With the defeat of Hooiser Senator Dick Lugar in his primary race, the demise of Republican moderates becomes a subject really worth understanding.
As luck has it, a relevant book was awaiting me when I returned last night from a scholarly meeting. It’s Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, From Eisenhower to the Tea Party by historian Geoffrey Kabaservice. (If you’re interested in discussing it, say so in the comments. Perhaps we can hold a virtual book group discussion at this blog.)
Political scientists have long examined structural shifts that have increased political polarization. (I wrote about some of these structural issues in a piece on the possible impact of an independent U.S. Senator from Maine.) During the Obama administration, Republicans in the Senate adopted the strategy of using filibusters routinely, thus making it very hard to pass anything.
Even when Democrats had a super-majority, the routine use of filibusters meant that legislation had to pass muster with the very most conservative Democrat. As Ezra Klein writes, “This is not Lyndon Johnson’s Senate.” Examining broader historical dynamics shows why analyses like Richard Cohen’s — that Obama would get more legislative victories if only had more golf games with politicos — is so foolish.
When it comes to the Lugar loss, some of what he said reminded me of what Olympia Snowe said soon after her announcement that she would not run for re-election. Snowe said that the Senate was increasingly operating like a parliamentary system, such that legislators were more consistently voting with their own parties.
The problem is that the U.S. does not have a parliamentary system. With a separation-of-powers, checks and balances system, legislators cannot behave as they would in a parliamentary system and have the system operate effectively.
Lugar’s 1425 word statement is a remarkable take on the state of the Senate and American politics. Here is a man who writes about the policy issues he cares about and about the processes that have hurt him, along with his commitment to the institutions of American democracy.
It’s so powerful that I’ve cut and pasted it below.
One thing Lugar mentions is the role of organized groups who launched what he calls, “a purification exercise to enhance their influence over other Republican legislators.”
Opposing Lugar was not only the tea party grassroots, but also groups with strong connections to particular business and corporate interests. This is not just about ideology, but about money — and payback.
The banking industry is making an example of Sen. Dick Lugar.
Several veteran financial services lobbyists are fundraising for the primary challenger of one of the most-senior Senate Republicans, sending a clear message to GOP lawmakers who have opposed banks on key votes: Don’t cross us.
Lugar and a dozen other Republicans voted against banks on an amendment that would have blocked caps on swipe fees last year. That amendment, which failed in the Senate, was a battle royal that pitted two of the nation’s most influential business groups — banks and retailers — against each other.
This is part of the “purification exercise as, to quote Politico again,”bankers want to make it clear that there will be consequences for Republicans who vote against them.”
And here is Lugar’s statement:
I would like to comment on the Senate race just concluded and the direction of American politics and the Republican Party. I would reiterate from my earlier statement that I have no regrets about choosing to run for office. My health is excellent, I believe that I have been a very effective Senator for Hoosiers and for the country, and I know that the next six years would have been a time of great achievement. Further, I believed that vital national priorities, including job creation, deficit reduction, energy security, agriculture reform, and the Nunn-Lugar program, would benefit from my continued service as a Senator. These goals were worth the risk of an electoral defeat and the costs of a hard campaign.
Analysts will speculate about whether our campaign strategies were wise. Much of this will be based on conjecture by pundits who don’t fully appreciate the choices we had to make based on resource limits, polling data, and other factors. They also will speculate whether we were guilty of overconfidence.
The truth is that the headwinds in this race were abundantly apparent long before Richard Mourdock announced his candidacy. One does not highlight such headwinds publicly when one is waging a campaign. But I knew that I would face an extremely strong anti-incumbent mood following a recession. I knew that my work with then-Senator Barack Obama would be used against me, even if our relationship were overhyped. I also knew from the races in 2010 that I was a likely target of Club for Growth, FreedomWorks and other Super Pacs dedicated to defeating at least one Republican as a purification exercise to enhance their influence over other Republican legislators.
We undertook this campaign soberly and we worked very hard in 2010, 2011, and 2012 to overcome these challenges. There never was a moment when my campaign took anything for granted. This is why we put so much effort into our get out the vote operations.
Ultimately, the re-election of an incumbent to Congress usually comes down to whether voters agree with the positions the incumbent has taken. I knew that I had cast recent votes that would be unpopular with some Republicans and that would be targeted by outside groups.
These included my votes for the TARP program, for government support of the auto industry, for the START Treaty, and for the confirmations of Justices Sotomayor and Kagan. I also advanced several propositions that were considered heretical by some, including the thought that Congressional earmarks saved no money and turned spending power over to unelected bureaucrats and that the country should explore options for immigration reform.
It was apparent that these positions would be attacked in a Republican primary. But I believe that they were the right votes for the country, and I stand by them without regrets, as I have throughout the campaign.
From time to time during the last two years I heard from well-meaning individuals who suggested that I ought to consider running as an independent. My response was always the same: I am a Republican now and always have been. I have no desire to run as anything else. All my life, I have believed in the Republican principles of small government, low taxes, a strong national defense, free enterprise, and trade expansion. According to Congressional Quarterly vote studies, I supported President Reagan more often than any other Senator. I want to see a Republican elected President, and I want to see a Republican majority in the Congress. I hope my opponent wins in November to help give my friend Mitch McConnell a majority.
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.
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.
Legislators should have an ideological grounding and strong beliefs identifiable to their constituents. I believe I have offered that throughout my career. But ideology cannot be a substitute for a determination to think for yourself, for a willingness to study an issue objectively, and for the fortitude to sometimes disagree with your party or even your constituents. Like Edmund Burke, I believe leaders owe the people they represent their best judgment.
Too often bipartisanship is equated with centrism or deal cutting. Bipartisanship is not the opposite of principle. One can be very conservative or very liberal and still have a bipartisan mindset. Such a mindset acknowledges that the other party is also patriotic and may have some good ideas. It acknowledges that national unity is important, and that aggressive partisanship deepens cynicism, sharpens political vendettas, and depletes the national reserve of good will that is critical to our survival in hard times. Certainly this was understood by President Reagan, who worked with Democrats frequently and showed flexibility that would be ridiculed today – from assenting to tax increases in the 1983 Social Security fix, to compromising on landmark tax reform legislation in 1986, to advancing arms control agreements in his second term.
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.
I hope that as a nation we aspire to more than that. I hope we will demand judgment from our leaders. I continue to believe that Hoosiers value constructive leadership. I would not have run for office if I did not believe that.
As someone who has seen much in the politics of our country and our state, I am able to take the long view. I have not lost my enthusiasm for the role played by the United States Senate. Nor has my belief in conservative principles been diminished. I expect great things from my party and my country. I hope all who participated in this election share in this optimism. [Source]
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