Senator Lugar will be missed
I have spent the last 40 years of my life working in and teaching about the United States Senate. Right after then-Senator Biden and I came to Washington, he told me something I have always kept in mind when dealing with its members. “There is a reason the citizens of each state picked each individual Senator,” Senator Biden said, “and it is worth looking for what that is.”
The Senate has always been a partisan place. The arguments are fierce. Strongly held beliefs collide with each other. But no matter how much I disagreed with the positions taken by senators on the other side of the aisle, I could respect and even admire nearly all of them.
One of the senators I disagreed with on many issues but came to greatly admire was Richard Lugar. Last week, he lost his bid for a sixth term in the Indiana Republican primary. He will be sorely missed in the next Senate.
For many years, I watched as he and Senator Biden passed the gavel back and forth on the Foreign Relations Committee, where they traded positions as Chair or ranking member. As partisan a conservative Republican as he was on most domestic issues, Senator Lugar deeply believed in the approach to foreign policy articulated in the early 1940s by Michigan’s Republican Senator Arthur Vandenberg: “To me, ‘bipartisan foreign policy’ means a mutual effort, under our indispensable, two-party system, to unite our official voice at the water’s edge so that America speaks with one voice to those who would divide and conquer us and the free world.”
Throughout his Senate career, Senator Lugar was a driving force in maintaining this approach to foreign policy. He did not grandstand. In his quiet, intelligent way, he became one of our most knowledgeable experts on an issue that wins few votes but is literally a matter of life-and-death for the planet — nuclear proliferation.
Perhaps his greatest accomplishment was the joint effort with former Democratic Senator Sam Nunn that established the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, which provides U.S. funding and expertise to help former Soviet countries safeguard and dismantle their nuclear and chemical arsenals. The program has deactivated thousands of nuclear warheads, chemical weapons, and their delivery systems. It has eliminated all the nuclear weapons in Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus, previously three of the top eight nuclear arsenals in the world. Senator Lugar, as much as any single person alive, is responsible for greatly reducing the threat of nuclear proliferation into the terrorist world.
As in any election, there were many reasons why Senator Lugar lost his bid for re-nomination. But among the criticisms raised against him by his opponent was that he supported the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. It is hard to understand how this vote could be characterized as anti-Republican when Lugar was joined in his support of START by the Secretaries of State for the last five Republican Presidents.
I smile when I see Senator Lugar being portrayed in the media as a “moderate.” His voting record on domestic issues has been consistently conservative. The American Conservative Union gives him a 77 percent lifetime rating.
But that, it seems, is not conservative enough. His victorious opponent, Richard Mourdock, ran a campaign that was openly dismissive of any kind of bipartisanship. He has promised to model himself after Senators Jim DeMint and Mike Lee, who have refused to compromise on virtually any issue. Right after Mourdock won the nomination, he explained, “I have a mind-set that says bipartisanship ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view.”
I have been doing a lot of traveling lately, in Delaware and in other parts of the country. Wherever I go, the most common thread in talks I have with many different groups of people is their frustration with the lack of compromise and the resulting gridlock in Washington. If candidates like Mike Castle and Richard Lugar are defeated because they are willing to consider bipartisan solutions, the gridlock can only get worse.
I could not agree more with what Senator Lugar said in his typically thoughtful concession speech:
“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”.
Originally published 14 May 2012 on huffingtonpost.com