Lee Hamilton Oral History Interviews


Part one

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SCARPINO: We are on and the tape recorder is recording. Today is September 27, 2007, and I am in Inlow Hall interviewing former congressman Lee Hamilton. I’d like to thank you very much for taking the time to sit with me, and as I said before I turned the recorder on, I’d like to ask your permission to record the interview, transcribe the interview and to place the transcription and the recording in the IUPUI Special Collections and Archives.

HAMILTON: You have such permission.

SCARPINO: Thank you.

SCARPINO: I also say for the record that most of this interview will focus on the Tobias Center standard leadership questions which I had sent to your assistant. But I do want to start with a few general questions just to kind of set a context. I’m actually going to start with high school if you don’t mind.

HAMILTON: (Laughing)

SCARPINO: Then if we’re able to schedule a second interview I’d like to talk with you in more detail about your career as it relates to leadership. First, I note that you were born in Daytona Beach, Florida, April 30, 1931, and your family...

HAMILTON: April 20. . .

SCARPINO: Oh April 20, sorry. 1931. And your family moved first to Tennessee and then Indiana. You attended Central High School in Evansville, graduating in 1948, where you won the Arthur L. Trester Award for Excellence in Basketball. When you were in high school did you consider yourself to be a leader?

HAMILTON: Well I really didn’t think much about it. My focus in high school was basketball and athletics. I guess I felt like I was a leader of the team but not particularly a leader beyond that. My whole energy, my interest, was basketball, and I’m not sure I recommend that to people. But that was true in my case.

SCARPINO: Well you eventually ended up in the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame.

HAMILTON: Yeah, that’s right.

SCARPINO: Were there any individuals during your high school years who had an influence in shaping the leader that you became?

HAMILTON: Well, in addition to my parents, of course, the coaches were the strongest influence on my early life. Beginning at a quite early time in grade school I had a very good basketball coach and then went into high school. I happened to be moving into high school with a group of freshmen ball players who were recognized to be a superior team, so the coaches spent a lot of time with us. One of the coaches lived very close to me, and I used to ride into school with him every day. So there were about four or five coaches— freshmen, junior varsity, varsity— coaches that really profoundly impacted my outlook on things, in addition to my parents.

SCARPINO: Were there any events that took place during the years in high school that really influenced the leader you later became?

HAMILTON: Well, the biggest events in my life were basketball tournaments.

SCARPINO: (Laughing)

HAMILTON: We had a basketball coach who was fired, for reasons, I must say, I don’t recall completely. But the school went out on strike—students, which in those days and I guess even in these days is quite unusual. I helped organize that strike. And we won; they hired him back. But it was a several-day incident, maybe stretching over a week or so, a very intense excitement—students demonstrating in the halls, marching in the streets, and it was kind of a major event in my high school career, actually.

SCARPINO: And you helped to organize this?

HAMILTON: Yeah, I wouldn’t say I was a chief organizer, but I certainly played a role in it, because I was very sympathetic to the coach that was let go, and felt that he had been not fairly treated. So I was quite active in it.

SCARPINO: You attended DePauw University, where you majored in history and continued to play basketball. I also read that you were involved in student government. Did you think of yourself as a leader in college?

HAMILTON: In the first couple of years the answer would be no. My junior and senior year I took leadership positions. The president of the fraternity I was in, I headed up the Methodist student movement which was at DePauw, being a Methodist school was quite active and quite large, and I took the leadership in several extracurricular activities.

SCARPINO: What fraternity did you belong to?

HAMILTON: ATO, Alpha Tao Omega.

SCARPINO: So did I, for the record.

HAMILTON: (Laughing) Are you in that? Well I’d slip you the handshake but I’ve forgotten it.

SCARPINO: I don’t remember the handshake. (Laughing) I know we had one.

HAMILTON: (Laughing)

SCARPINO: Were there any individuals that you encountered during your years in college that influenced the leader you became?

