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.