Throughout his career in the U.S. Senate, I found Richard Lugar’s voting record to be consistently appalling, but I could say the same about almost every one of his Republican contemporaries. What set him apart was how he went about everything else a senator does other than voting. His committee work was serious; his hearings were generally substantive; his conduct was civil and his rhetoric was tempered. He presented a good example for how the Senate can and should work.
Near the end of career, I think he struggled with the direction his party was heading. The conduct of the war in Iraq obviously troubled him, as did the behavior of the Bush administration. He tried to walk a fine line, and for the most part I believe he failed. In the end, I was extremely disappointed in his performance, largely because I strongly sensed that he knew better and simply didn’t have the courage to stand up and be counted.
Having said that, I think he was basically a decent man in spite of his cowardice and despite holding many political beliefs that I found unconscionable. I’m sad to hear he passed away on Sunday.
The cause was complications from chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, a neurological disorder, according to a statement from the Lugar Center, a Washington nonprofit organization focused on weapons proliferation, food security and other issues that he worked on in Congress.
Mr. Lugar began his public-service career on the Indianapolis school board and achieved national attention as the city’s mayor before winning election to the Senate in 1977. He twice chaired the Foreign Relations Committee — from 1985 to 1987 and from 2003 to 2007 — and he was the panel’s ranking Republican from 2007 until his defeat, by which time he was the longest-serving senator in Indiana history.
We’d all be better off if there were some people like Dick Lugar currently serving in the Senate’s Republican caucus. Sadly, I can’t point to anyone who deserves to be considered as a worthy successor. Some of the other serious legislators who were Lugar’s colleagues, like Chuck Grassley and Orrin Hatch, kept moving farther and farther to the right along with the party as whole. Hatch recently retired, but not before defiling his once earned reputation as a top policymaker. Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming showed during the markup of the Affordable Care Act that he is capable of doing real work, but he’s fundamentally a troglodyte.
I can’t say that the Democrats currently have any partners on the Republican side that they can truly trust and work with productively, and that shows what was lost when Lugar was ousted in a primary.
I’ll remember him somewhat fondly, although always with a certain degree of bitterness.