Monday, May 7, 2012

Lugar lessons

There are ominous signs that Indiana Senator Dick Lugar [R] will be defeated in tomorrow's primary by a strident conservative who thinks bipartisanship is a punishable offense. Too bad. Lugar's public service has spanned more than four decades, from when he was "Richard Nixon's favorite mayor" to when he became "Barack Obama's favorite Republican." He has been a voice for a centrist, bipartisan foreign policy. His impending defeat -- if that is the outcome -- reminds me of the feeling in Washington in 1974 when J. William Fulbright, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, lost a primary fight in Arkansas. Fulbright had been a powerful lawmaker who had done much to influence U.S. foreign policy for three decades. Didn't the homefolks know that and appreciate it? Nope. He had caught Potomac fever, displayed his own "arrogance of power," and made enough mistakes to tip the balance against him.

Lugar's mistakes are well-analyzed in Politico today. He didn't run scared enough early enough, didn't spend his campaign funds fast enough, waited to go negative against his opponent until he looked desperate doing it, and made the little mistakes that modern media coverage amplifies. It's hard being a moderate politician when the voters cry out for true believers. If Lugar loses, he still will have earned a silver star for bravery in the vicious combat our politics has become.

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