He was 16 when I was born, Mayor of Indianapolis (my home town) when I was a student at IU, and off to the US Senate when I was a ripe old 28; been there ever since. And a few hours after having seen him take a beating most uncommon in American politics–he lost to Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock by 21 points in yesterday’s primary–the confetti has just stopped floating to the floor and empty beer cans have barely stopped rolling around as we look with mixed feelings at the phenomenon just experienced.
They are called “Hoosiers,” a moniker of dubious origins, and not “Indianans” as the dunces in the press often say (what the hell is an Indianan?) and they are an interesting lot to be sure. In the main conservative in thought and deed, with a deep and long farm tradition even in a place where the farmers these days could meet in a double wide phone booth, they are such traditionalists that even some of our Democrats get habituated to good ideas. We have not failed to re-elect a governor for his constitutionally limited second term since the inception of that rule some time around 1960, we keep old courthouses around like bent pennies, black marbles or old Ted Kluszewski baseball cards, and once we find a senator, he’s pretty much got a gig for life. Of course we’ve had our Birch Bayhs, plucked from his saddle by a young–very young–Dan Quayle, but if they behave themselves and don’t land on the wrong side of history, it approaches Supreme Court tenure if a guy plays his cards right. And Richard Lugar did just that. Well, until now.
From his first days in the local spotlight as the forward-thinking mayor who gave us a Republican lock on city and county governance that has lasted, with only one exception, nearly 40 years, there was nobody who could come within grenade range of that big smile, affable personality and innate quiet confidence that he exuded like kryptonite against many a hapless Democrat. Hell, at least once that I can remember the Dems didn’t even name a candidate, so tight was his lock on his seat in the US Senate. Imagine that–in a world where such a top spot is the subject of perpetual lust, and where hubris and avarice are considered prerequisites to federal office. Over the decades of his tenure in that puzzle palace, Lugar rose to the top like so much heavy cream in the dairy farmer’s milk tanks. His mild manner and sense of timing in the clinches of partisan politics built him a reputation as a consensus-maker, leader of men and oracle on all things international. But all that togetherness had its flaws and dangers as well.
Turns out consensus with the ilk of post-modern Democrats looks awfully like capitulation in an environment infected with the likes of Harry, Tom, and Chuck. A “middle ground” on the hoax of global warming, as well as associations with such miscreants of political philosophy as John McCain, have taken their toll; and once it got around that he had a very cordial relationship with the then-junior senator from Illinois (speaking of miscreants), Lugar’s star began to tarnish a bit. But even at a time when consensus-building with the enemy began to be congruent with giving the bad guys what they wanted just to keep “getting things done,” our senior senator retained his immortal persona among Hoosiers. Until now.
A quiet, unassuming geologist by the name of Mourdock heard the ever-increasing rumble of conservative discontent with things like the Law of the Seas and START treaties, earmark spending and an intensifying perception that Lugar was in the mainstream of growing government and intrusive legislation. Having won easily in two statewide races for Treasurer, and having fought the lawless juggernaut of Obama’s decimation of our bankruptcy laws when we lost millions to the Chrysler and GM proceedings, the guy just seemed to be the right combination of reluctance and courage to take on the Rock of political Ages. A year ago, even four years back, disgruntled conservatives were calling radio talk shows raising hell at some new evidence that our perpetual senator was in bed with the enemies of the Republic in one way or another. That was of course a bit of a stretch, but with the awakening of an electorate that was over-taxed and under-protected from our enemies, with encroachments abounding that began to accrete so fast we could at times actually see government for the cancer it had become, a senator who was approaching 80 years old announcing he would seek a seventh term started turning heads, even in that farmers’ phone booth meeting house.
The campaign was a study in ugly from jump. Although Mourdock did not himself raise it, Lugar’s many adversaries started turning the lights on with regard to such little things as living in Indiana. He had last owned a personal residence in the state around 1975 but still voted from that address. Parenthetically, at least one Attorney General’s opinion had been published that declared such to be kosher, so he was not disqualified on that basis. But again, those Hoosiers are an odd lot. No home here, voting from a place he’d sold in the 70s, and that growing perception that, as he had grown older in the Senate he had turned far more moderate than fit the mood and the politics of the state, all congealed into a groundswell of sentiment and–here’s that word again–perception that he was more problem than solution to the dangers of big government. Challenger Mourdock started out at least 15 points down as the powerful image of Senator Lugar loomed large still; but over half of the 92 Republican county chairs came out for him early, although the state party shrank those numbers at least for a while. He got the endorsement of Club for Growth, Right to Life, and then the National Rifle Association, and with all, their contributions and independent advertising. Mourdock was down seven points a mere 60 days ago, only to surge to a 10 point advantage in the last poll taken before the election. Then BOOM! the explosion of Tea Party ire and conservative influence came together in one powerful event, and the senior statesman was no more. POOF! The indomitable force was vanquished and ZAP! The landscape was instantly rearranged.
Dick Lugar was far more the victim of the tectonic shifts that are remaking American politics than the old boxer who fought a fight too far. His contributions to the Republic and his great good will among men so set him apart from the weasels and snakes of national politics that nobody who has paid attention can claim that he ever turned aside from his trust. Now, if he had been out front, sword in hand, wading through the kook fringe that now controls the funny farm–had he joined forces with such men as Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma to defeat the cosmic fraud of global warming, or if he could have come out swinging at the perfidy of the Chosen One and his gaggle of radicals, then maybe… But maybe not. Can’t tell ya from here, but this much is clear: change is not just in the air or even in the water supply. And the rapacious horde that coined that word four years ago has awakened a giant of unknowable proportions. We do not so much demand change as we require change back. That doesn’t happen by making nice with the forces of big government. So the people of the Hoosier state spoke–roared, actually–and change has occurred. Mourdock will, handwringing to the contrary notwithstanding, prevail big in November against a Democrat whose claim to fame includes having done almost nothing in the House of Representatives for two terms and doing his best to look like a Republican.
So we will march on to crush as much of the toxicity of statism as we can, but there will not be–has never been–a man who more stood for the good in public service, the ultimate in good faith and the heart and soul of the fiduciary of the public trust than Richard Lugar. Time moves on and keeps writing, but his is a record and history written in indelible ink. As the Good Book said, “well down, thou good and faithful servant.”