Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A sad end to a great career in the Senate

I can't help but feel sad about the defeat of incumbent Senator Richard Lugar in the GOP primary yesterday. I supported Richard Mourdock this time around, but it was not a choice that I relished. Rcihard Lugar used to be my favorite senator. A security conservative but a social moderate. Primary areas of expertise were defense and foreign policy. Right up my alley.

And he used to be the best senator. By far. No one on Capitol Hill knew more about defense and foreign policy, which after all are the primary areas of responsibility for the federal government.

But notice I'm using the past tense here. Even so, Richard Lugar did more good during his tenure in the Senate than most.

What happened?

There is a tendency among many to label Lugar's defeat yesterday as a consequence of the Republican Party having gone too far to the right. To an extent that is true, when it comes to social issues, anyway. The only untouchables in the GOP's current platform seem to be abortion and stopping gay marriage. Everything else seems to be negotiable, which to me is abhorrent. I don't like abortion but I don't believe it is nearly the clear-cut moral issue that either side makes it out to be, and I don't think government should be wasting its time on it. I find opposition to gay marriage hateful and bigoted. My priorities, as they have always been, are on security (both national and internal) and foreign policy.

But social issues are not what did Lugar in yesterday. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

Lugar complained that he was vilified for being willing to talk to senators on the other side of the aisle. That there should be room for bipartisanship in Washington. On that, he is correct.

But on so many occasions Lugar seems to pursue bipartisanship for bipartisanship's sake, not out of any policy goal, at least not a Republican or GOP policy goal. I understand the idea of trying to get half a loaf, but when the loaf is rotten, you shouldn't try to get any of it at all.

What that means is that many of the ideas coming out of the Dem side of the aisle on Capitol Hill now are just so bad that there should be no compromise to get even just a piece of them enacted. They have to be stopped.

Some time ago, a political commentator -- I forget who it was -- said that if the Democrats proposed burning down Washington, DC, most Republicans would oppose it, but people like Lugar would offer a compromise of having a phased burning down of the city instead of burning it down all at once.

That seems to be what Lugar had become.

There really is no excuse for his support of Sonia Sotomayor or Elena Kagan for SCOTUS. Or, worst of all, Eric Holder as attorney general.  Lugar's ads said he helped stop cap and trade, but he has gone on record as believing in anthropogenic global warming and the Dems were targeting him to flip on cap and trade, which was probably the most evil congressional proposal of my lifetime. Could you count on him to hold that line on cap and trade? I could not.

He supported the DREAM Act. Much of the Senate supported the DREAM Act in spite of its explicit and ovwerwhelming rejection by the American people, but Lugar represented a state in which the oppposition to DREAM was much higher than the national average.

What ended him for me was the START Treaty. Lugar had worked with former Georgia Senator Sam Nunn to remove old nuclear warheads from Russia before they got into the hands of terrorists. That was a good thing, to be sure. But Lugar developed an almost myopic focus on that issue. The START Treaty was symptomatic of that myopia. START ended up exchanging new US nukes for old Russian nukes. That doesn't sound good , but it is defensible. What is not defensible is that START at the very least calls into question America's right to build a missile defense system. Lugar says START has no impact on America's right to build an anti-missile system. Russia, however, says it prohibits such a system, and Obama seems to be using Russia's interpretation as an excuse to spike missile defense.

If we end up not building a missile defense system and are held nuclear hostage by, say, Iranians or North Koreans, you can thank Richard Lugar for part of it.

I also fail to see how you can have a treaty when both sides do not agree on what the treaty means. START is not up to the lofty standards Lugar set earlier in his career. In fact, START is not to Lugar's credit at all. The treaty was a terrible idea, all because of the missile defense that Lugar didn't seem to care about.