HAMILTON: I don’t—none really stand out in my mind. In general I admired my professors and felt they were very, very good, with one or two exceptions I guess, and I began to work harder as a student. I was not a particularly strong student early on but I became a pretty good student by the end of my college career and—but I don’t identify them. I majored—you mentioned my major in history—I think I majored in history just because they had an exceedingly strong department in history with four or five excellent teachers, and I think they certainly broadened my intellectual horizons a good bit. I was not at all successful in the sciences or in mathematics, and so I moved away from those, and went into the social sciences. In addition to history I spent quit a bit of time in philosophy. I think I may have had almost a major in philosophy.

SCARPINO: When you eventually went into law and then became a. . .

HAMILTON: I left college and spent a year abroad. I enrolled at the Goethe University in Frankfurt Am Main, Germany. In those days and I guess it’s true today, the German universities don’t really care whether you attend class, and I certainly didn’t attend/care. I basically spent the year traveling, and I had never been overseas before. So I toured all through Western Europe, and went into East Berlin, didn’t go any farther east than that. North into Scandinavia, south into Italy, Siberian peninsula. So the year was hugely important to me. Not from an academic standpoint, but from just a broadening view and I began really in, while I was abroad, to get interested in public affairs. I was there in Frankfurt right after the war, just a few years after the war— World War two, and it was the beginning of the German economic miracle. I took quite an interest in German resurgence, and decided there that I would go to law school, although I had no real connection with the law at all. Nobody in my family were lawyers and I didn’t even know any lawyers very well. But I decided that I would at least try law school and there were a lot of people going into law then that didn’t really plan to practice law, I think. I went in as kind of a wide open—new challenge to me, new world.

SCARPINO: When you made the decision to go to law school did you do that with politics in mind?

HAMILTON: No. My interest in politics came quite a bit later. My interest in public policy was beginning to emerge, but I didn’t really think about running for public office during the entire time I was in law school. I thought I’d practice law for a while.

SCARPINO: And you did?

HAMILTON: And I did. But during that period I began to pay more attention to the political world, but did not participate in any way. I didn’t even declare a party preference at that point. When I got out of law school I went to Chicago and practiced with a small elite firm there. Very, very good lawyers.

SCARPINO: What was the name of the firm?

HAMILTON: At the time it was Wilkinson, Witwer and Moran. They were only five or six partners—very, what I would call silk stocking kind of a practice. I was one of two associates so I did a lot of library work in those days, spent a lot of time in the library. I filed all the papers down at the Cook County courthouse and argued some fairly minor motions. The firm really didn’t do much litigation. I got a little bored with it and decided to come to Indiana, and I did. I went to Columbus, Indiana.

SCARPINO: When you were in Columbus, according to what I read, you did become politically active as a Democrat.


SCARPINO: When you picked a preference, why did you pick the Democrats over the Republicans?

HAMILTON: Well, first of all, it was not family. To this day I can’t tell you how my father and mother voted, although I don’t think either one of them voted what you would call a straight-line ticket. I guess my sympathies moved in that direction. Birch Bayh was a very good friend of mine. He ran—he was president of the ATO chapter at Purdue. I was the president of the ATO chapter at DePauw. We met at several conferences —that was a factor. John F. Kennedy probably was a factor, although I’m not sure I remembered that keenly at the time. If you’re a lawyer practicing in Indiana in a county seat town, you are kind of pushed or pulled in the direction of politics. The county counsel needs a lawyer, the zoning board needs a lawyer, and they tend to be politicians, local politicians, and so they want you to identify yourself as a Democrat or a Republican. I kind of fell into it, I guess; it wasn’t any clear, straight intellectual decision. I was in a Republican firm and they were kind of glad to have a Democrat in the firm so that they’d get more business. (Laughing)

SCARPINO: What was the name of your firm in Columbus?

