Richard Lugar's Last Words

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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, most recently, the New York Times bestseller The Evolution of God and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic. More

Wright is also a fellow at the New America Foundation and editor in chief of Bloggingheads.tv. His other books include Nonzero, which was named a New York Times Book Review Notable Book in 2000 and included on Fortune magazine's list of the top 75 business books of all-time. Wright's best-selling book The Moral Animal was selected as one of the ten best books of 1994 by The New York Times Book Review.Wright has contributed to The Atlantic for more than 20 years. He has also contributed to a number of the country's other leading magazines and newspapers, including: The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Foreign Policy, The New Republic, Time, and Slate, and the op-ed pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Financial Times. He is the recipient of a National Magazine Award for Essay and Criticism and his books have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

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