Richard Lugar's Last Words

Richard Lugar's remarks after his defeat in yesterday's Republican senatorial primary are interestingly asymmetrical:

I don't remember a time when so many topics have become politically unmentionable in one party or the other. Republicans cannot admit to any nuance in policy on climate change. Republican members are now expected to take pledges against any tax increases. For two consecutive Presidential nomination cycles, GOP candidates competed with one another to express the most strident anti-immigration view, even at the risk of alienating a huge voting bloc. Similarly, most Democrats are constrained when talking about such issues as entitlement cuts, tort reform, and trade agreements.

It almost sounds as if he thinks Republicans are a bigger part of the problem than Democrats: Republicans must "take pledges" and must not admit "any nuance" and are "strident" whereas Democrats "are constrained when talking about" certain issues.

This could just be because it's the Republican version of the ideological purification machine that he had just run into; so he described it in detail and then nodded to the existence of a Democratic equivalent. No doubt he would say--and I agree--that on both sides partisanship is worse than it used to be. In any event, his bottom-line fear--"Our political system is losing its ability to even explore alternatives" -seems on target. And his extended remarks are well worth reading.

I think the ultimate tribute to Richard Lugar's career lies in what he said about several Senate votes that had come back to haunt him in the primary: "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." Of course, members of congress often talk as if they vote only for things they consider "right for the country," without any thought of political fallout. And of no one in congress is that entirely true. But I think it's a lot closer to being true of Richard Lugar than of most Republicans, and of most Democrats as well.

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Robert Wright is the author of The Evolution of God and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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