HAMILTON: Sharpnack and Bigley. The Sharpnacks were a very prominent family in Bartholomew County. The senior partner was quite an elderly man in his eighties, Judge Sharpnack. His son, Lou Sharpnack, was chief trial lawyer of the firm, a very good one. Mr. Bigley had been president of the Indiana bar. There were two or three partners, and I was an associate initially; they brought me in as a partner within a year or so.

SCARPINO: You served as a member of Congress from Indiana’s 9th congressional district, from 1965 to...

HAMILTON: ’65, yeah.

SCARPINO: Right. The election was in ’64, is that right?

Hamilton. ’64.

SCARPINO: Even year. Until 1999. What prompted you to run for Congress?

HAMILTON: I think the answer was the law was a little boring to me. The only thing I really enjoyed was trying cases. We were trying a lot of eminent domain cases, I guess not usually thought of as very exciting, but I-65 was going through the county and I must have tried a dozen of those cases. Then, because I was the bottom partner, we had in place at that time this system they called pauper attorneys to represent poor defendants in criminal cases, and because the other partners wouldn’t handle that I did quite a bit of what you would call minor criminal trial work. And then also because the senior partners didn’t like to fool around with divorces, I handled a lot of divorce cases and family domestic relation cases. I liked that part of it. It was not what you’d call high-level law practice, but I enjoyed the courtroom work. But overall I think I had a kind of a sense of I’m not getting anywhere, and this isn’t captivating my interest. So I began to look at politics more seriously.

SCARPINO: Well, you represented Indiana in Congress for 34 years.


SCARPINO: How did being a congressman captivate your interest?

HAMILTON: Well it’s a captivating career. You have the sense in the Congress, whether or not it’s accurate, that you’re in the center of things, big things. And you have a sense that you are making a contribution towards the direction and the success of your country, I believe, even though you may not be. I found it quite compatible with my interests. I like the people in the Congress. Always an important factor, I think.

SCARPINO: Both sides of the aisle?


SCARPINO: Both sides of the aisle?

HAMILTON: Both sides of the aisle. They—I really liked members of Congress, with very, very few exceptions. I think that they’re a special breed; they’re energetic, they’re committed, ideologically have strong views often times. But they’re attractive people, for the most part, and I enjoyed it. I enjoyed working with people even when I didn’t agree with them, a lot.

SCARPINO: What do you think of the leadership qualities that distinguish an effective congressman or congressperson?

HAMILTON: Well, there are a lot of different kinds of congressmen and women. You can classify them in different ways. There are inside players and outside players. There are legislators and there are politicians, and the Congress is a big enough body you really need them all. To be an effective member of Congress I think you have to master your brief, and have to be seen as a serious person in terms of legislation. I think the skill that is most needed in the Congress and probably most appreciated is the capacity to build consensus, because it’s not easy to do. It’s not difficult to walk into a room this size with ten people seated around the table with a lot of different views and blow it apart, I mean, what’s hard is to bring people together. The challenge of building a consensus on difficult issues really caught my interest.

SCARPINO: How did you go about doing that?

HAMILTON: Well, the first thing is just to establish a rapport with people of different political persuasions, not all of whom are in the opposite party; some of them are in your own party. Not to summarily dismiss them because you don’t agree with them. What you have to do is search out common views and identify areas where you disagree. Think, then, about how you bridge the disagreements. Sometimes it’s doable, sometimes it’s not. But you ask yourself how can you accommodate different points of view, without giving up what you want to try to achieve, which is a very difficult political judgment, oftentimes.

SCARPINO: When you ran for Congress the first time, what were your issues? How did you persuade the people of the 9th district to vote for you?

HAMILTON: I came along at an interesting time. I didn’t realize it in 1964, but 1964 was probably the strongest Democratic year in that century. That was just luck on my part, I mean, I hadn’t figured that out. I’ve often said that any fool on the Democratic ticket could get elected in 1964, and several did. So that was all luck. That was the Johnson/Goldwater year. Goldwater was kind of a strong uncompromising conservative, and Johnson was quite a skillful politician who took advantage of it. And then he of course had the legacy of the Kennedy assassination which put him in a very formidable position.

