Dick Lugar Has Died. So Has The Party He Served With Distinction.

I stepped out of the shower yesterday to find a news alert telling me that Senator Richard Lugar had died.

My own involvement with politics began with Dick Lugar’s mayoral campaign; I headed up an effort titled, as I recall,  “The 67 Committee for Lugar for Mayor”–a euphemistic name for an effort at outreach to Indianapolis’ Jewish voters.

The Washington Post has a lengthy recap of Lugar’s career, and it is worth reading for several reasons: to remind those of us who care about governance that genuine public servants once occupied the Senate; that the complexities of foreign affairs demand the sort of intellect and expertise that Lugar exemplified rather than the faux machismo and counterproductive religiosity currently on display; and that once upon a time, the Republican Party included grown-ups who took their oaths of office seriously.

If there had been any doubt that the GOP represented by statesmen like Lugar was dead and gone, it was underlined by his 2012 primary loss to a Trumpian asshole whose entire campaign was a cartoonish Tea Party performance.

Every aspect of Lugar’s service–from his stint on the Indianapolis school board to his chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee–was marked by thoughtfulness, intellect and civility. Those characteristics are in extremely short supply these days, especially in the once-Grand Old Party, and most of us who supported that party, who admired statesmen like Dick Lugar and agreed with their philosophies of governance, have left, horrified at what the party has become.

I didn’t always agree with Dick Lugar’s domestic positions, especially in the later years of his Senate tenure. His positions on reproductive rights and discrimination against LGBT Americans, for example, were far different from mine (although I still admire his unsuccessful efforts to curtail farm subsidies and his support for comprehensive immigration reform.) But when it came to his work on foreign policy–the area that clearly was his abiding passion– he was a giant.

As the Post obituary put it:

A moderate conservative who came of age in the Cold War, he viewed the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction as the most serious threat to national security, and it was in that area that he left his greatest mark.

As the Soviet Union collapsed, he and other policymakers feared that its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons might fall into the wrong hands. In 1991, Mr. Lugar teamed with the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), to push through legislation to help Russia and other former Soviet republics secure their arsenals and, in most cases, dismantle them entirely.

The initiative — officially the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program but better known as Nunn-Lugar — provided funding and expertise that over the next two decades led to the deactivation of more than 7,500 nuclear warheads and hundreds of other weapons and delivery systems, according to the Defense Department. Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan eliminated all of their nuclear arms.

The obituary noted a number of other important contributions to foreign affairs–from arms control to the New START nuclear-weapons-reduction treaty with Russia.

In his first stint as Foreign Relations chairman, Mr. Lugar played an influential role on two hot-button issues. Although a faithful supporter of Reagan’s agenda, he led the Senate in overriding Reagan’s veto of legislation imposing stiff economic sanctions on apartheid South Africa. He also helped bring about the ouster of Marcos in the Philippines.

Lugar had a reputation for working across the aisle; he was the ranking Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee when he first collaborated with Obama, then an Illinois senator. They traveled together to Russia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan in 2005 to visit weapon dismantlement sites, and later co-sponsored legislation aimed at  eliminating stockpiles of shoulder-fired missiles.

I can’t help experiencing the death of Dick Lugar as more than the death of an honorable and important statesman. His death is also symbolic of the terminal state of statesmanship itself–and yet another reminder that a political party that once elevated serious, effective and principled office-holders has been replaced by a collection of embarrassing know-nothings, hypocrites, bigots and moral cowards.

I mourn them both.


  1. I began my 20 years working in city government in 1972 under Mayor Dick Lugar. The sections from the Washington Post obituary lists the reasons the Indiana Republican party pulled all support and campaign funds from his reelection to back Mourdock who unquestioningly upheld the party’s foundation. To the point that he stated; “If a woman gets pregnant as the result of being raped; God must want her to have that baby.” Mourdock helped elect Democrat Joe Donnelly; neither was a viable replacement for Senator Dick Lugar.

    Maybe his death will serve a much needed purpose at this time; to remind the country and the Republican party what the GOP stood for in their better days. Senator Lugar was one reason I was an Independent voter for many years; I have never expected perfection (total agreement on all issues) from either party but he must have become deeply disappointed with what the party has become under this current administration.

  2. I was practicing law in Indianapolis before Lugar arrived with his City-County ideas and moderate approaches to governing. He was a bright man and worked selectively across the aisle. He was what we then called an Eisenhower Republican (an almost New Dealer but with a fiscally conservative bent). He turned out to be a longtime senator and an expert in foreign relations, though not a particular friend of labor, and while I voted for Democrats then (and now), I was not dismayed when he won (as I am now with the current election of libertarians masquerading as Republicans led by a buffoon). Republicans need more Lugars and fewer if any McConnells.

  3. Gerald,

    “I was not dismayed when he won (as I am now with the current election of libertarians masquerading as Republicans led by a buffoon.”

