When outgoing GOP Senator Richard Lugar lost his primary election to Richard Mourdock earlier this year, there was an unusual amount of disingenuous garment rending over the supposed death of bipartisanship due to the increasingly conservative nature of the Republican Party.
Yet there will be no sad songs for outgoing Democratic Congressman Heath Shuler. While the media was focused on the dwindling of moderate Republicans, they missed the fact that pro-life Democrats and moderate Democrats virtually disappeared completely. Yet Shuler’s retirement from Congress is notable in that he was the last remaining Democrat willing to challenge Nancy Pelosi. And his defeat at the hands of my-way-or-the-highway liberalism should have been a far bigger story—if the media’s concerns were at all honest—than the defeat of an eighty-year-old officeholder.
Politico reports that on his way out the door, Shuler shows actual concern for bipartisanship:
Richard Mourdock’s decisive Republican primary victory over six-term Indiana Senator Richard Lugar was fretted by the D.C. foreign-policy establishment as yet another death knell for comity in Washington. But it turned out that it was Lugar, not Mourdock, who eschewed civility and grace with an angry and bitter response to the election.
Politico reports that time has not yet healed Lugar’s wounds or his ego. In his last months in the Senate, he has turned his attention to cementing his legacy abroad while Mourdock is locked in a close, and “costly,” general election fight. It’s true that Lugar has left at least one important legacy: his efforts, along with Democratic Senator Sam Nunn, to gain control of the collapsing Soviet Union’s nuclear material. But that was two decades ago, and in the foreign policy community the phrase “Nunn-Lugar” is a household term, and as such his legacy is in no need, and arguably cannot even really benefit, from his farewell tour. Instead, there is another legacy Lugar can cement in the coming months, and it isn’t a good one. From Politico:
Richard Lugar’s defeat in the Indiana Republican Senate primary has engendered new interest in a popular theme in the mainstream liberal press about how the current crop of conservative Republicans are the cause of political gridlock. Lugar’s graceless concession speech in which he blasted winner Richard Mourdock’s unwillingness to pay homage at the altar of bipartisanship was straight out of the liberal playbook in which only one side of the ideological divide is to be blamed for the mess in Washington. Lugar’s speech was catnip to liberal pundits like the New York Times’ Andrew Rosenthal, who had been looking for a news hook to echo an op-ed published last month in the Washington Post by two prominent D.C. think tank establishment figures sounding the same theme. In their April 27 essay, Thomas E. Mann and Norman Ornstein gave a non-partisan gloss to a the highly partisan theme that “Republicans are the problem.”
Though Mann and Ornstein claim this is in part because the new generation of conservative Republicans is less civil than most Democrats, even they don’t really believe that. For every Allen West on the right there is an Alan Grayson or Steve Cohen on the left. And even liberal editors and columnists may have noticed the incivility of some Tea Partiers doesn’t hold a candle to the violence and the attempts to stifle the free speech of others that is the hallmark of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Rather, it is Mann and Ornstein’s thesis that by seeking fundamental reforms of taxes, spending and entitlements, conservatives are breaking the unwritten contract between members of the governing class. By refusing to play ball like the docile Republicans of the past whose guiding philosophy was to offer the public the Democratic platform minus ten percent, today’s conservatives threaten a spirit of bipartisanship that existed largely to support a governing philosophy they disagree with. And that is something for which they cannot be forgiven.
Some liberals are trying to interpret the crushing defeat of six-term Republican Richard Lugar in an Indiana Republican senatorial primary as the creation of an opportunity for the Democrats to steal a GOP seat this fall. But the narrative being promoted today about rabid Tea Party extremists sacrificing another noble Republican moderate shows just how out of touch liberal theorists are with the country. Lugar was the ultimate establishment insider and President Obama’s favorite Republican when he was in the Senate. While there is something to be said for experience, this inveterate compromiser and foreign policy “realist” was a holdover from a bygone era in which members of the senatorial club thought of themselves as operating above and beyond the constraints of normal political life. Which is to say Lugar had outlived his usefulness to the people of Indiana a long time ago.
