I don’t know if Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) will succeed or fail in his effort next year to win the Republican nomination to run for another six-year term. I also don’t know whether I should be pulling for him or celebrating his demise. It’s complicated. He’s literally the last of his kind. He’s dedicated his career to serving this country’s foreign policy interests (as he sees them) without much regard for who is in the White House. As Foreign Policy writes, the Republican Party has a long and rich legacy of producing statesmen who put the country before party. But, what is also true is that our foreign policy elites have failed us in rather dramatic ways. It was only a matter of time before the populist right finally destroyed the Republican Establishment’s hold on foreign policy. The question is, considering how many screw-ups the Establishment has produced, don’t they deserve their comeuppance?
It’s true that a patrician class that could loftily announce, as Walter Lippmann did in 1929, that dispassionate elite experts must provide the American people with “what they will learn to want” has probably had it coming for a long time. The truth is that the wise men have never made much secret of their claim to superior wisdom over the hoi polloi. The establishment’s aloof impartiality has always appeared to the populist right as unvarnished hauteur, a cloak in which the wise men wrap themselves as they propound upon and execute policies independent of, or simply oblivious to, the will of the American people.
But this time something may be different about the battering that establishment is suffering. As historian Geoffrey Kabaservice writes in his important new book Rule and Ruin, “The first decade of the twenty-first century witnessed the final decline and virtual extinctions of moderates’ power and representation in the Republican Party.” Whatever its past shortcomings and foibles, the demise of the wise-man tradition in the GOP should evoke apprehension in anyone who thinks that America’s leading role in the world has, by and large, been a force for good. In defining itself by opposition to the idea of an elite, the party is willfully abjuring one of its noblest legacies. If the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom, as William Blake observed, then the GOP might eventually rediscover its heritage. Perhaps the first sign of a return to wisdom in the GOP would be acknowledging rather than scorning the wise men and their accomplishments.
I do think that America’s leading role in the world has, by and large, been a force for good, but it’s much closer call than it should be. Neo-Cons and representatives without passports are not an improvement, but it’s not as if people like Dick Lugar have been knocking it out of the park. I think the real problem with losing Dick Lugar is that we lose someone who goes about foreign policy-making the correct way, even if he hasn’t always produced the best solutions or supported the wisest courses. He and John Kerry work together in a constructive way, and did a great job on the New START Treaty. For twenty years, he’s been doing outstanding work on nuclear non-proliferation.
I think he’s trying to groom Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee to be his eventual replacement, but I don’t think Corker has the same instincts. When Lugar leaves, foreign policy will be that much more politicized. That concerns me.
On the other hand, I’d like to win his Senate seat.