Tag Archives: death

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.

What’s It All About?

Forgive the personal nature of this post. I’m not in a very “political” or “policy” mood right now.

A couple of days ago, a close friend died unexpectedly.

A couple of months before that, my best friend in the world–someone I talked to almost every day for fifty years, someone who shared my life so thoroughly that it’s hard to know who I would be if she hadn’t been part of it–died after a brief battle with cancer.

Even with months to prepare for the inevitable, I couldn’t write about that first death until now, couldn’t talk about it much, couldn’t come to terms with it. (I still haven’t.) The second one was a shock–a single male friend who we had semi-“adopted” into our family, who shared Thanksgivings and birthdays and weddings with our “clan,” and was only 62.

It’s times like these when you confront your own mortality, and wonder once again what it all means. Are there lessons in life’s fragility, and if so, what are they?

Like my best friend, who was a student of philosophy–and like my mother, who wasn’t–I don’t believe in an afterlife. We’re here, and then we’re gone, and to the extent our lives have meaning, it’s meaning we create. So we are responsible for thinking carefully about what it means to be a human being with free will (or something that feels like free will), and about the nature of morality, of good and evil, and our responsibilities to our fellow humans and the planet we share with them.

My friends each left a legacy of kindness. Neither was petty or self-aggrandizing. They both had a passion for justice, and an aversion to the sort of self-righteous judgmentalism that is all too common among less thoughtful and/or reflective people. They both lived full and authentic lives, and they both left their corners of the world better than they found it.

At the end of the day, I suppose that’s really all that anyone can hope for or aspire to.

The size of the holes left in our lives when wonderful, loyal people die is a testament to the value they added to ours. But those holes are really, really painful. We can walk around them, but they can’t be filled.



Hastening Mortality

Today is Memorial Day.

Usually, I don’t spend as much time as I should pondering the sacrifices of the men and women we are memorializing; like most Americans, I welcome a three-day weekend and perhaps, as this year, a cookout with my children and grandchildren. This Memorial Day, however, a death in my own family has me contemplating not just our inevitable mortality, but the numerous human behaviors that hasten the inevitable.

Today, of course, the national focus is on war, and the loss of young men and women in the very primes of their lives. As a parent, I can’t begin to imagine the pain of losing a child, especially in war. Wondering if he suffered at the end, wondering what sort of life she might have lived had she survived. As a member of society, I can only wonder what sorts of contributions to the common good we’ve gone without–what budding artist or inventor or entrepreneur was lost to us through combat.

Wars are not all avoidable; there are just wars. But those unavoidable conflicts are few and far between. The wars of choice, the wars begun by small men with big delusions, by impatient men unwilling to engage in diplomatic problem-solving, have cost so many precious lives that didn’t need to be lost.

It isn’t only through war that we hasten our own demise, of course.  We humans participate in a veritable shmorgasbord of self-destructive behaviors.

The cousin who died yesterday was a bright, delightful, witty woman. (I still remember one conversation about an elderly aunt and uncle who were divorcing after some 50 years of marriage. When I wondered “why now?” she shot back “They were waiting for the children to die.”) Everyone loved Ann–she was classy and warm and outgoing. But even though she knew better, she smoked. Like a chimney. Eventually, she developed lung cancer that metastasized to her brain. It isn’t a pleasant way to go.

So many of us are like my cousin; we can’t seem to break behaviors we know are bad for us. We smoke, we overeat, we drink to excess, we drink and drive….We start wars. We get really good at rationalizing self-destructive, often suicidal behaviors.

On this Memorial Day, I’m wondering what it is about the human condition that makes so many of us act in ways that hasten the inevitable–and what, if anything, we can do about it.