But the issues were clear, and even stark: Medicare, federal aid to education, war on poverty. There were very major, even momentous, decisions made in the so-called Great Society program, which has been of course praised and criticized subsequently. But the early days of my career, we had this flood of legislation coming along, which had backed up during the Kennedy assassination period in the early part of the Johnson administration. And those of us on the Democratic side at least thought there was a mandate. Oftentimes, you know, politicians always argue about what the mandate is. In this case, there was no doubt about it, at least in our minds. And so. . .

SCARPINO: What did you think the mandate was?

HAMILTON: To pass that legislation. Now just beginning at that time was Vietnam, and it had not yet become a major issue in 1964. But it quickly did, and in ‘66 and ‘68 then Vietnam really became a very, very big issue.

SCARPINO: Where did you stand on the question of the United States. . .

HAMILTON: I went to the Congress supporting the war, and so voted for a period of maybe two, maybe three years. I took two trips to Vietnam and I began to have doubts about it. I offered one of the early amendments on the floor to reduce our troop commitments in Vietnam. I’m not sure why the Democratic leadership picked me to offer the amendment. I think they wanted a new voice, not one of the older ones there. We lost the vote, but we got a lot more votes than people thought we would get, and it was kind of the beginning of Congress rebelling against the Vietnam policy.

I’ll never forget after that particular vote I went to the White House and— just as a coincidence after some social event, and President Johnson came up to me. President Johnson had been very good to me, and he said to me, “Lee, how could you do this to me?” Which was kind of agonizing because he had helped me a lot—I wouldn’t have been elected if Johnson hadn’t been on the ticket in ‘64. It kind of shows you the anguish you can confront in politics sometimes. I didn’t apologize for my vote, for my position and my vote, but I was pained by the fact that I was actually hurting him.

SCARPINO: What did you think of Lyndon Johnson as a leader?

HAMILTON: Oh my. I’ll have to come back for that session and we can spend all the time on that. He was no doubt about being a leader. He was hugely energetic, never stopped working, and he—the question always on his mind, the business of winning over votes just fascinated him. And the question always on his mind was what do I have to say to get this guy to get him to vote my way, and whatever it was, he’d say it. But he was very, very good at identifying your interests, and then framing an argument from his way. He was a natural politician, not a very good speaker. Boorish in many ways. But totally focused on gaining votes, even when he was president. Probably as good as any president as I remember working with the Congress just because he knew it so well. You know, he had been a member of the House, he’d been a member of the Senate. Just a very, very able politician.

SCARPINO: I’m going to switch to our standard leadership questions with the time we I have left. If we have an opportunity to talk again I really would like to talk to you about Congress in greater detail.

HAMILTON: I will come back again. Or I can come to Washington, either way. We have to go to Richmond tonight. I have to speak at Earlham pretty early on this evening, so we have to leave here pretty quickly. But go ahead, and I was a few minutes late getting here so we’ll run ‘til five after, ten after, if that’s ok. If you have to leave. . .

SCARPINO: I have a speaker coming in from San Francisco.

HAMILTON: You’ve got to go San Francisco?

SCARPINO: (Laughing) No, I need to greet the speaker.

HAMILTON: Oh ok, very good.

SCARPINO: So I sent these questions to your assistant. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to look at them. . .

HAMILTON: I saw them this morning, I can’t answer very many of them, but let’s go ahead.

SCARPINO: Well, I bet you can. (Laughing) The first question is, what do you read?

