Tag Archives: Dick Lugar

Remember Knowledgable Republicans?

I’m getting used to having my students express surprise when they discover that I used to be a Republican–that I even ran for Congress as a Republican.

I try to explain to them that the radical fringe that constitutes today’s GOP is nothing like the party I worked for over a period of 35 years. I tell them that although both parties have always included zealots and know-nothings of various sorts, I remember a time when serious people who cared about America’s prospects and were even willing to work across the political aisle could be found in both parties.

A recent media release from the Lugar Center is evidence not just of the accuracy of that recollection, but the distance between then and now.

Washington–Former Sen. Richard G. Lugar said today many of President Trump’s stated foreign policy goals are “simplistic, prosaic and reactive,” and are characteristic of “a selfish, inward looking nation that is being motivated by fear, not a great superpower with capacity to shape global affairs.”

In remarks prepared for a Washington event hosted by the Foreign Policy Association, Lugar, a former chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that if Trump fully followed through on his current policies for trade, immigration and international alliances, “the net effect…would be an economic and geopolitical disaster.”

Lugar, a Republican from Indiana who served 36 years in the Senate, said the president is relying too much on beefing up the military while “squandering America’s international leverage.”

“We cannot bomb our way to security,” Lugar said.

Always the diplomat, Lugar attributed the “missteps” of the Trump Administration to a period in which it was “finding its footing.” (Those of us who are far less diplomatic might suggest that in order to find one’s footing, it is helpful to know what a floor is…But I digress.) He did, however, address several of the issues that he clearly considers troubling, if not disastrous.

What worries him Lugar said,

are Trump’s “campaign-driven foreign policy themes that are fundamentally contradicted by centuries of world history.”  For instance, Trump’s protectionist trade agenda ignores the powerful impact of technology on job displacement, Lugar said, and “attempting to isolate a nation from trade competition is a self-defeating strategy that will hurt those at the bottom of the economic ladder before anyone else.”

“On immigration, we are mired in a debate of distraction,” Lugar said. “In a world where dampening the rise of new terrorists is as important as dealing with existing ones, the ban on entrants from Muslim countries represents the most obvious recruitment tool against the United States since Abu Ghraib…The ban has been a steep net loss to U.S. national security.”

Lugar, a strong supporter of NATO throughout his Senate career, also expressed concern about Trump’s willingness to question U.S. commitment to our allies as he seeks to wring more contributions from them. “Such ambiguity is not clever,” Lugar said. “It is dangerous and can lead to deadly miscalculation.”

A couple of things about these public remarks struck me: first–and most obvious–is the monumental distance between statesmen like Richard Lugar and the Keystone Kops party of Trump, Pence, Ryan, McConnell and “Freedom Caucus” ideologues who now are both the face and the substance of a once-responsible GOP. Where we once had thoughtful, intellectually-honest elected officials who understood the complexities of government and world affairs, we now have posturing fools who don’t know what they don’t know.

The second thing that struck me was how unlike Dick Lugar it is to voice these concerns publicly. Lugar has always been a good “soldier,” unwilling to go public with criticisms of others in his party (and muted in his critiques of Democrats, for that matter). Even out of office, he has been collegial to a fault.

He must be really, really worried.

 

 

Of Chickenhawks and Diplomats–War and Peace

File under “who do you trust?”

The usual suspects– Dick Cheney, Tom Cotton (author of the arguably treasonous letter to Iran sent earlier this year), Ted Cruz, Bibi Netanyahu and various Right-wing and media personalities– are attacking the nuclear agreement with Iran.

I have listened to their arguments, and they boil down to “get a better deal” (without any specifics about what “better” might look like) and “Any deal, no matter how good, legitimizes an evil regime, so we should never negotiate with Iran.”

When pressed to say what they would propose in lieu of the agreement, some opponents argue for the status quo, that is, continuing to enforce sanctions. In the real world, of course, this is not an option, since in order to work, sanctions require agreement and enforcement by the international community. That would be the same community with which we negotiated this agreement–the members of which have made clear they would react negatively to efforts to sabotage it.

What most opponents don’t say, but clearly mean, is– in the (in)famous words sung by John McCain– “bomb bomb bomb Iran.”

Because making war in the Middle East worked so well the last time.

If those opposed to this agreement are less than persuasive, what about those who have voiced support?

According to media reports, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, National Security Advisors Brent Scowcroft, Sandy Berger and Zbigniew Brzezinski, retired Admirals William Fallon and James Stavridis, and recent Senate Committee Chairmen Dick Lugar, Carl Levin, and Nancy Kassebaum, as well as Ambassadors Tom Pickering and Ryan Crocker have joined a bipartisan group of more than 50 retired military officials, U.S. foreign policy leaders, ambassadors, and leading national security experts in applauding the achievement reached after 18 months of complex negotiations.

Let’s see….Dick Cheney? or Dick Lugar?

I know who I trust.

Running Against a Tsunami

I know it’s easy to critique a campaign from the sidelines, but it’s really difficult to understand what Dick Lugar is thinking. I catch his television commercials from time to time, and as a past supporter and contributor, I get email blasts from his campaign daily.