    I have a close Libertarian friend. Fascism would be much closer to the truth, as would sociopath be much closer than buffoon. You’re a much nicer guy than I am.

  4. Sheila, a fair assessment of a true statesman. As a Democrat, I found confidence splitting the ticket to vote for Senator Lugar. I visited a food bank in inner city Detroit while the Senator was still in office. I asked about the obvious presence of more nutritious foods on the shelves. The answer was Senator Lugar from Indiana was a strong champion for nutrition foods in food banks across the nation.

  5. It’s very difficult to be PATRIOTIC and also to use the word FASCISM to adequately describe the REPUBLICAN PARTY leadership. That’s a hurdle we must overcome, if we’re going to save what’s left of our democracy.

  6. Gerald and Marv,

    I think the correct word is anarchist. They want no government, except what is necessary to protect their own property rights. Their racism isn’t a part of any governing philosophy, but rather their egos telling them they are superior to all.

    I worked closely with the Senator’s office on veterans issues. I was happy to have a reasonable person to deal with, but I also had some difficulty accepting his positions on most domestic issues. He voted with his party 99% of the time.

  7. In the mid-1990’s we knew my 4 year old grandson was being sexually molested; he had all the classic symptoms. He finally talked at age 6 1/2; his mother took him to the ER for an exam but no signs because it was all oral sex. My son went to Child Protective Services to report the crime; they refused to TAKE INFORMATION from him due to confidentiality laws. He then went to the Prosecutor’s Office who refused to take the case due to no evidence of penetration; again the fact that it was all oral sex was ignored. Third stop for my son was the Indianapolis Police Department Sex Crimes Unit. They refused the case because they “didn’t want to get in the middle of a custody case”; the boy’s mother had custody. We were frantic calling and contacting everyone we could think of.

    I was living in Florida at that time; I wrote a 13 page letter to Senator Lugar explaining the problem. The following week I received a letter from HIM stating he had contacted the State Director of CPS, the Prosecutor and Chief of Indianapolis Police Department. He said if nothing was done soon to let him know; the week after that the molester (teenage son of the babysitter) was arrested. There was a trial; my grandson testified and the teenager was found guilty shortly before his 18th birthday so records were sealed, no punishment. The afternoon after the trial I got calls in Florida from CPS and the Prosecutor’s Office telling me I had no business contacting Senator Lugar, he had nothing to do with the case. Then I received a letter from the IPD Police Chief saying the same thing. Had I not contacted Senator Lugar, nothing would have been done . The molester is now in his 30s and is a lifetime child molester registrant.

  8. I too mourn the loss of statesmen/women like Sen. Lugar and I’ve never considered myself a Republican. He was, and remains, the only Republican for whom I’ve ever voted. I supported his last Senate run and was appalled at how his own party turned their backs on him.

    You are right in saying his passing also marks the death of any semblance of a Republican Party.
    It has become the Trumpican Party and bears close resemblance to the party of the old Confederacy.

  9. Senator Lugar deserved better than what he got from the Indiana republicans. Look at what has happened since they kicked him to the curb. We deserve better too.

  10. The Indiana GOP should be taken to the woodshed over their treatment of Senator Lugar. Yes, his time was probably up but to be removed like that with that awful sickening man Murdock, is just disgraceful. I believe President Obama’s sense of duty matched Sen Lugar and when they worked together, I was proud of that partnership. Lugar was a true statesmen even if I didn’t agree with his positions.

    The Indiana GOP is now the party of IQ45 and Pastor Pence. May they rot in hell.

  11. Indiana has lost a great man, I was a yard sign manager in his 2 mayoral election, he was the one that brought me into politics. Because of him I served at the precinct levels for years.
    His treatment by the newly empowered Tea Party , turned against him and took the Indiana Republican Party over the crazy cliff .
    His treatment was in part why I left the Republican Party along with a few others.
    At a time when we needed intelligent men and women in office her was removed by the know nothing Tea Party and I will never forgive them for that because their actions lead the GOP to Trump. I remain an independent like so many of my friends. And I stand against the Tea Party types ,
    And the new “Trump Republican Party”

  12. Thank you Sheila,

    I was deeply shocked, saddened and surprised to learn of the passing of Dick Lugar yesterday. He was a true statesman, a giant of the United States Senate, a champion for peace and nuclear arms control and, last but not least, a fine Mayor of the City of Indianapolis. Since it appears that there are no true statesman left in the United States Senate Dick Lugar may have been the last of a most unfortunately dying breed of politician that put country over party, country over reelection prospects, and was capable of having a grand vision for all Americans and the citizens of the world.

    Probably from being dropped on my head either the right number of times or the wrong number of times as a baby by my parents I have always been fascinated by, of all things, nuclear arms control. The terror associated with the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 as a nine year old really piqued my interest in it because of just how close we came to nuclear annihilation, or closer than we knew at the time. I remember fiberglass fallout shelters being sold on the grounds of filling stations as black light paintings were 30 years later. It was a very, very scary time. I’m so glad that a large portion of your piece today in memory of him focuses on the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program (CTR) which was a truly amazing effort at the time and also truly amazing for the extraordinary level of success that accompanied it.

