SALINA, Kan. - Earlier this month Indiana Republican primary voters retired six-term U.S. Senator Richard Lugar. Ordinarily I don't mind when an octogenarian Senator of either party is forced into retirement. The founding fathers didn't intend for elected federal office to be a lifetime job. But in the case of Senator Lugar I feel conflicted. It's worth taking a look at some of the highlights from his distinguished career.
I first became familiar with Senator Lugar while working on Capitol Hill shortly after my college graduation. One of the preeminent foreign policy issues of the day was the drive to place economic sanctions on the apartheid government in South Africa. I was particularly sensitive to the matter from having taken an undergraduate class from Dr. Peter Walsh, one of the country's leading African specialists at the time. Walsh had gained notoriety for his public efforts to push the Notre Dame administration to divest the university from its investments in companies that did business in South Africa.
President Reagan consistently opposed economic sanctions on South Africa, and regarded Nelson Mandela and his banned African National Congress Party as nothing more than communist sympathizers.
Lugar, who chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, led the drive to pass the Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986, which imposed economic and political sanctions on South Africa. The bill became law when Congress overrode President Reagan's veto. Prior to the override vote Lugar issued a memorable statement pointing out the many times he had supported the President, and then explaining why he couldn't on that occasion.
During his first trip to the United States following his release from prison Mandela personally thanked Lugar for his work on the bill. In 2011 South African Ambassador to the U.S. Ebrahim Rasool presented Lugar with the Mandela Freedom Award for his "exceptional contribution to the struggle for the attainment of a non-racial, free and democratic South Africa."
Other highlights of his career are testaments to his ability and willingness to work across partisan lines. The Cooperative Threat Reduction Program (1992), established by a bill which came to be known as Nunn-Lugar, was the first post-Cold War measure that dealt with the need to control and reduce stockpiles of nuclear weapons. His Democratic partner, former Georgia Senator Sam Nunn, issued a statement following Lugar's defeat saying "There is no doubt that the world is a safer place thanks to Dick Lugar."
Other more recent examples of Lugar's willingness to work across the aisle include his support for auto bailouts and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that passed the Senate in December of 2010. It would be hard to argue that he frequently betrayed his conservative principals. The American Conservative Union gives him a 77% lifetime voting record.
Lugar's primary opponent, Indiana State Treasurer and Tea Party favorite Richard Mourdock turned the Senator's statesmanlike demeanor, friendship with President Obama and willingness to seek bi-partisan compromises into political liabilities.
After the primary results came in many commented on Lugar's remarkable career. Former Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, who served with him for twelve years in the Senate was effusive in his praise. "There is not one Senator in the Republican Party today who is in Dick Lugar's universe.... He's the kind of public servant and elected official the country expects and deserves."
Senator Lugar made a gracious concession speech, but later issued a more pointed statement regarding his opponent. He said he hoped Mourdock would prove to be a good Senator, but went on to say that to do so "will require him to revise his stated goal of bringing more partisanship to Washington."
I'm not in a position to give advice to residents of the Hoosier state for the upcoming general election. But surely a majority of Indiana voters don't agree with Mourdock that the answer to Washington's problems is more partisanship.