Turbulent Times Call for Steady Politicians

Senator Richard Lugar's steadiness is an asset in today's world. It's a lesson the Tea Party needs to learn.

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Writing at The Corner, Hugh Hewitt offers some apt analysis of the Tea Party, then turns to Indiana. "Senator Lugar is no doubt loved and admired by a strong majority of Indiana voters, and there is a lot more sorrow than anger in many votes to replace him," he writes. "His age would have been an asset in an era of Ike-like steadiness, but not in the turbulent second decade of the new century, one that is going to get even more unmanageable, one that is defined by anger at the Manhattan-Beltway elites who have so failed the country. Expertise on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea isn't an asset when Israel and Iran are on the brink of war. Long and distinguished service isn't a calling card when the house is on fire."

For starters, Eisenhower's tenure in the White House, 1953 to 1961, wasn't an era less turbulent than ours abroad. Nuclear attacks were being considered to end the Korean War, the Soviet Union was expanding its arsenal, Communism was spreading, the United States orchestrated regime change in Iran, and the Suez Crisis exploded, among many other events.

But what most confounds me is the notion that likely future senator Richard Mourdock is the better fit for the times because Lugar's "expertise on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea isn't an asset when Israel and Iran are on the brink of war." If Hewitt is just saying it isn't a political asset, I agree. But it ought to have mattered to Tea Party voters because it is a governing asset. Law of the Sea expertise is as valuable as ever, whereas the senator from Indiana isn't likely to make a damned bit of difference in potential armed conflict between Israel and Iran.

More broadly, steadiness is more important in turbulent times, not less so. There's a strong case to be made that the United States would've been much better served by an Eisenhower clone than all of the presidents who served during the turbulent 1960s. (And the aughts for that matter.)

Without an ability to prudently and competently govern, ideological fealty gets you nowhere.

As a Mitt Romney backer, I'd have thought that Hewitt would agree with the virtues of steadiness. That's certainly one advantage the GOP nominee had over Tea Party-preferred rivals like Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul, and Newt Gingrich. What Gingrich especially never seemed to understand was that even the GOP primary electorate would prefer a "timid Massachusetts moderate," his description of Romney, to a mercurial egomaniac.

For all I know, Richard Mourdock may make a perfectly fine senator. But if the Tea Party is dismissing steadiness and expertise on public policy as it decides among candidates -- as it has done at times in the past -- it ought to be educated about why that strategy is terribly ill-conceived, especially in turbulent times. One silver lining in this characteristically depressing presidential election is that Obama and Romney are both far steadier in personality than the aforementioned Republicans, McCain, Bush, Bill Clinton, John Edwards, and plenty of other politicians besides (though Romney would do well to approach foreign affairs more pragmatically).

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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