As Indiana’s Republican Senate primary unfolds, I can’t help thinking of T.S. Eliot’s famous line: “This is the way the world ends–not with a bang, but a whimper.”
One of my earliest forays into political life was during Dick Lugar’s first campaign for Mayor. I supported him as he moved into national politics, and even after I left the Republican party. I didn’t always agree with his positions–Tea Party rhetoric to the contrary, his career trajectory has moved him steadily to the right–but he was reasoned and reasonable, and clearly an expert in foreign affairs. I could and did differ with him on issues like gay rights and abortion, but I respected him.
It must be galling for someone of his stature and intellect to be the underdog against a candidate like Mourdock, a small man supported by the angry mob that currently comprises the GOP base. The fact that over 80% of Indiana’s Republican County chairmen support Mourdock not only explains current internal polls showing Lugar losing, it speaks volumes about what the Grand Old Party has become.
So Lugar has come to the sort of decision-point we all face at one time or another: to face the challenge with integrity–increasing the liklihood he’ll lose–or to grovel before the know-nothings and hope to salvage one final term.
He’s chosen to grovel.
This morning’s paper reported that Lugar has withdrawn his sponsorship of the Dream Act, a measure that would have been relatively uncontroversial in saner times. The Dream Act permits undocumented young people who were brought to this country as babies to gain citizenship by graduating college or serving in the Armed Forces. It recognizes that the charges of criminality leveled at adults who entered the country illegally are unfair when applied to children who had no choice in the matter. Most of those children have grown up as Americans, and have never lived anywhere else. Whatever one’s views on the larger immigration issues, punishing children for the acts of their parents is gratuitous and cruel and serves no purpose. But in our bipolar world, any recognition of complexity, any evidence of human compassion, is “liberal” and therefore unacceptable to those in the GOP most likely to vote in the primary.
The sad part of all this is that Lugar will never be able to satisfy the culture warriors and Tea Party voters who are enraged at his support for weapons reductions and treaties, for his willingness to follow the Constitution and vote to confirm qualified Supreme Court candidates with whom he might personally disagree. These are voters for whom any acknowledgment of nuance and/or complexity is “elitist” (or, if you are black, “uppity”). Rather than regaining their support, Lugar is disappointing the moderate Republicans who are left–the very voters whose larger-than-usual turnout for the primary is his best hope of prevailing.
Going into this primary, Lugar’s choice was simple, if painful. He could defend a long and illustrious career as a statesman, or he could try–desperately and probably unsuccessfully–to recast himself as one of the current pack of radical ideologues.
Evidently, he’s chosen to go out, not with a bang, but a whimper.