HAMILTON: Well, I still spend an enormous amount of time just reading government reports, because I am heavily engaged in a lot of different things. I read a lot of news sources; I read six, seven newspapers a day. I read all the news magazines. I read the Congressional Quarterly, I read the National Journal. I read an enormous number of reports that come in to me from FBI, and the DHS and the CIA and a lot of other places. So I don’t do much leisure reading. To the point that I do, I’ve just recently started a project of reading these American Presidency series. Do you know that series, that Schlesinger put together? It’s a very quick way to learn American history painlessly, and I enjoy the biographies.

SCARPINO: I’m going to ask you a question that I wanted to ask you about Congress because it relates I guess generally to what do you read. In all the years that you were in Congress and all the votes that you cast on a range of issues that affected your constituents in the country and the world sometimes, how did you get the information so that you were confident in the votes that you cast?

HAMILTON: Well, you’re often not confident. But you look to a variety of sources. You look to your constituents. Other people tend to make like of that, but politicians don’t make light of it; they do pay attention to their constituents. You look to your party. You look to the President, whether he is of your party or not, you almost always know the President’s position. You look to lobbying groups, particularly ones that are strong in your constituency. It’s an easy vote if all of these things and others kind of point in the same direction. It’s a hard vote if they go off in different directions. At the end of the day on a hard vote, you have to put your feet up on the table and look out the window and just decide what you want to do. You never have all the information you’d like to have. You often have a ton of information. You don’t always have all you want. And in this day and age, so much of the information you get is tilted toward the direction of the person supplying the information. Nothing wrong with that in our system, but you always have to ask yourself the question, “Where am I getting the information?”

SCARPINO: Did your staff filter information?

HAMILTON: Oh yeah, staff is very, very important.

SCARPINO: What do you think a leader should read, just in general?

HAMILTON: A leader should read?


HAMILTON: Well, I guess I’d answer that biography more than anything else. It depends on what area you’re talking about, obviously. If you’re a manager of a big corporation you want to read a lot about management. If you are running a congressional office, probably not as important to read about management. But my answer would be biography, I think.

SCARPINO: Do you ever read about other leaders?

HAMILTON: Oh yeah, yeah. I’m fascinated by other leaders, particularly American leaders. My favorites are the Founding Fathers. My favorite period of American history is the revolutionary period.

SCARPINO: Gee, I’m teaching that now. I should. . .


SCARPINO: I said I’m teaching that now. I should arrange for you to come in and talk to my students and tell them why it’s really important.

HAMILTON: Well, my favorite leader in that period is Madison, because he was, you know—I’m kind of enchanted with him. He was a lousy speaker and physically unimpressive, shy in many respects, socially inept, but of course a political genius. I don’t think he could ever get elected to Congress today. (Laughing) He wouldn’t look very good on television today, I don’t believe...

SCARPINO: I think you’re right. Who do you think are important leaders?


SCARPINO: Who do you believe are important leaders?

HAMILTON: Oh gosh, I don’t know how to answer that. A lot of people are important leaders because of their position.

SCARPINO: Anyone that particularly stands out in your experience?

HAMILTON: I’m often asked about the presidents that I’ve known and worked with. I’m not even sure I can answer it from that standpoint, because every president has their strengths and has their weaknesses. But presidents are driven people, they’re not normal. The only normal president I’ve known was Gerry Ford and he backed in to the presidency.

SCARPINO: I’ll ask, what made Gerry Ford normal?


SCARPINO: I’ll ask, what made Gerry Ford normal?