Now we have the Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST) coming up in the Senate. Lugar has been working very closely with Massachusetts Senator John Kerry on LOST. Anything supported by John Kerry is presumptively questionable, and LOST is no exception. It basically cedes American sovereignty to an international body. Lugar denies that, and says it will help keep Russia from encroaching on international waters in the Arctic, but after the START debacle who can trust his judgment.

To top it off, Lugar has said he does not believe Iranian mullahs with nukes are much to worry about. That is really, really bad. It defies common sense and history. Once again, it is not up tot he lofty standards Lugar set for himself earlier.

Lugar could have survived all of these misjudgments. Could have, except for the residency issue. Not even his age and the sheer length of his tenure in the Senate were the torpedoes that the residency issue was.

Late last year it was revealed that Lugar had not been living in Indiana since the 1970's. When he came back he stayed in hotels. He used as his voting address a house neither he nor any member of his family nor even any of his friends or acquaintances had owned since the 1970's, much to the surprise of the home's current occupants. He had two convenient but very questionable (at best) Indiana AG opinions to give him cover, but on its face it looked horrible. A double standard at the very least: if any of us tried that, we would get thrown in jail. Charlie White, in fact, did get thrown in jail, and deservedly so. If anything, Lugar's issue was even worse than White's. It was almost as if Lugar could randomly select a house and decide he lived there for residence purposes. Lugar pointed to those two AG opinons as a justification, and said he could not afford two residences. Thay may actually be true -- his house in Virginia is supposedly worth more than a million dollars, but that house has appreciated in value since he bought the house in the 1970's when prices were much lower. Owning a million-dollar home doesn't mean you actually have a milion dollars to spend. But someone owning a million-dollar home crying poverty to justify what on its face looks like vote fraud is insulting to middle and lower class constituents who weren't fortunate enough to hit the jackpot on the real estate market.

After the residency issue became public and Lugar tried to defend it on the technicality of the AG opinions, the perception that he was a Washington political insider who was out of touch with his Hoosier constituents gained traction. The residency issue seemed symptomatic of his recent voting record. They just fit with each other, with the idea that Lugar was more Washington than Indiana. That turned his seniority, his long tenure in the Senate, from assets into vulnerabilities.

At that point, Lugar was in deep trouble. Failing to maintain an Indiana residence may have been the single stupidest political maneuver I have seen in recent years. It cannot be justified, either from a political or from an ethical standpoint. And it would have been so easy to avoid. Just rent a cheap apartment here and, bingo!, you're covered. It was just plain stupid. An inexcusable mistake from someone who knew better who was surrounded by advisors who knew better.

Richard Lugar is a good person who genrally surrounded himself with good people, to whom, he was very loyal, a rare trait for Republicans today. He has always wanted what is best for America. And he always worked hard to do what is best for America. He had been a great, great senator for a very long time. That he lost his way in his last years in the Senate is not reason to villify him. He is not a villain. But on the issues that are of critical importance today, Lugar is either wrong (see, e.g. START, LOST, DREAM, Iran) or unwilling or unable to stand up for what is right (see, e.g. Holder, Sotomayor, Kagan). 

Lugar had to go. As much as I am sorry to say it, he had to go. He does not seem to be taking his defeat well, which has earned him some criticism, but I don't know how I or any of us would react if we were in his shoes, especially so soon after the election. Give him some time.

In the meantime, while we shoukld honor Richar Lugar for his incredible record of service to the United States, we should now get behind Richard Mourdock for US Senate. I can't say that I agree with Mourdock on everything -- that pesky social conservatism is always an issue with me -- but now is the time to turn the tide that is slowly but surely washing America away. Mourdock has shown the ability and the intelligence to become part of the team to do just that.

If Mourdock does even half as much good as Richard Lugar did he will be a great senator. I believe he can. And will.

Now, let's take back our country.

1 comment:

  1. You got it. We face the prospect of four more years of the same "fire" from all the vaunted "compromise". If the choice is tackling the lackings of free enterprise competition versus awaiting universal productivity to pay for our universal benefits, guess which line I'm going to be in?