Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Richard Lugar

I first became aware of Richard Lugar when he was Nixon's favorite mayor.  The mayor of Indianapolis was an innovator.   He was a big supporter of something Nixon pushed called "revenue sharing" which distributed money from the feds to state and local governments based on a formula.   When he was elected as a senator I was impressed with his judicious approach to the issues.   But Lugar was badly defeated (by 20 poitns) in last night's Indiana primary even though he outspent his opponent 3:1.

Richard Mourdock's key to victory was simple - people in Indiana are grumpy about the federal government.   The left will try to make the fall race into something it will not be.  Mourdock is not a conservative ideologue.  Although he did make use of some of Lugar's votes in pressing his campaign my suspicion is that if Mourdock is elected against three term Congressman Joe Donnelley, he will not be an ideologue.   His role in previous elected office does not suggest that.

Lugar spent a good deal of his campaign on defense and as John McCain, who survived a similar challenge in his last race commented defense is not the place to run a campaign.   Lugar assumed a lot.  He assumed that Indiana voters would understand that he no longer lived in the state; that they would value his vast knowledge of foreign relations (much of which was based on principles of the Washington establishment) was more important than key issues like the economy in the state - neither assumption was a good one.

Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal commented "What Washington needs is sober and responsible adults. We are as a nation in a moment of real peril, facing challenges that are going to become existential—maybe already are—if we don’t do something about them."   The problem with her argument was that she did not consider Lugar's opponent.  At the same time it ignored a basic principle of representative government - the position of US Senator is not a sinecure.   Part of the reason for elections is to allow voters to gauge the ability of their elected representatives to understand current problems in the state.  Lugar failed that test.

Lugar was somewhat ungracious in defeat.  He commented "He has pledged his support to groups whose prime mission is to cleanse the Republican party of those who stray from orthodoxy as they see it," he said of Mourdock. "This is not conducive to problem solving and governance.”  That diminished my admiration for the Senator.    In his formal concession speech he was more gracious and even expressed the hope that Mourdock would prevail in November and would help contribute to a new GOP majority.

One final comment.  I believe that Richard Lugar had a distinguished public career.   But I also believe that he did not deserve re-election.   

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