Equally foolish is the idea that the man who beat him, State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, is likely to face the fate of 2010 Republican outliers like Sharon Angle in Nevada or Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, whose extremism cost their parties easy general election victories. Mourdock is an experienced office-holder whose mainstream conservative views make him a perfect match for his state and likely to cruise to victory in the fall. The Mourdock triumph as well as the victory for supporters of traditional marriage in North Carolina is also a reminder that while this year will not be a repeat of the GOP’s midterm tsunami, it is also going to be nothing like 2008 when Obama won both states.
With polls showing six-term incumbent Republican Senator Richard Lugar to be a heavy underdog in his Indiana primary race with insurgent State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, many in the media are weeping bitter tears about the end of an era in Washington. After six terms in which he has increasingly come to be seen as part of the Senate furniture, it is not surprising that a likely plurality of Indiana voters are ready to turn him out. But to listen to the anguished reaction from pundits who are sympathetic to Lugar, his opponent’s supporters are nothing less than right-wing Jacobins who are sacrificing a sage statesman on the altar of extremism. But as much as that fits the mainstream media’s story line about the evil influence of the Tea Party on American politics, the truth is not quite that dramatic.
Lugar is the ultimate establishmentarian and the voice of conventional wisdom about any conceivable topic–especially foreign policy. He is also well-liked for his reputation for bipartisan cooperation. Though we are told Washington will be the poorer if there are fewer or no Lugars at all, the taxpayers as well as those sick of his knee-jerk foreign policy “realism” must be forgiven if they point out there is a difference between being the ultimate D.C. insider and the sort of politics of integrity we are told he embodies. Far from this being a case where the Tea Partiers are rolling out the guillotine for a brave voice of principle, what is going on in Indiana is merely the inevitable fate of any politician who overstays his welcome while standing for little but the continuation of business as usual on Capitol Hill.
Because the Republican Party will nominate the one candidate who, at least at the outset of the contest, Tea Partiers seemed to have the least affinity for, many political observers have concluded that the movement’s time has come and gone. But as the results from a number of Senate races testify, reports of the Tea Party’s demise are, at best, premature. In Utah, longtime incumbent Senator Orrin Hatch is being forced into a Republican primary to hold on to his seat. But an even better argument for the group as a force that should be reckoned with came in Pennsylvania, where the state GOP establishment’s choice was humiliated in a primary yesterday to determine the party’s nominee to oppose Senator Bob Casey.
While the Pennsylvania GOP Senate race received minimal attention even in the Keystone state, the collapse of Governor Tom Corbett’s attempt to handpick an unknown for the nomination is noteworthy. Corbett and the state party wanted Steve Welch, a 35-year-old entrepreneur who was a registered Democrat as recently as 2009. But Tea Party activists embraced Tom Smith, a coal millionaire from the Western region of the state. Though Smith, 64, was a lifelong Democrat, he was able to harness the anger of the party’s grass roots and won by a huge margin over Welch, and Sam Rohrer, a state representative who also sought to appeal to Tea Partiers.
New START picked up support from Republican Sens. Scott Brown, Bob Corker, Judd Gregg, and George Voinovich on Monday, making it look like the treaty may actually get ratified before the end of the week. Sens. Richard Lugar, Olympia Snowe, and Susan Collins had previously come out in favor of New START, which means Democrats now just need to pick up two more GOP “yes” votes to get the treaty ratified.
The latest Public Policy Polling survey of conservative voters in eight states found Sarah Palin to be the top pick for a 2012 presidential run. She’s followed closely by Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich, with Mitt Romney in last place. PPP has more results and analysis from the poll on its blog.
Sadness: Melanie Phillips explains why the left is at war with itself over whether to canonize Julian Assange as a hero or convict him as a rapist without trial: “To understand why there is such an ear-splitting screeching of brakes from The Guardian, it is necessary to consider the mind-bending contradictions of what passes for thinking on the Left. For it believes certain things as articles of faith which cannot be denied. One is that America is a force for bad in the world and so can never be anything other than guilty. Another is that all men are potential rapists, and so can never be anything other than guilty.”
