Their dispute over the proper role of government in dealing with our challenges has been, in many ways, the enduring and central question of our democracy — a constant in our political discourse, sometimes holding the limelight, sometimes receding into the background, but always present. The debate is often clamorous, robust, and passionately argued, but it will not be finally resolved in this election or, for that matter, in any other. Read more.
Virtual Congress is Up and Running
Next Issues Briefing for Reporters Looks at Post-election Landscape
Hamilton Addresses National Conference on Citizenship
Hamilton Saluted As He Leaves Wilson Center Post
News Notes
Virtual Congress is Up and Running
Now available online, Virtual Congress is the Center's groundbreaking new resource for teaching about Congress and how it works.
To learn more watch the Intro Video, where an avatar of Center Director Lee Hamilton will introduce you to Virtual Congress, which leverages the latest virtual world technology to immerse and engage students as members of a fully functional online replica of Congress. It allows students to introduce ideas for legislation, discuss them in-world with other student-members, and work to try to find common ground in order to move their proposals along.
The action happens in realistic 3-D versions of the Capitol Rotunda, House and Senate committee rooms, the House and Senate chambers, and member offices in Washington and back home.
Designed primarily for use by high school classes, Virtual Congress is provided free of charge to teachers and students. It connects with core social studies learning standards, such as understanding multiple perspectives, the government's role in resolving differences, and our responsibilities as citizens, as well as core civic skills such as being able to articulate reasons for a point of view, critically analyze arguments, and work to develop consensus.
The Center is conducting an aggressive outreach effort to let teachers nationwide know how they can use Virtual Congress in the classroom. There are multiple "help" opportunities — webinar training sessions as well as in-world teacher meet-ups in Virtual Congress itself. There will also be demonstrations of Virtual Congress at the Annual Conference of the National Council for the Social Studies, Nov. 12-14 in Denver.
Virtual Congress is a venture of the Center and the Agency for Instructional Technology in Bloomington, Ind., and is part of the Library of Congress' Teaching with Primary Sources project. The secure, private environment and technology has been developed on the There.com platform and is supported by Makena Technologies of San Mateo, Calif.
Next Issues Briefing for Reporters Looks at Post-election Landscape
In its continuing effort to promote good journalism about Congress, the Center Nov. 5 will co-host the fifth in its series of Capitol Hill Issues Briefings for reporters in Washington, this time examining the impact of the Nov. 2 mid-term elections on the legislative agenda of Congress.
The aim of the Briefings series is to help Washington reporters bring more depth and perspective to their coverage of timely topics in the news. Previous seminars were April 23 on financial regulation legislation; May 21 on Elena Kagan's nomination to the Supreme Court; June 25 on energy and climate legislation in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill; and Sept. 24 on the public's opinion of Congress' performance and how that will affect the election.
The Briefings are offered free of charge. Partnering with the Center in staging the seminars are the National Press Foundation and the media outlet POLITICO.
Hamilton Addresses National Conference on Citizenship
Center Director Lee Hamilton gave a luncheon address on civic learning at the Sept. 17 meeting of the National Conference on Citizenship, a nonpartisan, congressionally chartered organization whose annual program in Washington is one of the biggest gatherings of Americans who are working actively to strengthen history and civics education, encourage national and community service, and promote broader participation in the political process.
"Self-government is a monumental achievement," Hamilton told the luncheon audience, "but it does not perpetuate itself automatically. Nowhere is it written in the stars that America will endure and that our system of representative democracy will be preserved. It is the responsibility of each succeeding generation to make that come true."
At the Center on Congress, he said, "We devote a lot of time and resources to developing dynamic, interactive, creative tools for getting kids interested in Congress and citizenship…It is vital for us to experiment, to explore new methods to promote civic learning. The importance of our task, the urgency of it, demands innovative thinking."
To read the full text of Hamilton's speech click here.
Hamilton Saluted As He Leaves Wilson Center Post
More than 400 people gathered in Washington on the evening of Oct. 5 to applaud Center Director Lee Hamilton's 12 years at the helm of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in the nation's capital. Hamilton announced earlier this year plans to leave the Wilson Center, where he has served as president and director since he retired from Congress in 1999 after a 34-year career representing southern Indiana in the House.
Hamilton and his wife Nancy are moving to Bloomington, Ind., where he will continue to direct the work of the Center on Congress, working from its office on the Indiana University campus.
At the Wilson Center gala, Hamilton offered a brief reflection on his nearly half-century of work in public affairs. "What really impresses me is the sheer difficulty and complexity of the business of governing. Nobody ever said representative democracy was easy work. It is always aborning, needs all the hands on deck.
"I have come to admire and appreciate those who reject excessive and mean-spirited partisanship. Please note that I did not say ‘eliminate partisanship.' I've come to admire and appreciate those who engage in that great dialogue of democracy with passion and competence and civility.
"I admire those who try to think broadly and deeply and soundly about the prevailing issues. I admire those who address the challenges we face in a balanced, thoughtful and inclusive way, and who put their shoulders to the wheel to help move this country forward by building a consensus in support of the common good, and who thereby contribute to the direction and the success of this country."
An extended excerpt of Hamilton's speech can be read by clicking here. Photos of the Wilson Center gala are at http://wilsoncenter.smugmug.com/Development/20101005Lee-Hamilton-Gala/14072338_6Kosy#1036399810_9ot83.
News Notes
Two booklets produced by the Center on Congress are proving to be very popular with people coming to tour the U.S. Capitol. The booklets — Understanding Congress: A Citizen's Guide, and Making Your Voice Heard: How To Work With Congress — are sold for $1 each in the bookstores of the Capitol Visitor Center. Over the past year, the Visitor Center has ordered 12,000 copies of Understanding Congress, which explains the concept of representative democracy, how Congress functions, its impact on people's lives, and the importance of citizen participation; and 6,400 copies of Making Your Voice Heard, which gives practical advice to help citizens get off the sidelines and constructively express opinions to their elected representatives.
In observance of Citizenship Day on Sept. 17, Center Director Lee Hamilton and Indiana Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard co-authored a column on the importance of civic education that was published by several Hoosier-state media outlets. "The key to democracy's continued success is to place civics on a par with math, science and English," wrote Hamilton and Shepard. "Civics must be taught systematically, at every grade level, as a core component of the curriculum. Only if we put a premium on civic education is it fair to expect our citizens to be engaged participants in their own governance."
Now on Facebook you can find information about the Center's educational resources and programs, and you can share your thoughts about Congress, civic education, and the citizen's role in our representative democracy. Center staff is always on the lookout for informative coverage and commentary about Congress and citizenship; we invite you to let us know when you see something that piques your interest. Find us on Facebook at "Center on Congress at Indiana University."
About the Center on Congress
The Center offers programs, projects and resources that foster an informed electorate which understands our system of government and participates in civic life. These include: print publications; Web-based, interactive modules and other online learning tools in English and Spanish; commentaries for newspapers and radio stations; video and television in the classroom resources; survey research; teacher awards; and seminars, conferences, and a lecture series.
The Center on Congress
1315 E. 10th St., Suite 320
Bloomington, IN 47405
Phone: (812) 856-4706 Fax: (812) 856-4703 
Newsletter editor: Phil Duncan