Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Lugar's noble sign-off, leavened with false equivalence

Richard Lugar's statement issued last night in the wake of his primary loss to Tea Party candidate Richard Mourdock will be rightly celebrated as warning and diagnosis about the dangers of extreme partisanship. At the same time, in perhaps inevitable loyalty to his own side, Lugar raises false equivalence to a high art:

Unfortunately, we have an increasing number of legislators in both parties who have adopted an unrelenting partisan viewpoint. This shows up in countless vote studies that find diminishing intersections between Democrat and Republican positions. Partisans at both ends of the political spectrum are dominating the political debate in our country. And partisan groups, including outside groups that spent millions against me in this race, are determined to see that this continues. They have worked to make it as difficult as possible for a legislator of either party to hold independent views or engage in constructive compromise. If that attitude prevails in American politics, our government will remain mired in the dysfunction we have witnessed during the last several years. And I believe that if this attitude expands in the Republican Party, we will be relegated to minority status. Parties don't succeed for long if they stop appealing to voters who may disagree with them on some issues... 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. Similarly, most Democrats are constrained when talking about such issues as entitlement cuts, tort reform, and trade agreements. 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.
Obama, with buy-in from his party's House and Senate leadership, put major Medicare cuts on the table, signaled very clearly he would trade some measure of tort reform but minimal Republican buy-in to the ACA, and signed three trade agreements..  Not finding common ground with opponents who won't compromise is not the same as not being willing to compromise. 

Despite the gesture toward equivalence, the thrust of Lugar's critique is against his own party's intransigence -- as it had to be, since it was unabashed far-right extremism that defeated him:
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. In effect, what he has promised in this campaign is reflexive votes for a rejectionist orthodoxy and rigid opposition to the actions and proposals of the other party. His answer to the inevitable roadblocks he will encounter in Congress is merely to campaign for more Republicans who embrace the same partisan outlook. He has pledged his support to groups whose prime mission is to cleanse the Republican party of those who stray from orthodoxy as they see it.

This is not conducive to problem solving and governance. And he will find that unless he modifies his approach, he will achieve little as a legislator. Worse, he will help delay solutions that are totally beyond the capacity of partisan majorities to achieve. The most consequential of these is stabilizing and reversing the Federal debt in an era when millions of baby boomers are retiring. There is little likelihood that either party will be able to impose their favored budget solutions on the other without some degree of compromise.
I am sorry to see Lugar go. His courage in helping to drive the New Start treaty past Jon Kyl's bad-faith stonewall was something to behold. I imagine that Obama, if he gains a second term, won't even be able think about negotiating a treaty of any sort. And the mind reels at the prospect of his next Supreme Court appointment.

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