Steve Chapman discusses how political correctness in American schools helps turn top students into mediocre ones: “The danger in putting the brightest kids in general classes is that they will be bored by instruction geared to the middle. But their troubles don’t elicit much sympathy. Brookings Institution scholar Tom Loveless told The Atlantic magazine, ‘The United States does not do a good job of educating kids at the top. There’s a long-standing attitude that, “Well, smart kids can make it on their own.”’ But can they? Only 6 percent of American kids achieve advanced proficiency in math—lower than in 30 other countries. In Taiwan, the figure is 28 percent.”
Nathan Glazer reviews Kenneth Marcus’s latest book on campus anti-Semitism and the inclusion of Jews in Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. An essay adapted from Marcus’s book was published in the September issue of COMMENTARY.
The nastiness of the anti-Israel fringe is now invading the morning commute. JTA reports that Seattle buses will soon be plastered with ads decrying “Israeli war-crimes.” From JTA: “The Seattle Midwest Awareness Campaign has paid $1,794 to place the advertisements on 12 buses beginning Dec. 27, the day Israel entered Gaza to stop rocket attacks on its southern communities, according to Seattle’s King 5 News. The ads feature a group of children looking at a demolished building under the heading ‘Israeli War Crimes: Your tax dollars at work.’”
The Senate defeated the earmark ban. The Dems who scrambled to get on the good side of voters (i.e., voting for the ban): Evan Bayh (retiring but with political ambitions), Michael Benet (just re-elected narrowly but evidently has learned something), Russ Feingold (political aspirations?), Claire McCaskill (up in 2012), Bill Nelson (the same), Mark Udall (the invisible senator), and Mark Warner (struggling to get in line with the Virginia move to the right).
On the other side, the Republicans who voted against the ban include such giants as Robert Bennett (did Utah get it right or what?), George Voinovich (also leaving the Senate, maybe angling for a lobbyist spot?), Susan Collins (her Maine “sister” got it right, however, perhaps because Olympia Snowe faces the voters in 2012), James Inhofe (not up in 2012), Lisa Murkowski (she ran on “bring the bacon home,” so no surprise), Richard Lugar (can you say “Tea Party” challenge? Sorry, it’s not the end of civilization, Mr. Danforth), Thad Cochran (not up in 2012), and Richard Shelby (not up either).
The earmark ban, like the freeze on pay for federal workers, is largely symbolic, but let’s be honest: symbols matter, and the voters are looking for signs that their lawmakers “get it.” With the few exceptions noted above, it seems that Democratic senators by and large don’t understand what’s afoot in the country. They remain oblivious at their own peril.
With the perfervid push underway to get the New START treaty on the lame-duck Senate’s schedule, I would add this to the discussion between Jennifer, John, and Max: it’s not clear why the Obama administration is pushing for quick action. The Senate deliberations to date make it inadvisable.
The uneasy accord represented by the April 8 treaty signing is already falling apart. For the Russians, the opt-out clause in the preamble was of paramount concern. That clause makes their adherence to the treaty contingent on Russian approval of America’s plans for missile defense. The treaty stipulates that neither side will convert old ICBM silos for use in a strategic missile-defense system, but the preamble makes it clear that, for Moscow, U.S. missile-defense programs will actually be an open-ended source of conditions on the arms accord.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, however, in the official “understandings” included with its resolution on the treaty, has directly contradicted that Russian expectation. The three “understandings” were proposed by Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican, and adopted by the full committee in September. One of them articulates the committee’s belief that the treaty imposes no limitations on U.S. missile defenses other than the prohibition on the use of ICBM silos. The committee also “understands” that the treaty places no limits on American use of strategic weapon systems in a conventional (non-nuclear) role, and that if Russia resurrects its rail-mobile ICBM system, the treaty will apply to that as well as to the systems explicitly addressed in it.
