Thursday, May 10, 2012

Sen. Lugar's Final Lesson

Sen. Dick Lugar lost the GOP primary on Tuesday which effectively ends his political career.  Matt Yglesias tweeted "Genuinely odd that a dude as old as Lugar preferred humiliating defeat to a dignified retirement."  Perhaps calling it a humiliating defeat was a bit harsh, especially once you read Sen. Lugar's concession speech.  It's the last roar of a political lion, or as Foreign Policy described him, "The Last RINO."

Whatever animal you want to describe him as, his remarks are a great warning to the nation.  He acknowledges the cyclical challenges he faced:
The truth is that the headwinds in this race were abundantly apparent long before Richard Mourdock announced his candidacy. One does not highlight such headwinds publically when one is waging a campaign. But I knew that I would face an extremely strong anti-incumbent mood following a recession. I knew that my work with then-Senator Barack Obama would be used against me, even if our relationship were overhyped. I also knew from the races in 2010 that I was a likely target of Club for Growth, FreedomWorks and other Super Pacs dedicated to defeating at least one Republican as a purification exercise to enhance their influence over other Republican legislators.
He talks about some of the unpopular votes he made:
I knew that I had cast recent votes that would be unpopular with some Republicans and that would be targeted by outside groups.
These included my votes for the TARP program, for government support of the auto industry, for the START Treaty, and for the confirmations of Justices Sotomayor and Kagan. I also advanced several propositions that were considered heretical by some, including the thought that Congressional earmarks saved no money and turned spending power over to unelected bureaucrats and that the country should explore options for immigration reform.
It was apparent that these positions would be attacked in a Republican primary. But I believe that they were the right votes for the country, and I stand by them without regrets, as I have throughout the campaign. 
And he talks about how he never seriously considering becoming an independent, and always was and always will be a Republican.  He finally turns to his opponent, State Treasurer Richard Mourdock.  He confirms he wants Indiana represented by a Republican come January 2013, but he also has some pointed advice for his opponent and Indiana's Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate.
If Mr. Mourdock is elected, I want him to be a good Senator. But that will require him to revise his stated goal of bringing more partisanship to Washington. He and I share many positions, but his embrace of an unrelenting partisan mindset is irreconcilable with my philosophy of governance and my experience of what brings results for Hoosiers in the Senate. In effect, what he has promised in this campaign is reflexive votes for a rejectionist orthodoxy and rigid opposition to the actions and proposals of the other party. His answer to the inevitable roadblocks he will encounter in Congress is merely to campaign for more Republicans who embrace the same partisan outlook. He has pledged his support to groups whose prime mission is to cleanse the Republican party of those who stray from orthodoxy as they see it. This is not conducive to problem solving and governance. 
This is an stinging indictment to many candidates who enjoy the support of the Tea Party.  Clearly Sen. Lugar assigns some importance to compromise and bi-partisanship.  Two words that are anathema to the Tea Party agenda and two words that likely resulted in Sen. Lugar's defeat.  Sen. Lugar continues to address what he sees as a lack of comity in Congress across aisles and provides a stirring defense of the bi-partisanship:
Too often bipartisanship is equated with centrism or deal cutting. Bipartisanship is not the opposite of principle. One can be very conservative or very liberal and still have a bipartisan mindset. Such a mindset acknowledges that the other party is also patriotic and may have some good ideas. It acknowledges that national unity is important, and that aggressive partisanship deepens cynicism, sharpens political vendettas, and depletes the national reserve of good will that is critical to our survival in hard times.  
He continues:
Our political system is losing its ability to even explore alternatives. If fealty to these pledges continues to expand, legislators may pledge their way into irrelevance. Voters will be electing a slate of inflexible positions rather than a leader. I hope that as a nation we aspire to more than that. I hope we will demand judgment from our leaders.
I hope so too.  To take this back a bit and apologies for quoting so much of his speech directly, but in the comments section of this blog our friend and tormentor Colin has often questioned the importance of bi-partisanship.  He's questioned its necessity and desirability in government.  It's a position that's rankled me for some time but previously I couldn't put my finger on why.


Within the last couple weeks, and forgive my feeble brain for not remembering a source, but I heard or read a comment about how the U.S. political system can not endure hyper-partisanship the way a parliamentary system can.  It's an obvious point, but to draw it out.: in a parliamentary system, in simple terms, a party appeals to the populace with their agenda.  A party wins a majority or a majority is cobbled together from a coalition of parties.  That majority rules until they receive a vote of no confidence or until the next election, and while a coalition must work to maintain itself, bi-partisanship is entirely unnecessary.  


