Tag Archives: Dick Lugar

Dick Lugar Has Died. So Has The Party He Served With Distinction.

I stepped out of the shower yesterday to find a news alert telling me that Senator Richard Lugar had died.

My own involvement with politics began with Dick Lugar’s mayoral campaign; I headed up an effort titled, as I recall,  “The 67 Committee for Lugar for Mayor”–a euphemistic name for an effort at outreach to Indianapolis’ Jewish voters.

The Washington Post has a lengthy recap of Lugar’s career, and it is worth reading for several reasons: to remind those of us who care about governance that genuine public servants once occupied the Senate; that the complexities of foreign affairs demand the sort of intellect and expertise that Lugar exemplified rather than the faux machismo and counterproductive religiosity currently on display; and that once upon a time, the Republican Party included grown-ups who took their oaths of office seriously.

If there had been any doubt that the GOP represented by statesmen like Lugar was dead and gone, it was underlined by his 2012 primary loss to a Trumpian asshole whose entire campaign was a cartoonish Tea Party performance.

Every aspect of Lugar’s service–from his stint on the Indianapolis school board to his chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee–was marked by thoughtfulness, intellect and civility. Those characteristics are in extremely short supply these days, especially in the once-Grand Old Party, and most of us who supported that party, who admired statesmen like Dick Lugar and agreed with their philosophies of governance, have left, horrified at what the party has become.

I didn’t always agree with Dick Lugar’s domestic positions, especially in the later years of his Senate tenure. His positions on reproductive rights and discrimination against LGBT Americans, for example, were far different from mine (although I still admire his unsuccessful efforts to curtail farm subsidies and his support for comprehensive immigration reform.) But when it came to his work on foreign policy–the area that clearly was his abiding passion– he was a giant.

As the Post obituary put it:

A moderate conservative who came of age in the Cold War, he viewed the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction as the most serious threat to national security, and it was in that area that he left his greatest mark.

As the Soviet Union collapsed, he and other policymakers feared that its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons might fall into the wrong hands. In 1991, Mr. Lugar teamed with the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), to push through legislation to help Russia and other former Soviet republics secure their arsenals and, in most cases, dismantle them entirely.

The initiative — officially the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program but better known as Nunn-Lugar — provided funding and expertise that over the next two decades led to the deactivation of more than 7,500 nuclear warheads and hundreds of other weapons and delivery systems, according to the Defense Department. Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan eliminated all of their nuclear arms.

The obituary noted a number of other important contributions to foreign affairs–from arms control to the New START nuclear-weapons-reduction treaty with Russia.

In his first stint as Foreign Relations chairman, Mr. Lugar played an influential role on two hot-button issues. Although a faithful supporter of Reagan’s agenda, he led the Senate in overriding Reagan’s veto of legislation imposing stiff economic sanctions on apartheid South Africa. He also helped bring about the ouster of Marcos in the Philippines.

Lugar had a reputation for working across the aisle; he was the ranking Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee when he first collaborated with Obama, then an Illinois senator. They traveled together to Russia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan in 2005 to visit weapon dismantlement sites, and later co-sponsored legislation aimed at  eliminating stockpiles of shoulder-fired missiles.

I can’t help experiencing the death of Dick Lugar as more than the death of an honorable and important statesman. His death is also symbolic of the terminal state of statesmanship itself–and yet another reminder that a political party that once elevated serious, effective and principled office-holders has been replaced by a collection of embarrassing know-nothings, hypocrites, bigots and moral cowards.

I mourn them both.

Trumping The Constitution

I’m not one of those old people who is always looking back in time through rose-colored glasses–“remembering” that families were closer, people were friendlier, children were seen and not heard, etc. etc. Those memories are highly suspect, if not deliberately dishonest.

That said, I do miss the Republican Party of my younger days. It’s true that it always had a right-wing fringe, but before that fringe took control and ran reasonable people out, the GOP I worked for was filled with admirable, public-spirited men and women.

I thought about those “good old days” when I read that a group of former GOP lawmakers had written a letter to Republicans in Congress, urging them to void Trump’s “Emergency” declaration.

A group of 23 former Republican lawmakers, including former Defense Secretary under the Obama administration Chuck Hagel, signed a letter urging Republicans in Congress to pass a joint resolution that would terminate President Trump’s emergency declaration over the border wall.

In an open letter to GOPers, the former lawmakers argued that Congress should not allow the President to “circumvent congressional authority.” They also questioned how willing lawmakers are to undermine the Constitution.

“How much are you willing to undermine both the Constitution and the Congress in order to advance a policy outcome that by all other legitimate means is not achievable?” they wrote.

One of the signatories to that letter was former Indiana Senator Dick Lugar.

The contrast between the Republican Party of Lugar and Hudnut and the party of McConnell and Trump is devastating. The Republicans who currently “serve” Indiana in the House and Senate (please note quotation marks around the word serve) are a sorry group of wanna-be’s, terrified that they will run afoul of the party’s rabid, racist base if they confront a President they know to be corrupt, ignorant and dangerously incompetent.

The letter from party elders was blunt: support for Trump’s “Emergency” is an attack on the Constitution. Failure to oppose it is failure to serve the national interest. And yet, every single Republican member of Indiana’s House delegation caved. Faced with a choice between serving their country and falling into line for Trump, they chose Trump.

Emergency powers are intended to allow Presidents to act when there is not time for Congress to do so. If the President can overrule Congress when it has acted, simply by declaring an emergency, there is no longer a separation of powers. Congress is neutered.

The lawyers in Indiana’s delegation, especially, fully understood the import of their votes. (And yes, Susan Brooks, we are looking at you.)

In an eloquent essay in the Atlantic, Eliot Cohen described these Republicans.

Talk to them privately, and they will confess that there is no emergency at the southern border—there is a problem, to be sure, but one whose seriousness has actually diminished over time. They know that the congressional leadership had the votes to build walls there for the first two years of the administration but did not manage it. They know, for that matter, that border security involves much more than walls. They know that the president is invoking emergency powers as an electoral ploy, and because he is impatient.

They know, in their timid breasts, that they would have howled with indignation if Barack Obama had declared a national emergency in such a circumstance. As they stare at their coffee cup at breakfast, the thought occurs to them that a future left-wing president could make dangerous use of these same powers—because Speaker Nancy Pelosi rubbed that fact in their face. Some of the brighter ones might even realize that emergency powers are a favored tool of authoritarians everywhere.

 But they are afraid. They are afraid of being primaried. They are afraid of being called out by the bully whom they secretly despise but to whom they pledge public fealty. They are afraid of having to find another occupation than serving in elective office. And the most conceited of the lot—and there are quite a few of those, perhaps more in the Senate than in the House—think that it would be a tragedy if the country no longer had their service at its disposal.

I didn’t always agree with Dick Lugar’s policy preferences. (I didn’t always agree with Bill Hudnut’s, and I worked in his administration.) But I respected them both, and I respected the many, many other persons of integrity and intelligence who called the GOP their political home before it devolved into a cult composed of racists and moral midgets.

I miss them.

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?