Wilson Center Gala Remarks

The Hon. Lee H. Hamilton
Woodrow Wilson International Center For Scholars Gala
National Portrait Gallery Washington, DC
Oct 5 2010


I hold the U.S. Capitol Historical Society – and Ron and his staff – in high esteem. Your organization performs a vital role in educating and reaching out to the public about the history and role of the Capitol and the Congress in our representative democracy.
If we do not learn our history, we will not know who we are. There is little that is more important for an American to know than the robust American story: the full, truthful, unvarnished account of our successes, our failures, our ideals, our flaws, our progress, and our heroes.
"You will be pleased to know that tonight, I am not going to subject you to a long speech on the lessons I have learned….I do not, however, make the promise never to make such a speech. Your good fortune is that you're not going to have to listen to it tonight — EXCEPT, except for one brief comment.
"I've learned how very hard it is to make this marvelous country of ours work. A country so rich in resources and in the numbers, diversity and quality of its people. So focused as it is on the values of liberty and justice for all. And I've learned what an immense burden our leaders bear. Having seen these challenges up close for over four decades, 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. And as our leaders would freely acknowledge, they need all of the help they can get to lead this country toward a more perfect union.
"So 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.
"There is, I believe, a certain nobility in that pursuit. And fortunately, there are many, many good Americans…who accept this role. And so long as there are, this country will endure and prosper. Thank you very much."