Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Lugar & the Purging of Moderates

Editor's Note: I regret not writing about Specter's final Senate speech when it occurred. I wasn't about to make the same mistake with Lugar.

A letter Senator Richard Lugar (R-Indiana) wrote following his loss last night in Indiana is making the rounds. It is a scathing rebuke of today's political climate, particularly of his beloved Republican Party. Lugar's letter reminded me of the final speech of Senator Arlen Specter (D-Pennsylvania), perhaps fittingly given the sane voices Specter and Lugar brought to the United States Senate.

A fairly lengthy sample from Lugar's letter:

"If [my opponent, Richard Mourdock] is elected, I want him to be a good Senator. But that will require him to revise his stated goal of bringing more partisanship to Washington. He and I share many positions, but his embrace of an unrelenting partisan mindset is irreconcilable with my philosophy of governance and my experience of what brings results for Hoosiers in the Senate. In effect, what he has promised in this campaign is reflexive votes for a rejectionist orthodoxy and rigid opposition to the actions and proposals of the other party. His answer to the inevitable roadblocks he will encounter in Congress is merely to campaign for more Republicans who embrace the same partisan outlook. He has pledged his support to groups whose prime mission is to cleanse the Republican party of those who stray from orthodoxy as they see it.
"This is not conducive to problem solving and governance. And he will find that unless he modifies his approach, he will achieve little as a legislator. Worse, he will help delay solutions that are totally beyond the capacity of partisan majorities to achieve...
"Unfortunately, we have an increasing number of legislators in both parties who have adopted an unrelenting partisan viewpoint. This shows up in countless vote studies that find diminishing intersections between Democrat and Republican positions. Partisans at both ends of the political spectrum are dominating the political debate in our country. And partisan groups, including outside groups that spent millions against me in this race, are determined to see that this continues. They have worked to make it as difficult as possible for a legislator of either party to hold independent views or engage in constructive compromise. If that attitude prevails in American politics, our government will remain mired in the dysfunction we have witnessed during the last several years. And I believe that if this attitude expands in the Republican Party, we will be relegated to minority status. Parties don't succeed for long if they stop appealing to voters who may disagree with them on some issues." 
"Too often bipartisanship is equated with centrism or deal cutting. Bipartisanship is not the opposite of principle. One can be very conservative or very liberal and still have a bipartisan mindset. Such a mindset acknowledges that the other party is also patriotic and may have some good ideas. It acknowledges that national unity is important, and that aggressive partisanship deepens cynicism, sharpens political vendettas, and depletes the national reserve of good will that is critical to our survival in hard times...
"I don't remember a time when so many topics have become politically unmentionable in one party or the other. Republicans cannot admit to any nuance in policy on climate change. Republican members are now expected to take pledges against any tax increases. For two consecutive Presidential nomination cycles, GOP candidates competed with one another to express the most strident anti-immigration view, even at the risk of alienating a huge voting bloc. Similarly, most Democrats are constrained when talking about such issues as entitlement cuts, tort reform, and trade agreements. Our political system is losing its ability to even explore alternatives. If fealty to these pledges continues to expand, legislators may pledge their way into irrelevance. Voters will be electing a slate of inflexible positions rather than a leader."
It is a sad day when a dedicated public servant like Dick Lugar has no place in today's Republican Party. And he is absolutely right, parties cannot continue on this path without irrevocable consequence.

This country and the world is a better place because in 1967 Dick Lugar was elected mayor of Indianapolis and embarked on a career of public service, a career that included nearly four decades in the U.S. Senate. As John Kerry said yesterday, "[t]his is a tragedy for the Senate" and a "blow to the institution during a period when the institution itself has been strained."

Dick Lugar will be missed.

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