HAMILTON: He did not have the kind of driving ambition that it takes today to become president, because he came in the back door. He was appointed vice president and then Nixon resigned, so he never was elected. Ford was a very genuine decent man, and I can fully understand why he was captain of the football team and minority leader. The year I came to the Congress was ‘65 and that’s the year he overthrew Charlie Halleck as the minority leader. He did it in large part with sheer work and effort, but the contrast between Halleck and Ford was stark. Halleck was a very smart guy, mastered the intricacies of parliamentary procedure. But sour, dour. You asked—I didn’t know Charlie Halleck that well, but you asked yourself the question, “How could this guy ever become leader?” He doesn’t have the attributes of popularity. Ford did have—everybody liked Gerry Ford. You couldn’t stay mad at Gerry Ford. He was very straightforward. You’d say something, and he’d say, “I don’t agree with that.” Fine, he didn’t agree with it. (Laughing) But he didn’t—there was no disingenuousness about it. I admired him. He lived only a few houses from me. And Betty Ford and my wife are good friends. I appreciated Gerry Ford, but he was not a normal president. Normal presidents are warped in many ways, they really are warped. They just have this driving ambition. Dick Nixon is a good example of it. Nixon, with all of the defeats and setbacks he had, he had this driving ambition to become president. And he was not—he was an introvert. He didn’t like people. He had none of the characteristics you would associate with a politician, but he had that ambition. And of course substantively, intellectually he was top drawer. Very, very good.

SCARPINO: Why do you think he got himself in so much trouble?

HAMILTON: No moral compass, I think. He was schizophrenic; people were plotting against him all the time. He had some basis for that, I guess, but he was suspicious of everybody. He did not like minorities, he did not like Jews. He had a lot of hostility in him. I don’t know. It would take a psychiatrist to figure that guy out. There were a lot of problems and he certainly wasn’t normal in the ordinary sense. (Laughing)

SCARPINO: Were there leaders who inspired you?


SCARPINO: Were there particular leaders that inspired you...

HAMILTON: The leaders that inspired me have been the historical figures more than personal ones.

SCARPINO: Were there people who helped you along the way as you developed your own career that really stand out?

HAMILTON: Well, Gerry. You know Dick Stoner—he was a huge help to me, he was Vice President of Cummins Engine Company, a strong Democrat. Dick and I became very good friends. He never was himself a candidate for public office but he had an enormous interest in it. He certainly made things easier for me, promoted me along the way in county and district politics. But look, you can’t be in politics without having to have the help of a lot of people. Everywhere you turn you need help from people. So the list would be very, very long.

SCARPINO: Do you think that having a mentor or mentors played a role in your development as a leader? Did you have mentors along the way?

HAMILTON: I don’t know that I had mentors along the way. I tended to go to people who were expert in the field I was focusing on. They were often academics or think tank people, sometimes in the government. I had an awful lot of admiration for some people that I didn’t necessarily agree with. Dean Rusk was an outstanding figure, a person of impeccable integrity, wholly committed to anti-communism, stopping the flood of communism in southeast Asia and so on. But a person of great moral character, and I greatly admired him even as I began to disagree with him on the war. And I can pick out a lot of people but he comes to mind very quickly.

SCARPINO: Robert McNamara, would you have contacted him?

HAMILTON: McNamara was exceedingly an impressive man. He came to the defense secretary. Incidentally, John Kennedy had never met him; never met him when he appointed him as the secretary of defense. The first time he ever met him was when Bob McNamara came to his home in Georgetown when he was president-elect and Kennedy didn’t know who he was. (Laughing) But that’s neither here nor there. He came before the committees of the Congress, and he was a machine gun in terms of facts. He poured out information, statistical information on all kinds of descriptions about KIA’s, villages pacified, and on and on, and I took it all in when I was a freshman, sophomore.

Then I went to Vietnam and I had this experience. I was out in the field with a captain, quite a bit towards the front lines. The captain and his men heard a lot of rustling over in a big hedge, a hedgerow over here. So they poured about three or four minutes of machine guns into that hedgerow; blew off every leaf in the hedgerow. After it was over, I said, “Well, what are you doing?” He said, “I’m writing my report.” I said, “How many are you putting down killed in action?” He said “I’m putting down ten.” I said, “I didn’t see anybody.” He said, “There must have been ten in there.” And so I came back and I decided that a lot of the statistics that McNamara was throwing were phony. I don’t think McNamara would agree with that. He thought the chain of command gave him accurate information. But I began to have great doubts about it. So in time McNamara did too, and he became a very tormented man, McNamara. After he left the Secretary’s position, I had dinner with him one night in Aspen, Colorado at a restaurant, and he just broke down in tears. He just lost it, because of his role in Vietnam. He agonized about it; still does. He’s in his eighties, he got married recently. He was a whiz kid, Ford Motor President at a very, very young age.