    While Dick Lugar, and Sam Nunn, never got the Nobel Prizes for Peace that they so richly deserved and were nominated for several times they helped foster in a very real way strategic stability during a very unstable period of time. The period was when the moribund Soviet Union was transitioning into the Russian Federation, all of which happened before the rise of the person that essentially brought it to a halt, Vladimir Putin. It was so amazing and actually humorous to me that these two guys pulled this off, obviously with a lot of help, and I used to joke with my friends that both of them should have gotten an award from the Comedy Channel for the humor of it all-that these two guys convinced the Russians to sell us their nuclear weapons, their fissile materials, and scrap nuclear guided missile submarines and ICBMs. People today, specifically folks were born after the 1960s, have no real idea of just how tense a time the early 1960s were bilaterally and for those of us that were around back then just how much the end of the Cold War meant and just how important and amazing the efforts by Sam Nunn and Dick Lugar were at the time. I still feel that it’s a shame that neither of these fine gentleman were awarded Nobel Prizes. They should’ve been.

    And now for something entirely different, Dick Lugar was the first Mayor of Indianapolis that I ever met and it was via my late father receiving a policeman of the year award in 1968 where yours truly and my whole family were in the Mayor’s Office for the presentation of that award. He shared that award with another detective named Harry Dunn based on both of them breaking up what could’ve been a race-related riot on Monument Circle. They both worked together to defuse the situation through the power of words and persuasion not the power of the pistols that each of them carried on their hips. Needless to say, we were all proud of Dad and Harry and so was Mayor Dick Lugar.

    I just wish that Dick Lugar could’ve stayed with us a little longer given what we’re facing right now. As I mentioned earlier in this piece he had a grand vision of what this world could be like if we could minimize the nuclear threat in a very real way. Instead, today we are all unfortunately reversing what they had set in motion that went so far in keeping the peace and stabilizing the strategic alignment for two decades where we didn’t have to think about nuclear war or the possibility of it occurring.

    From the Indianapolis School Board, to the Mayor’s Office, to a brief stint in academia at IUPUI, and then to the United States Senate, Dick Lugar put a great big footprint on this city’s forward progress, the same for the State of Indiana, and our country and the whole world. We owe him an enormous debt for his service to us all. May he rest in eternal peace with Almighty God with my thoughts and prayers being with the members of his family and all of his dear friends. We have all lost a giant.

  13. Harsh truth: I am sorry I voted for him. In the end he enabled the evil that consumes us. His life’s work is a symbol, for sure. It symbolizes the futility in compromising with hatred and bigotry, regardless of one’s good deeds.

  14. I can’t claim any special insight into Sen Lugar but clearly the Republican culture has moved quite a ways since he embodied it. They have been moved to extremism because that’s what their base consisting of those who are left over once the people who support liberal democracy are removed as Democrat supporters. Extremism IMO is the combination of susceptibility to it and entertainment media making money from encouraging it. Let’s say Republicans are stuck with those who brought them to the dance and now they are as a diverse group all extreme in their politics.

  15. Truly Richard Lugar was a fine public servant. May his kind increase. I need help from readers more knowledgable than I; the Star mentions he helped solve a problem with Chrysler by negotiating wage cuts, and authored policies to decrease farm subsidies. Were those not a boon to what we now call the 1%? Income inequality has been a plague from the outset of this democratic republic. Does a “conservative moderate” always favor the wealthy?

  16. Trickle down theory was the cancer in Senator Lugar’s philosophical body; otherwise, he was a great man whom I admired with noted reservations. If he were capable of introspection, and saw the decline that trickle down was causing to his reputation, I imagine he suffered many sleepless nights. Peace to him now.

  17. I just wrote a tribute to Richard Lugar on my blog. But I do want to speak a word in defense of the Indiana GOP which rejected his renomination in 2012. Lugar had stopped coming to Republican events. He wouldn’t raise money for the party. He wouldn’t help out other Republican candidates. He wouldn’t go to Lincoln Day dinners. GOP candidates told me that if they took their picture with Lugar, they’d get letters in the mail threatening legal action if they dared use that picture in a political campaign.

    In the rare times he came back to Indiana, GOP officials would have to meet Lugar in hotels because he had no residence in the state. He for three decades voted swearing under oath he was a resident of a house he had sold some 30 years earlier. We had a former state official prosecuted for a felony for doing that in ONE election.

    Lugar could have easily maintained a residence in Indiana and kept a modicum of ties to the Indiana GOP. If he did that, he certainly would not have lost renomination in 2012 and probably wouldn’t have had a challenger.

    Lugar had a lot of good qualities which we’re right to focus on at his passing. But to blame his political demise on the Indiana GOP is flat out wrong.

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