What legislators today must learn from Richard Lugar
© Getty

Today we laid former Sen. Richard Lugar to rest in his home state of Indiana. From his service as a mayor, to his illustrious tenure in the United States Senate, Sen. Lugar stood as a model for public officials at every conceivable level of government. He was a highly effective legislator and consensus-builder who brought vast intelligence and thoughtfulness to everything he pursued, and stood as a monument to the power and necessity of reason in our civic affairs.

Above all, Sen. Lugar believed in bipartisanship and compromise in pursuit of solutions – an approach to governing that allowed him to influence our nation's foreign policy and forge monumental achievements that made our world a safer place in which to live. Sen. Lugar’s commitment to civility and respect as core democratic values stands in stark contrast to the divisiveness and hateful rhetoric that have gripped our political discourse today. As we reflect on his legacy, we implore all lawmakers to do themselves proud and strive to follow in the footsteps of a true American statesman like Dick Lugar. 

ADVERTISEMENT

It speaks volumes that some of Sen. Lugar’s most significant achievements during his storied tenure on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee were forged through bipartisan agreement. Even when the stakes were astronomical, Dick consistently believed in and applied the principles of civility and bipartisanship. Consider the profound effect of the landmark Nunn-Lugar treaty on national and global security in securing and dismantling weapons of mass destruction in the former state of the Soviet Union – our world would look very different today if Lugar hadn’t been willing to reach across the aisle.  

We both had the honor of working closely with Sen. Lugar throughout our careers, first in the Senate, and more recently, on the board of the National Institute for Civil Discourse. Sen. Lugar has been on the board since the organization was founded in 2011 in the wake of the tragic Tucson shooting that killed six people and wounded 13 others, including former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.). It was only natural for Lugar to devote his career after he left the Senate to fostering the same values that he held dear in other legislators.

Under Lugar’s guidance, the National Institute for Civil Discourse has worked to fight back against the toxicity that has dominated the political conversation and driven a wedge even further between Democrats and Republicans. No one was a better champion for the organization’s mission of improving the quality of civil conversation and bridging the political divide than him.

The group is behind two congressional caucuses committed to reviving civility in our national discourse, the Civility Caucus, which has over 150 members, and the Congressional Civility and Respect Caucus. The organization has also built up a network of legislators in over 20 states who share the public’s concerns about dysfunction in our political system, and has trained over 12,000 people in civil discourse listening across differences for understanding. Dick’s legacy will continue to drive and inspire our national push for civility in the years to come.  

Richard Lugar’s passing offers an opportunity for all lawmakers to step back and reevaluate our own impact. Are we working to close the political divide, or are our actions only making it worse? Let’s honor Sen. Lugar by doing our part to put our country back on a course of civility.     

Tom Daschle served as a Democratic United States Senator from South Dakota from 1987 to 2005. Olympia Snowe served as a Republican United States Senator from Maine from 1995 to 2013. Both serve on the board of the National Institute for Civil Discourse.