GERALD BEPKO: He wrote a book.

HAMILTON: He wrote a book. That’s right. He spent—he went to the World Bank to apologize. And I believe he made a great contribution there in directing the resources of the bank towards the poor. He’s a very compassionate man, which may fool you a little bit. And emotional, as his experience there indicated.

SCARPINO: I raise his name because of his association with Vietnam while you were in Congress, because I assume that you must have been committee chair.

HAMILTON: I was a rising member of the committee, I guess, at that time. I don’t think I was a chair, but I got to know him pretty well. I’ve known him—even today I consider him a good friend, and I’ve had a number of meetings with him in Aspen and other locales. And when I say he is tormented man, I mean it. He’s a tormented man.

BEPKO: To take advantage of the little extra time that Congressman Hamilton may have, and to keep you on time, if you’ll just tell me how to turn that off, I can ask a few questions that I’ve made notes on here, and then conclude when...

SCARPINO: OK then, and I’m going to say for the record that the speaker is Gerald Bepko. And. . .

BEPKO: I’ve already waived all my rights.

(All laughing)

SCARPINO: That’s right. We all had to sign a waiver before we started this project, didn’t we? The little button that says “Stop” right here.

Um, I will. . .

HAMILTON: You were going to go meet the speaker, did you say?

SCARPINO: I’m good until about five after. Why don’t I just stay? Go ahead and answer your questions. That way I can take this with me.

HAMILTON: Speaker Pelosi?

SCARPINO: Oh, no no no. This is a speaker from—actually it’s a historian who works for Wells Fargo Corporation.

HAMILTON: I’m sorry. Speaker has a certain connotation in my mind.

SCARPINO: One more question. Then I’ll wrap up what I want to say here. Do you, as a leader, mentor other people?


SCARPINO: That was easy. This is where I stop. Okay, so Gerry, you’re on.

BEPKO: What lessons about leadership do you think were derived from the problems that Robert McNamara had with the military during the Vietnam War in the sense that an organization of committed military personnel should never give false information, but yet there was a good bit of it in Vietnam; what lessons can be drawn from that about leadership and what to do in the future? And do you think we’re having some of the same problems with our military operations in Iraq?

HAMILTON: I think we are. I think the leaders have to be skeptical, even of their own people. And, I think presidents have to be. There is an aura in government that attaches, certainly to the president, but also a secretary of a major department. And people feed information to them that they know the leader wants to hear. And I think it’s a huge problem. I think a leader has real trouble getting independent advice. The problem in the government, the problem with the president—we elect very good politicians to be president, but once we do, we put them in a cocoon. And it is impossible for a president in the United States to have anything approaching a normal Congress session, anytime, anywhere. And he selects people to serve him and those people are dedicated to the service of that person. Rarely I think they really give him independent advice, and I think presidents need it.

BEPKO: In his book about leadership, Randy Tobias talks about the development of culture within organization. It’s the ethic of an organization. Military training, you would think, would include preparation for being candid and objective with the officers of the line. . .

HAMILTON: Well, you would think it would but it doesn’t work that way because their promotion depends on the favor of the guy up there. Gerry, I’ve sat in on a number of board meetings—I’m not talking about the military now—where I go into the management committee of a major American company. I did it last week—I won’t tell you what company. There were five people in the room in addition to myself, one of whom was one of the top corporate leaders in America, and I am nonplussed at the deference paid to the leader, to the point where they don’t speak until he has spoken, the leader. They don’t ever say anything that is remotely contradictory, and every comment they make reinforces what the leader just said. I have seen that in half a dozen or a dozen corporations. The same thing operates in government today. The number of times I have been in a cabinet room in the White House with the top secretaries, top members of Congress, where the secretaries would say anything to the president contrary to what the president thought. I think I can number on the fingers of one hand.

