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May 16, 2012 5:21 pm

Senator Dick Lugar Departs with a Statesman’s Warning

avatar by Heather Robinson

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Senator Richard Lugar with then Senator Barack Obama at a military base near Perm, Russia, in 2005. Photo: wiki commons.

It’s a departing statesman’s job to share what he has learned. George Washington famously cautioned Americans to take advantage of a “detached and distant situation” to “pursue a different course” from that of Europe and avoid unnecessary conflicts. Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of the dangers of military-industrial complex overreach.

Last week, following his defeat by state Treasurer Richard Mourdock in Indiana’s Republican primary, departing Senator Richard Lugar, a 36-year veteran of Capitol Hill, shared a warning that Americans of all political stripes would be well advised to heed. In conceding to Mourdock, Lugar warned, “Ideology cannot be a substitute for a determination to think for yourself, for a willingness to study an issue objectively and for the fortitude to sometimes disagree with your party and even your constituents.” He also said that if voters demand “near-total fealty from candidates to party-line ideologies  …Voters will be electing a slate of inflexible positions rather than a leader.”

As a highly effective fighter in the Senate for security policy, Lugar co-authored the Nunn-Lugar program. This bi-partisan effort, initiated with Democratic Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia, enabled the dismantling of more than 7,500 nuclear warheads, 1,400 nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, 155 bombers, and 32 nuclear submarines in the former Soviet Union during the years following its collapse. To the extent that the Russians have not already sold nuclear weapons and WMD to Islamist terrorists, it may be due to this important program; thus, Lugar has earned an important platform from which to speak credibly about bipartisanship.

At a time when American politics have seldom been more polarized, his words about the value of moderate and independent politics are of import. When voters become increasingly arch in their insistence that candidates’ voting and governing records stack up neatly along party lines and that their past behavior and voting records cleave to rigid ideologies, the country is destined to pick its leaders from one of two polarities: conservative Republican or liberal Democrat. Come to think of it, that’s what’s happened in the last three Presidential elections, and in most Congressional elections for many years.

How’s that been workin’ out for us?

One consequence is fewer problem-solvers, and fewer politicians who work well with the best and brightest on the other side, are coming to the fore in national politics (although such “moderate” stars, like New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Newark Mayor Cory Booker, have achieved great results at the local level). Say what you will about Bill Clinton, he did manage some of his best work as President—welfare reform– with pressure and help from a Republican Congress. He balanced the federal budget, incorporating conservative principles in his approach. And it was President Richard Nixon, known as a hawkish conservative on foreign policy, who opened relations with Communist China.

Out-of-the box strategies have worked for many politicians and for the country. But in an era in which, for most Americans, the litmus test for a candidate is a rigid adherence to a party line (and status as a “true liberal” or “true conservative,”) our country is less likely to elect outside-the-box thinkers or those who can incorporate the strongest ideas from across the political spectrum to problem-solve.

Oftentimes in politics, as in life, ideological purity goes hand-in-hand with stubbornness and extremism—traits that can enable those who possess them to spark revolutions or confront injustice. But in governance–as in day-to-day life–it tends to be the moderates who ensure that the center holds, that relationships are stable, and that work gets done.

Given that the country’s past two Presidents have come from extreme sides of the political spectrum and so have most members of Congress, perhaps it would be wise to heed the departing words of a Senator who spearheaded solid and far-sighted security policy by reaching across the aisle and working with the other party. Good ideas come from both sides; effective politicians grasp this simple truth and can exploit it.

At this troubled juncture, it may well be the wiser course to set aside the quest for some perfect ideological purity and choose instead as leaders realists with proven track records of working well with others—including those on the other side of the aisle.

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  • Dick Lugar has a very appropriate first name

    He enabled Russia by reducing our nuclear arsenal

    A Republican in name only, Dick voted to reduce military spending and increase “entitlements” to illegal immigrants

    A Tea Party Candidate won his Congressional Seat in Indiana

  • Boris

    But you Mr. Lugar, failed to uphold your oath of office to support the US Constitution and protect it against all enemies, foreign and domestic. And you obused the civil and G-d given rights of the people by trampling on the people’s Bill of Rights. All that can be said is, good riddance, RINO.

