Tag Archives: primary

How Long Can This Continue?

The State, a newspaper in South Carolina, reports that Senator Lindsay Graham–the very right-wing South Carolina Senator who is coming up for re-election–has attracted a primary opponent. Because, you know, Graham is insufficiently insane.

State Sen. Lee Bright announced his candidacy Tuesday for the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate, calling incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham “a community organizer for the Muslim Brotherhood.”

“During the (congressional) recess, when I would hope that he would be around folks in South Carolina, getting their feelings on so many issues that affect their lives, he has instead chosen to take his time to be a community organizer for the Muslim Brotherhood and that concerns me,” Bright told supporters in a conference call. “He needs to spend more time listening to what the brothers in South Carolina have to say.”

Increasingly, I feel as though I have fallen down the Rabbit Hole with Alice, or I’m living in one of those science fiction books I used to read, where the protagonist goes to sleep only to wake up in an alternate universe.

Mr. (not very) Bright uses all the dog whistle words: community organizer. Muslim. Next thing you know, he’ll be accusing Graham of having been civil to the President (although he’d be hard pressed to find an example of Graham actually voting for something the President proposed. At this point, if President Obama suggested we endorse the sun continuing to rise in the east, most Republicans would call the very idea “socialism” and oppose it.)

I know we Americans have gone through periods of hysteria and bigotry and self-destructive behaviors before. We just didn’t have the internet and Facebook and blogs to rub our faces in every paranoid utterance, every display of aggressive ignorance and racial animus. I want to believe that this, too, shall pass…..

But I’d feel so much better if someone could assure me that we will come to the end of this cycle of crazy before the harm done becomes irreparable.

 

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?

 

 

The Sad Story of Dick Lugar

As Indiana’s Republican Senate primary unfolds, I can’t help thinking of T.S. Eliot’s famous line: “This is the way the world ends–not with a bang, but a whimper.”

One of my earliest forays into political life was during Dick Lugar’s first campaign for Mayor. I supported him as he moved into national politics, and even after I left the Republican party. I didn’t always agree with his positions–Tea Party rhetoric to the contrary, his career trajectory has moved him steadily to the right–but he was reasoned and reasonable, and clearly an expert in foreign affairs. I could and did differ with him on issues like gay rights and abortion, but I respected him.

It must be galling for someone of his stature and intellect to be the underdog against a candidate like Mourdock, a small man supported by the angry mob that currently comprises the GOP base. The fact that over 80% of Indiana’s Republican County chairmen support Mourdock not only explains current internal polls showing Lugar losing, it speaks volumes about what the Grand Old Party has become.

So Lugar has come to the sort of decision-point we all face at one time or another: to face the challenge with integrity–increasing the liklihood he’ll lose–or to grovel before the know-nothings and hope to salvage one final term.

He’s chosen to grovel.

This morning’s paper reported that Lugar has withdrawn his sponsorship of the Dream Act, a measure that would have been relatively uncontroversial in saner times. The Dream Act permits undocumented young people who were brought to this country as babies to gain citizenship by graduating college or serving in the Armed Forces. It recognizes that the charges of criminality leveled at adults who entered the country illegally are unfair when applied to children who had no choice in the matter. Most of those children have grown up as Americans, and have never lived anywhere else. Whatever one’s views on the larger immigration issues, punishing children for the acts of their parents is gratuitous and cruel and serves no purpose. But in our bipolar world, any recognition of complexity, any evidence of human compassion, is “liberal” and therefore unacceptable to those in the GOP most likely to vote in the primary.

The sad part of all this is that Lugar will never be able to satisfy the culture warriors and Tea Party voters who are enraged at his support for weapons reductions and treaties, for his willingness to follow the Constitution and vote to confirm qualified Supreme Court candidates with whom he might personally disagree. These are voters for whom any acknowledgment of nuance and/or complexity is “elitist” (or, if you are black, “uppity”). Rather than regaining their support, Lugar is disappointing the moderate Republicans who are left–the very voters whose larger-than-usual turnout for the primary is his best hope of prevailing.

Going into this primary, Lugar’s choice was simple, if painful. He could defend a long and illustrious career as a statesman, or he could try–desperately and probably unsuccessfully–to  recast himself as one of the current pack of radical ideologues.

Evidently, he’s chosen to go out, not with a bang, but a whimper.