The Debate

Why Lugar Defeat Matters

Recent Features

The Debate

Why Lugar Defeat Matters

The defeat of Sen. Richard Lugar at the hands of a Tea Party-backed candidate says much about U.S. politics.

It might only have been a primary, but the results of last night’s Republican primary in Indiana speak volumes about U.S. politics at the moment.

Richard Lugar, a six-term senator who had served since 1976, was beaten by Tea Party-backed Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock.

According to Rep. Pete Sessions, who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee, Lugar’s defeat reflected the growing anger in the country at how business is being conducted in Washington.

“Whether you are in Indiana, North Carolina, and any number of other places across the country, it is ground zero for discontent,” the Christian Science Monitor reported Sessions as saying. Voters want “Washington to recognize they have gotten in the way and made matters worse.”

Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was generally seen as a moderate lawmaker, whose most notable foreign policy achievement was the legislation he worked on with former Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn to dismantle weapons of mass destruction. The Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, also known asNunn-Lugar, was designed to help ex-Soviet states secure and destroy weapons of mass destruction, and it’s credited with eliminating thousands of nuclear warheads and nearly a thousand long-range missiles.

Indeed, it’s the comments of Nunn that go to the heart of why there are so many glum sounding voices in Washington the morning after Lugar’s defeat.

“Trust in politics is misunderstood today. Some take it as meaning you compromised your principles. Dick Lugar never compromised his principles in anything we did together, nor did I,” AP quoted Nunn as saying. “We found ways to work together because we examined the facts and let the facts have a bearing on the conclusions, and I'm afraid in today’s political world too often people start with the conclusions and then hunt facts to justify them.”

Nunn is absolutely right. Partisanship is nothing new in Washington, but compromise is increasingly seen as a dirty word among lawmakers in both major parties. These days, political opponents are rarely allowed to respectfully disagree. Instead they are labeled as traitors, unpatriotic, socialists or communists. And that’s perhaps one of the ugliest shifts – Republicans and Democrats have always had disagreements, but now more than ever differing ideas over policy are attributed to some sort of nefarious intent on the part of the other.

American satirist Ambrose Bierce, writing in The Devil’s Dictionary, described compromise as, “Such an adjustment of conflicting interests as gives each adversary the satisfaction of thinking he has got what he ought not to have, and is deprived of nothing except what was justly his due.”

The problem now is that both sides of the U.S. political divide – and not just the politicians, but their supporters, too – feel that they are justly due absolutely everything they want.