Russia finds these understandings unpalatable. In late October, an Interfax report quoted the leader of the Duma’s international-affairs committee as planning “to suggest to committee members that they reconsider the ratification of the Russian-U.S. New START Treaty in view of new circumstances.” The new circumstances he cited were the three understandings adopted by the U.S. Senate committee.
Senator Lugar was an early advocate of the treaty; he didn’t propose these understandings with the intention of torpedoing it. Realistically, the treaty won’t be ratified without the understandings. The concerns reflected in them are predominant among Republicans, but a number of Democrats (and Independent Joe Lieberman) share them as well.
It’s not clear what Russia will do if New START is ratified with the U.S. Senate understandings. Medvedev and Putin might well consider it to their advantage to let a lengthy rejection process unfold in the Duma, rather than repudiating the Senate understandings immediately. But Obama’s abysmal record of obtaining difficult agreements makes it a virtual certainty that the treaty can’t be rescued for the purpose of actual arms limitation. The administration’s best option now is probably to accept the delay in Senate consideration and look for a way to revisit the treaty itself with Russia.
Lindsey Graham has had an encounter with reality — whether it is political or scientific is uncertain. But for whatever reason, he is starting to make sense:
How close is the Senate to a bipartisan climate deal? Here’s the Democrats’ best hope for compromise — Lindsey Graham, at a press conference today: “The science about global warming has changed. … I think the science is in question. … I think they’ve oversold the stuff.”
Instead of the cap-and-trade monstrosity he had been hawking, he has signed on to a bill by Sen. Richard Lugar:
Lugar’s bill focuses on cutting foreign oil dependence mostly through vehicle fuel efficiency programs that extend current federal standards but with various waiver options. Long-term, predictable increases in fuel efficiency standards, Lugar says, will encourage innovative technologies and lead to American job growth. The bill calls for expanding nuclear power by increasing federal loan guarantees, retiring aging coal plants that don’t comply with environmental regulations, and requiring federal buildings to exceed national standards when possible, thereby increasing taxpayer savings. It calls for a 30 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030.
If parts of that don’t sound all that great, don’t worry. It’s not going anywhere. But the better news is that no bill is going to pass. As for the original bill, Graham now sounds almost reasonable: “I do buy into the idea that carbon emissions are not good for the planet as a whole but they’re not going to get 60 votes to save the polar bears.” And by the way, the polar bears are doing just swell.
Hillary Clinton’s suggestion that she will not be with Obama for the long haul has some pondering her replacement. One list ranges from the uninspired (Sen. Richard Lugar, who shares Obama’s yen for non-proliferation deals) to the horrifying (George Mitchell, having offended all parties in the Middle East, can bring his own brand of clueless incompetence to the rest of the world). There is the ever-eager Sen. John Kerry — but could the Democrats risk another Massachusetts Senate seat? (I jest — but just a little.) Intriguing but unlikely is David Petraeus, who one suspects has had quite enough of Obama’s equivocation.
One name not on the list: Bill Clinton. No, seriously, he’s unlikely to get lost in minutiae (as his wife has), allow special envoys to steal the limelight (as his wife has), or repeatedly offend allies (as his wife has). And by selecting another Clinton, Obama would once again keep the Clintons sidelined in the intra-party political wars. Put it this way: we could, and likely will, do worse.
But going through the names, one must conclude that any secretary of state is bound to be as ineffective as Hillary Clinton unless Obama changes his perspective and his game plan. So long as Obama seeks to make America as inoffensive as possible and to downplay our own interests and values for the sake of avoiding confrontation, no secretary of state is going to do much better than Hillary Clinton. Who doubts, after all, that the aversion to Iranian regime change comes directly from Obama? Does anyone imagine our retreat on human rights isn’t part and parcel of Obama’s infatuation with endearing ourselves to despots? It is the president whose cockeyed recollection of the Cold War fails to recognize that our military superiority broke the back of the Soviet Union. It was he who argued in Cairo that Israel owes its legitimacy to the Holocaust and that the Palestinians are analogous to enslaved African-Americans.
