Thursday, December 13, 2007

Everything a Politician Should Be

Lee Hamilton was visibly angry this week, a rare sight in more than 40 years as one of the most admirable figures in American politics.

Reacting to news that the CIA destroyed interrogation tapes, the co-chairman of the 9/11 Commission said, "Did they obstruct our inquiry? The answer is clearly yes. Whether that amounts to a crime, others will have to judge."

In a hero-less age, Americans might want to take a closer look at Hamilton, as the Christian Science Monitor did yesterday in a profile titled, "Washington's Bipartisan Power Broker."

The piece cites his success, as head of the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, in getting Haleh Esfandiari, his director of Middle East Studies, out of a Tehran prison on charges of spying.

After being rebuffed for months by political leaders, Hamilton appealed to Iran's most powerful man, the Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and won her release.

Hamilton, the Monitor says, is "Washington's middleman, the mild-mannered moderate more interested in solutions than sound bites. People who know him well compare a man of pragmatism, to 'that other Hamilton'–-Alexander, the Founding Father famous for his worry about the dangers of faction."

Watching Hamilton chair the House’s Iran-Contra hearings a quarter of a century ago, it struck me he should run for President in 1988.

It struck others, too, but the boomlet soon ended. “He told them he didn’t want to do it,” his aide announced, “he didn’t want to look into it, he just wants to keep doing what he’s doing.” The New York Times called his response “a standard of modesty believed to be extinct on Capitol Hill.”

Hamilton had skewered Oliver North, Bush pere and President Reagan himself with a flat-out “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” simplicity: “Policy was driven by a series of lies...A few do not know what is better for the American people than the people themselves.”

But he resisted pressure for impeachment, saying it would damage the country after the trauma of Nixon's departure a decade earlier.

Lee Hamilton was thinking about what's best for America, He still is.

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