Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | May 8, 2012

Lugar’s woes exemplify GOP’s small-tent politics

“Big ideas don’t often come from small tents.” ~Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger

I’m a political junkie who spent good chunk of my youth in Indianapolis, where I observed the career of Richard Lugar; he was a favorite in my staunchly Republican, very religious right world. Even as I moved left first politically and eventually geographically, I admired Lugar and followed his career.

Lugar became mayor of Indianapolis at roughly the time that my family settled in the Hoosier state. Lugar, an Eagle Scout, Rhodes scholar and Navy veteran who supported President Richard Nixon’s efforts to return many federal powers to state and local governments, was elected to the United States Senate in 1976. He earned a reputation as a foreign policy expert able to work with members of both parties. Time magazine named Lugar one of America’s 10 best senators in 2006.

But Lugar might not win today’s Indiana primary to represent Republicans in the general election Senate race. Why? This Washington Post headline sums it up: “Indiana Sen. Lugar’s reputation as statesman could cost him in Tuesday’s tight GOP primary.”

Will Indiana voters retire Lugar? from the Flickr photostream of kennethkonica

I can’t think of a sadder or more damning statement about the current state of the GOP. Statesmanship is a bad thing? But Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report recognizes that sad reality: “It used to be that ‘playing well with others’ was a highly valued quality… It’s not anymore.”

But it’s not just Lugar’s statesmanship, which his opponent, state treasurer Richard Mourdock, spins as Lugar’s “Washington insider” status, that’s at issue. The Mourdock campaign claims that Lugar has a “liberal voting record.”

Lugar opposed TARP, supported the Bush tax cuts, has an 85 percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee, opposed repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, supports writing discrimination against homosexuals into the U.S. Constitution with the Federal Marriage Amendment, and opposed President Obama’s health care reform.

Sounds pretty conservative to me.

However, Lugar supports the DREAM Act, has moderate positions on gun control (earning a 53 percent rating from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Handgun Violence), is unwilling to be partisan when evaluating judicial nominees, and supported the Matthew Shepard Act.

Lugar fails some of the GOP’s radical ideological litmus tests and reaches across the political aisle on occasion; thus, Indiana Republicans are poised to toss one of the best Senators serving this nation today in favor of a Tea Party extremist who just might lose the general election. The Post notes that “If Lugar loses, the seat probably will become a top target of national Democrats hoping to retain a narrow Senate majority. … That’s less likely if Lugar, who’s seen as a strong general election candidate because of his bipartisan record, prevails.”

But GOP extremism isn’t just a problem in the Hoosier state; former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger criticized his party in a column in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times. I’m no Schwarzenegger fan, but he’s right to decry the rapidly shrinking GOP tent: “An inclusive party would welcome the party’s most conservative activists right alongside its most liberal activists. … What’s important is our shared belief in the broad Republican principles of free enterprise and small government. If we continue to fight one another without being willing to compromise, we will keep losing to big-government advocates.”

Schwarzenegger bemoans the departure from the GOP of Assemblyman and San Diego mayoral candidate Nathan Fletcher and former Assemblyman and congressional candidate Anthony Adams, whom he describes as “solution-based leaders.” The problem? Like Lugar, they fail some of the GOP’s radical ideological litmus tests and they occasionally compromise.

We saw another example when homophobic Republican extremists last week forced the resignation of Richard Grenell, Mitt Romney’s new foreign policy spokesman with outstanding conservative credentials, simply because Grenell is gay.

A weak, extremist GOP is good for the short-term prospects of the Democratic Party, but it’s bad for the long-term prospects of this nation. America need two parties willing to factually debate the issues, find common ground, compromise, and keep the good of the country — not the good of an extremist ideology – at the fore. Sadly, the Republican Party is increasingly turning its back on the statesman-like example of people like Sen. Richard Lugar.

For the good of our state and our country, it’s high time that the GOP realizes that compromise, inclusiveness, and statesmanship are not dirty words.

“An intelligent and conscientious opposition is a part of loyalty to country.” ~Former US Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby

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