It is increasingly painful and off-putting to watch.

The Dick Lugar I used to know and admire was a statesman. I didn’t always agree with him–even when I was still a Republican, he was sometimes too conservative for me–but I always respected him; he was reasoned and thoughtful, gracious to his opponents and informed in his positions. It’s true that, as the party moved right, Lugar moved with it, but never to the fringe. He never stooped to the sort of hateful rhetoric and flat-earth know-nothingness that has so diminished the Grand Old Party. He was never an ideologue.

Until now.

Lugar is being challenged by the worst elements of an increasingly irrational base. Mourdock, his primary opponent, is a bad joke. But as Jim Shella wrote in an earlier column on this race, Mourdock isn’t the point.  While there are certainly legitimate criticisms that can be leveled at him (or any other long-serving elected official), Lugar’s opposition is largely fueled by a veritable tsunami of anger and resentment and fear that has focused on him as a part of the hated status quo. 

And therein lies the challenge.

Shella was right: the Tea Party fanatics who want Dick Lugar gone don’t care who replaces him. They detest Lugar for the very characteristics that have generated consistent voter support over the years. That very obvious reality puts his campaign squarely between the proverbial rock and hard place–if he remains true to himself and his record, if he campaigns on that record with his head held high, he won’t win the votes of the ideologues most likely to vote in the primary. But if he tries to reinvent himself as a rabid True Believer, he betrays his own principles, diminishes an otherwise admirable legacy–and still may not get their votes.

Despite the risks, the campaign has chosen the latter strategy.

So we are treated to grainy commercials featuring the Senator using “good old boy” terminology he’s never previously employed. We get emails from his campaign demonizing the President of the United States, stooping to a level of disrespect that would have been inconceivable coming from the “real” Dick Lugar. We are assured that the Senator no longer supports measures, like the Dream Act, that he had previously–and admirably–championed. We get messages that are absolutely devoid of the nuance and civility characteristic of the statesman he used to be.

It is so pathetic, so inauthentic, it’s painful.

I don’t know whether this all-out pandering will allow Lugar to eke out one last term. He has a lot of money, and a deep reservoir of good will, and it may be enough–although if I were a wagering woman, I wouldn’t bet on it.

I know a number of Democrats who had earlier considered “crossing over” to vote for Lugar in the GOP primary. I was one of them. Had the campaign chosen a different course–had it mounted a full-throated defense of an impressive record–I think many of those crossover votes would materialize, although probably not enough to change the outcome. Fewer such votes will be cast for a man running away from his own most admirable traits.

The longer this primary contest goes on, the more I want to ask the Senator two questions: is winning another term, at age 80, so important that it is worth this unseemly (and unpersuasive) groveling? And if you win, if you return to Washington after this dispiriting display, which Dick Lugar will you be?

 

 

A Blunt Instrument

Today, the Senate is poised to vote on a proposal by Missouri Senator Roy Blunt that could potentially eviscerate health insurance guarantees for millions of Americans under the guise of protecting religious liberty.

The Blunt Amendment is indeed a blunt instrument, part of a deeply cynical and wholly phony debate over whether requiring employers to offer a basic package of benefits in their healthcare policies violates the “conscience” of those who may disagree with some of those health services (e.g., contraception) on the basis of religion or morality.

This started, of course, with resistance by some employers to contraception coverage.

Under the original rule that would have required Catholic hospitals and universities to pay for contraceptive coverage, there was a barely plausible religious liberty argument. Once the regulation was changed, so that insurance companies were to offer the coverage directly to employees without charge, even that argument evaporated. (Think about it: how does the fact that your employee can get a medical product that your religious beliefs prohibit you from using violate your First Amendment rights? You aren’t being forced to use it, and now, not even forced to pay for it.)

This is a violation only if your “religious liberty” includes the right to tell other people how to live.

For most of the talking heads and lawmakers making all the noise, this wasn’t even really about contraception. The real motive for this entire manufactured controversy is the Republicans’ persistent effort to kill the Affordable Care Act.  The Blunt Amendment would give every employer the right to opt out of coverage for health care procedures and products that offend his conscience. (How we would know that a particular coverage really bothered his conscience rather than his pocketbook is an open question.)

Don’t believe working women should have babies? Don’t cover maternity benefits.

Don’t believe in immunizations? Don’t cover the costs of vaccinations.

Don’t believe in artificial “assistance” for sex? Don’t cover viagra.

Okay, you get the idea. Passage of this proposal would make health coverage unworkable–which is, of course, the point. It has nothing to do with religious liberty, as I’ve previously explained, and most Senators clearly understand that.

One of the saddest footnotes to this dishonest nonsense is watching Dick Lugar, of all people, jump on this bandwagon, in yet another pathetic effort to pander to the Tea Party zealots trying to oust him.

The day before yesterday, Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine announced she wouldn’t run for another term. There were evidently limits to what she was willing to do to placate the irrational know-nothings who have assumed control of the GOP.  Lugar would have done better to emulate her, and depart with dignity.