Director’s Report December 2013

Date: 
December 1, 2013 (All day)

Dear friends: 

When the calendar turns to 2014, the Center on Congress marks its 15th anniversary.  Since I partnered with Indiana University to establish the Center in 1999, we have developed a very wide range of resources — web sites, apps, all manner of print materials, videos, newspaper commentaries, and much more — aimed at boosting citizen engagement by explaining how our representative democracy functions, how the work of Congress affects people's lives, and how vital it is for America’s future that citizens be informed and active.

One message that emerges from our resources and programs is this: The best ideas in the world won’t get anywhere in Congress if we don’t have people who can listen to each other and work together. Even if our political leaders are not all going to become friends, we can certainly expect them to respect each other, listen to each other, and acknowledge that in a nation as divided as we are politically, good governance entails finding solutions that all can accept.

Thank you for your interest and support. Below are highlights of the Center’s recent efforts.

With warm regards,

Lee Hamilton

Director, Center on Congress at Indiana University

• The Center jumps out of the gate quickly in the New Year: On Monday, Jan. 6 in Washington, we hold our annual seminar to help reporters understand how the federal budget comes together, and how to find good stories in it. In the half-day seminar, experienced analysts and seasoned economic journalists will share insights on the substance, politics and personalities of the budget process; suggest resources and contacts to consult; and take questions. 

The Center started hosting budget seminars in 2006, in furtherance of our mission to help reporters bring more depth and perspective to their coverage of congressional action on important subjects. Partnering with us again in 2014 is our longtime co-host, the National Press Foundation, along with the Regional Reporters Association and POLITICO. The venue is the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars. There is no fee to attend, but space is limited and reservations are required. The link to register is http://bit.ly/1bQm42n

• This month the Center unveiled a redesigned and updated version of "Critical Thinking: Analyzing Congressional Floor Debates,” one of our interactive online education resources that is funded through the Center’s partnership with the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources (TPS) program. Aiming to teach students how to make and analyze arguments, “Critical Thinking” features an introduction by Center Director Hamilton, then explains 15 kinds of considerations that members of Congress use to strengthen their case, from presenting facts and figures and citing opinions of experts to connecting to core values and showing political and popular support.

Students are asked to analyze congressional floor statements on one of four issues in the mid-1800s (for example, the purchase of Alaska, and the building of the transcontinental railroad). Next is a gallery of congressional statements on key issues through history (such as Madison on the Bill of Rights in 1789, and Dirksen on the Civil Rights Act of 1964). Finally, in the “make your case” section, students write a floor statement of their own. Rich with primary source images and documents from the Library’s online collection, the interactive is accessible both via website and on tablet computers. See it at http://tpscongress.dvinciinteractive.com/critical-thinking/index.html

• The Center’s flagship website (www.centeroncongress.org) enjoyed another strong month in November, drawing nearly 42,500 visitors. So far in 2013, the web site has seen more than 306,000 visits, which is 24 percent more than in 2012. And we count continued growth in our followers on Facebook, where we post regularly about Center resources and programs, and invite comments about Congress, civic education, and the citizen’s role in representative democracy. “Like” us on Facebook at “Center on Congress at Indiana University.”

• This year the Center has stepped up its efforts in the area of teacher training, hosting a number of professional development sessions under the auspices of the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources (TPS) program. With TPS funds, the Center held training sessions for social studies and civics educators at several Indiana University campuses, including iU Bloomington, IU South Bend, IU Northwest, and IU-Purdue U. Indianapolis and IUP Fort Wayne. The ultimate goal of the training is to take educators from “user” to “district coach” status, so they can become conversant enough with TPS and Center resources to train other teachers in their use. Next year, the Center will explore expanding its training work beyond Indiana to the neighboring states of Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky.

• Center Director Hamilton and Indiana Chief Justice (retired) Randall T. Shepard were both presented with the 2013 William G. Baker Civic Education Award at the Dec. 15 “We the People State Dinner,” held in the Grand Hall at Union Station in downtown Indianapolis as part of the Indiana State High School Finals of the “We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution” competition. Shepard spoke on civility and Hamilton on civic education and engagement. The dinner was presented by the Kenneth J. Allen Law Group and the Indiana Bar Foundation.

In 2011, Hamilton and Shepard teamed up to promote the first-ever Indiana Civic Health Index, a report drawn from U.S. Census data that was sponsored by a coalition of Hoosier organizations committed to advancing active citizenship and civic education (see the 2011 index at http://bit.ly/1hooc6Q). Wheels are turning to produce an updated Indiana Civic Health Index in 2014, an effort led by the Indiana Bar Foundation and IU Northwest, working in conjunction with the National Conference on Citizenship, a non-partisan, congressionally chartered organization that promotes civic and political participation, supports history and civics education, and encourages community and national service.

• The scholarly work of Center Director of Research Edward G. Carmines was featured in “The Center Cannot Hold,” an article by New York Times contributing op-ed writer Thomas B. Edsall that was published online Dec. 3. Edsall analyzed a study produced by Carmines and two other political scientists who are experts on voting behavior, titled “Why American Political Parties Can’t Get Beyond the Left-Right Divide.” Its key finding is that the traditional way of sorting the electorate into conservatives, moderates and liberals is too simplistic, and that in fact the electorate is splintered into five categories: liberals, conservatives, libertarians, populists, and moderates, with libertarians gravitating towards the Republican Party on economics and to the Democrats on social issues, and populists drawn to the GOP on social issues and to the Democrats on economics. With left-right polarization and cross-cuts in the so-called middle, wrote Edsall, “proponents of a revival of a less divisive politics should keep their hopes down.” See the piece at http://nyti.ms/IYIisv 

In addition to overseeing the Center’s opinion-survey work and other activities, Carmines holds the title of Distinguished Professor of Political Science at IU Bloomington.

• Hamilton met Dec. 18 in Bloomington with the Center’s Faculty Advisory Committee, to update them on the Center’s programs and projects and to receive advice on opportunities for research, fundraising, guest lecturers, and other activities. Members of the FAC are:

• William T. Bianco, Professor, Department of Political Science

• Hannah L. Buxbaum, Interim Dean, Maurer School of Law

• Margaret R. Ferguson, Assistant Vice President, Statewide Academic Relations; former Chair, IUPUI Department of Political Science 

• John D. Graham, Dean, School for Public and Environmental Affairs 

• Lesa Hatley Major, Interim Dean, School of Journalism 

• Terrence C. Mason, Associate Vice Provost for Research — Social Sciences; Director, 

Center for Social Studies and International Education; Professor, School of Education