In a statement regarding his loss to Richard Mourdock last night, Dick
Lugar said, “If Mr. Mourdock is elected, I want him to be a good
senator. But that will require him to revise his stated goal of bringing
more partisanship to Washington. He and I share many positions, but his
embrace of an unrelenting partisan mindset is irreconcilable with my
philosophy of governance and my experience of what brings results for
Hoosiers in the Senate.”
Wise words from a man who spent the last 36 years in the United States Senate. Wise, but completely irrelevant in a primary election, where the biggest bloc of voters are not that interested in compromise.
If Mourdock had one theme throughout his campaign, it was his hostility to compromise. To someone who has spent decades in the Senate, that kind of language is politically naïve and self-serving; hence Lugar’s statement last night.
Of course, a democracy is predicated on compromise. Our form of representative government is particularly reliant on compromise. Without the ability to cut deals, nothing happens in Washington. And perhaps, to many voters these days, gridlock is a far better result than legislative progress.
Many newly elected freshmen have come into the Senate refusing to compromise their principles. Tom Coburn is perhaps the finest example of a fire-eating conservative who has become a leader in the Senate, not by compromising his principles, but by skillfully advancing them to achieve a greater good for the country.
Sen. Lugar has seen his fair share of fire-eaters come and go in the upper chamber. He has seen those who were able to adapt to the changing times and survive to fight another day for their constituents, senators like Strom Thurmond and John McCain.
And he has seen others who toil in obscurity, fight for their principles and lose the next election.
When you have served in the Senate for 36 years, you see all kinds come and go.
My guess is that Dick Lugar didn’t want to compromise his principles to win another election. He didn’t want take positions that he knew wouldn’t work in the real world of legislating. He didn’t want to prostrate himself in front of his Indiana constituents, begging them to vote for him for one more term. He simply lost interest in playing the game.
The man is 80 years old and has earned the right to make that decision. But in politics, nobody is entitled to a seat in the Senate. You have to play the game, and part of that game is telling the voters what they want to hear. And if they want to hear that you won’t compromise, that is exactly what you have to say.
Lugar wouldn’t compromise on his position on the necessity to compromise, and in many ways, that spelled doom for his career.