  • FactsRule

    It was Reagan’s buildup of our military that defeated the Soviets without firing a shot, not dismantling our defenses. We’ve never been able to verify what Russia does with their nukes or how many they really have. Unverifiable treaties aren’t good, they’re stupid & dangerous. His warning is that of a sore loser elitist who had the worse record in the senate regarding illegal immigration. Instead of stating that he was defeated by Conservatism that wants a real opportunity to fix America in the most effective way without him standing on the side of the opposition, he lashes out. It’s shamefully classless.
    The author’s contention that it’s a lack of moderation that has led to the precipice we’re on isn’t supported by fact. The fact is that Conservatism works whenever it’s fully tried, every time! Liberalism, far reaching out-of-control government attempting to manage, control, & spend for 310 million Americans can & will NEVER work, for many in the short run, for all in the long run. It must be defeated, repeatedly. It cannot be appeased or empowered because it cannot be controlled once it gets out of control. Greece is one Western example.
    The author should be made aware that Republicans have always compromised. Reagan did it. Gingrich & the majority in congress did it with Clinton. And, they always included Democrats in the process when they were in the majority up until 2006. Bush signed Kennedy’s No Child Left Behind as well as Medicare Part D. I’ve very closely observed politics in the US for 30 years. Compromise in Democrat parlance means Republicans bowing, bending, & reaching over to the Democrat position, far, far more than ever, that’s ever, moving toward a Republican position. Democrat politicians rarely, very rarely do or say anything that is positive about Republicans or their positions. The Democrat playbook is that Republicans are sinister throwbacks who hate gays; want dirty air & water; would throw millions of elderly people off cliffs in their wheelchairs; & want to starve families; not educate kids, etc, etc. etc. Bush was very far from extreme, while Obomber is the very most extreme Left-wing radical we’ve ever elected. The country was horribly disrespected by the Democrats who were running congress & the White House. They rose up & elected almost 90 Conservative Republicans to congress in Nov. ’10. We’re NOT in the mood to compromise with those like Obama who glibly stated in ’09 that elections have consequences. Republicans can sit in the back & let Dems. do all the driving. Well, all the author’s talk of moderation wasn’t there while Democrats went nuts in congress & the White House, passing a 2,300 hundred page change in our entire healthcare system that will hasten our complete bankruptcy.

  • The likes of Lugar, and Arlen Specter, may bemoan the decline of bi-partisanship, but their blaming the conservative movement for this state of affairs, causes one to wonder what they have been smoking. Maybe sour grape-skins.

    The Democrat Party has been completely over-run by radical progressives, about which we hear nary a word. When Lugar, Specter, et al, start complaining about how centrist Democrats like Joe Lieberman, or, say, Marty Peretz, have been undermined and denigrated, they’ll deserve to be taken seriously.

    Until then, good riddance to old baggage. These shillers do not merit comparison to Washington or Eusenhower.

    • FactsRule

      Excellent points and well written!

    • Joy

      Right on the money, Mr. Korn and Facts Rule! Lugar, like that weird Specter before him, was just spouting the sour grapes of the permanent political class when they’re routed in an election – esp. a primary! Lugar, Specter and so many other octagenarians have been in Congress WAY too long and are WAY too seeped in the DC Swamp! In fact, from what I’ve read, Lugar hasn’t actually lived in the State that he suppositively represents in many years! It’s time we sent them ALL packing! And, FYI, Orrin Hatch may be next, although I think he just squeaked by in his state’s primary, so now the Dems in Utah can vote for him as well.

      Many of these guys have been excellent reps in Congress/Senate – but usually their dedication as public servants is diminished over time, and they just hang on for the power, money, prestige and insulation from the rest of the hoi poloi with whom they might have to interact…