Lionizing the newly departed, particularly in politics, is so inevitable that it has become mundane. Richard Lugar suffered what amounts to a political death last night, losing his first GOP primary for the Senate since he was elected in 1976 – and though I don’t know if there is such a thing as a “moderate lion” of the Republican Senate, Lugar’s reputation is that of someone who kept some of his colleagues on the Right from going over a cliff, particularly on foreign policy.
Lugar added some grist to that perception after his defeat last night at the hands of Tea Party Republican Richard Mourdock. In his concession speech, Lugar cited his bipartisan work with President Obama, and turned a rhetorical firehose on his fellow Republicans:
I don’t remember a time when so many topics have become politically unmentionable in one party or the other. Republicans cannot admit to any nuance in policy on climate change. Republican members are now expected to take pledges against any tax increases. For two consecutive Presidential nomination cycles, GOP candidates competed with one another to express the most strident anti-immigration view, even at the risk of alienating a huge voting bloc…
Our political system is losing its ability to even explore alternatives. If fealty to these pledges continues to expand, legislators may pledge their way into irrelevance. Voters will be electing a slate of inflexible positions rather than a leader.
I hope that as a nation we aspire to more than that.
Thing is, why haven’t we heard that before now, from Lugar or any other Republican of his stature (the few that there are)? Blasted (figuratively or literally) from a megaphone on the political mountaintop? Michael Tomasky will not be among the mourners today as Lugar is lionized, having called him out before yesterday’s primary in The Daily Beast:
…what really gets me about Lugar and Olympia Snowe and the already retired George Voinovich is that they have all had opportunities to confront this extremism head-on, and they all ducked it…no one has had the nerve—with the partial exception of Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, to say to the party, in real time, Look, people, for the sake of our party and our country, we can’t go down this radical path.
What today’s GOP needs is a Margaret Chase Smith moment. Smith, the moderate GOP senator who was the first of her party to denounce the demagoguery of Joe McCarthy. In fact, take few minutes right now if you can and read the “Declaration of Conscience” by Smith and six other Republican senators from June 1, 1950, and consider whether you can imagine any national Republican voicing such sentiments today, being so critical of her or his own party.
The lionizing today will come accompanied with a lot of regrets about What It Means™ for the Republican Party’s lurch to the Right. This is an old story, folks. It may very well be too late. It seems a Margaret Chase Smith moment won’t matter all that much as long as Republicans like Lugar are delivering their missives in concession speeches.