BEPKO: So they all go into office saying that I want people who will tell me the truth. I want people who will give me their candid best advice no matter whether it’s. . .

HAMILTON: Not true.

BEPKO: It’s not true? They don’t want it. They really don’t want it.

HAMILTON: It’s not all the fault of the president. It’s the people around him, as much as it is the president, I think. It’s a serious flaw. I was talking with a group of members of Congress the other day about the role of the Congress in making decisions and they get all interested in the War Powers Act and the Constitution of Provisions, and so forth. And I said look, from my point of view, practically what you want is when a president is sitting down trying to decide whether to intervene militarily, what you want is to assure that the president gets independent advice. He may not follow it. What you don’t want is everybody sitting around the table and doing what they know the president wants to do, or what they think the president wants to do. “Mr. President, that’s a slam dunk!”

BEPKO: (Laughing)

HAMILTON: That’ll forever be the example. George Tenet knew that wasn’t a slam dunk because George Tenet had underneath him a lot of analysts who were saying to him there just is not hard evidence of the WMD in Iraq. George Tenet, who is an admiral of a guy in many ways, but he’s a better politician than he is intelligence officer. And he told the president exactly what the president wanted to hear.

SCARPINO: Did you have people on your congressional staff who would tell you what you didn’t want to hear?

HAMILTON: No, I’m afraid the same thing operates to a lesser degree at the congressional level. I think it operates in the private sector. I mentioned the corporate sector. It’s not an easy question. When do you take on the leader?

BEPKO: There is one part of our society where this principal doesn’t operate though, and that’s the university, because when I was chancellor of the faculty they would tell me whatever they thought no matter how repugnant it may have been to me. (Laughing)

HAMILTON: Well that’s probably on the plus side for the university, from my point of view, but you’re probably correct.

BEPKO: What did you think of Dick Stoner as a leader? What were the things that made him so good?

HAMILTON: Well I’m a very biased man. Dick was a marvelous person. He— intellectually of the highest caliber, he was. . .

SCARPINO: We should probably say for the record, for ten to twenty years in the future, who Dick Stoner is.


SCARPINO: Who is Dick Stoner?

HAMILTON: Dick Stoner was vice president of Cummins Engine Company, lived in Columbus, Indiana, a very close friend of mine. My judgment about him would be highly biased, but he was a superb leader, Dick. Within the company, within the corporate world, the right-hand man of J. Irwin Miller, who, as you recall, was the chief guy. But a very democratic man. That is a small “d,” but also a large “D.” But he genuinely believed in the democratic process. Dick would come with me, for example, to Rising Sun, Indiana, smallest county in the state. I’d walk up and down the streets trying to find somebody to hand literature to. And Dick, vice president of Cummins Engine Company, would be handing out literature on my behalf. (laughing) Boggles the mind! But morally he was a high-caliber person and I just had enormous respect for him.

BEPKO: For the record, he was also the Chair of the President of the Indiana University Board of Trustees for a number of years. . .

HAMILTON: That’s correct.

BEPKO: . . .a period of high performance and peace within the Trustees.

HAMILTON: He was very—he was a superb communicator, in this sense. He tried to keep in touch with everybody on the board and within the company. He recognized that one of his responsibilities was communication, communication, communication. Networking, networking, networking.

SCARPINO: Do you think that communication and networking are marks of leadership?

HAMILTON: Oh yes. It’s a very, very important aspect of it.

SCARPINO: Gerry, we should probably let the Congressman. . .

HAMILTON: Yes, it’s five after. Well, I’ve enjoyed. . .