Now consider the U.S. system.  Our system is defined by the need for bipartisanship.  Simple majorities are not enough, given cloture rules in the Senate, to move legislation.  Additionally, as a two party system, the different stripes and severity of Republicans and Democrats within a single party is very diverse.  It's a system that requires compromise, especially to do the big things, because there's never the clear, operational electoral mandate that a party receives in a parliamentary system.  That's why bi-partisanship is important in the U.S.  It is a necessity to do the big things.  And as Sen. Lugar so succinctly said, "Bipartisanship is not the opposite of principle."  It is the required comity, it is the judgement we should demand from our leaders in a representative democracy.


Sen. Lugar's time in the Senate is nearly done, but he has left us with an important warning on where our democracy is heading and an essential reminder that to comprise is to lead.

6 comments:

Colin said...

I saw a Politico story this morning in which Sen. Hatch was quoted as saying "This just wasn’t the way [Lugar's career] should have ended.” I agree -- the man should have bowed out gracefully and never run for re-election. He's 80 years old, has been in office since before I was born, and still can't bring himself to leave DC? How sad. Here's to hoping that Hatch, another permanent Washington fixture, follows in his steps and gets primaried out of the Senate.

As for the larger issue of compromise and bipartisanship, allow me to clarify my views. I don't have a problem with either one. For example, I would love to see a 15% flat income tax implemented. I am willing to compromise at 23%. I don't care who votes for it -- if both Republicans and Democrats can get on board, cool. If only people from one party, then that's fine too. It's the policy that matters, not whether something was bipartisan or not.

I'm all for compromise -- it just depends on the direction we are comprising in. I'll take half a loaf over nothing any day. The problem with Lugar is not that he compromised or engaged in bipartisanship, it's that he voted for things he shouldn't have. He voted for an auto bailout that he shouldn't have. He voted for a TARP bill that he shouldn't have. And remember, Bush got the ball rolling on the handouts to both Detroit and Wall Street, so this isn't even partisan.

Richard Lugar has been in Washington far too long and has voted for too much bad legislation. He's out of touch and out of time. I grieve not at all for his departure, and only wish that it had happened sooner.

Jason said...

If you start with a policy that is anathema to the the opposing party, and suggest anything outside that policy is a non-starter is that really compromise?

I think your flat tax statement perfectly expresses the sort of dogmatic and inflexible position that Sen. Lugar sought to object to.

Ben said...

I agree -- the man should have bowed out gracefully and never run for re-election. He's 80 years old, has been in office since before I was born, and still can't bring himself to leave DC?

Is your lifespan now our metric for term limits? Seems a bit arbitrary to me. And, not for nothing, some people actually see public service as public service--it may be that Lugar "couldn't bring himself to leave DC" because he believes deeply in serving his country and his home state. Moreover, it's unclear that your hope for primarying long-term incumbents will benefit either their constituents or the nation as a whole. The raft of freshman Congresspeople have contributed mostly dysfunction and proved effective in gumming up the works but fairly ineffective otherwise. Worse yet, given the seniority system, ousting an incumbent means that the people of Indiana will be substantially less served by the his replacement.

Colin said...

And, not for nothing, some people actually see public service as public service--it may be that Lugar "couldn't bring himself to leave DC" because he believes deeply in serving his country and his home state.

Well, thankfully he has now been relieved of this most heavy of burdens. It's funny how people fight tooth and nail for the privilege of bearing this particular cross -- I guess they're all a bunch of saints who just care about the country so darn much. Either that, or they love being in power and the perks and privileges that come along with it. Has to be a lot more exciting than life back on the farm (which perhaps explains why Bob Dole never went back to Kansas).

Moreover, it's unclear that your hope for primarying long-term incumbents will benefit either their constituents or the nation as a whole. The raft of freshman Congresspeople have contributed mostly dysfunction and proved effective in gumming up the works but fairly ineffective otherwise.

As someone who sees gridlock and gumming up the works as a feature and not a bug, I don't see your point. I just wish such gridlock was in place back in 2009-10 to prevent passage of dreadful legislation such as the stimulus, Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, etc. It would have been beneficial for both constituents and the country as a whole.

Worse yet, given the seniority system, ousting an incumbent means that the people of Indiana will be substantially less served by the his replacement.

Hmmm, so the people off Indiana will not be first in line at the congressional feeding trough -- explain to me why this is a bad thing again?

Colin said...

If you start with a policy that is anathema to the the opposing party, and suggest anything outside that policy is a non-starter is that really compromise?

Fine, 25%. Will you not support my plan? If not, why are you against compromise? There you go being all partisan again.

Ben said...

Colin, your ability to take a measured statement I make and critique it as if it were a blanket statement is always impressive.

Well, you do see the problem; you've just adopted a sophomoric stance.