So in a very real sense, it doesn’t matter who might succeed Clinton at Foggy Bottom. We’ve learned once again that what matters is who occupies the Oval Office. And in this case, it’s a president with some very mistaken notions about how the world works.
In a front page story yesterday the New York Times devoted 1,500 words to how some pastors would base their Easter Sunday sermons on the controversy surrounding Barack Obama and his former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Jr. Among the gems we read are this:
The Very Rev. Tracey Lind, dean of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Cleveland, said she would preach about when Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” went to Jesus’ tomb and were met by an angel who rolled away the stone before the cave to reveal that Christ had risen from the dead. “I’m going to talk about the stones that need to be rolled away from the tombs of lives, that are holding us in places of death and away from God,” Ms. Lind said. “One of the main stones in our churches, synagogues, mosques, communities, countries, world is the pervasive tone of racism. What Obama has done is moved the stone a little bit. “I will ask our congregation to look at the stones in our lives,” she said.
The Rev. Kent Millard of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Indianapolis said he felt Mr. Obama had explained the reality of the relationship between a pastor and his congregants. “Senator Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is member of our congregation, and I would hope he would never be held accountable for everything I have said in the last 15 years,” said Dr. Millard, who is white. “Why is there any assumption that a person in church is expected to agree with everything a pastor says?”
Some black ministers said that their sermons might address how the reputation of a man many of them revere was reduced to sound bites. They pointed out that sermons in black churches covered a long and circuitous path from crisis to resolution, and it was unfair to judge the entire message on one or two sentences. “I may not use his exact language,” said the Rev. Kenneth L. Samuel, pastor of Victory Church in Stone Mountain, Ga., “but I can tell you that the basic thrust of much of my preaching resonates with Dr. Wright. I don’t think I’m necessarily trying to preach people into anger, but I am trying to help people become conscious, become aware, to realize our power to make change in society.” Mr. Samuel said his Easter sermon would be titled “Dangerous Proclamations,” and would focus on the Apostle Paul, “who was also under attack for his faith in Jesus, and for preaching the Resurrection.”
On Easter, one of the nation’s foremost preachers, the Rev. James A. Forbes, senior minister emeritus at the Riverside Church in New York, said he would take Mr. Wright’s place preaching the 6 p.m. service at Trinity in Chicago. Dr. Forbes plans to preach about how the nation is in a “night season,” a dark, destabilizing time, given the war, the economy and the vitriol over race and gender in the political primary. “It is nighttime in America,” Dr. Forbes said, “and I want to bring a word of encouragement.”
What ought we to make of the story and these quotes?
For some years now, the U.S. has been attempting to establish a democracy in Iraq. Obviously, the effort is going very badly and public support for the war is evanescing before our eyes. Yesterday, another Republican Senator, Pete Domenici of New Mexico, joined Senator Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, in calling for a radical change of course, i.e., a draw-down of American forces followed by withdrawal.
At this point, even many supporters of the democratization effort might be satisfied by the emergence of any sort of government that could impose a semblance of order and keep the forces of Islamism at bay. We may not even get that. An abrupt U.S. pull-out might prompt a horrifically bloody war of all against all. It is difficult to see a silver lining in any of this. But as we stare into the abyss, we should also remember that history can be full of unexpected twists and turns.
In the early 1980’s, the USSR and the countries it dominated—all of them brutal, Communist police states—were trapped in what seemed like an immutable stasis. Two decades later, most of the countries of Eastern Europe are burgeoning democracies, and Russia itself, whatever backsliding is taking place under Vladimir Putin, is not the soul-numbing totalitarian edifice it once was.
In the midst of the usual catastrophes, there is, finally, a bit of good news from Iraq. As a Los Angeles Times headline on Monday noted: “Iraqi civilian toll hits low for year.”
All statistics from such a chaotic place should be treated with suspicion, but if the figures provided by the Iraqi government and cited in this article are to be believed, the number of Iraqi civilians killed in June was 1,227—still way too many, but a substantial decrease from the May figure of 1,949 and considerably lower even than the February mark of 1,646. Although it’s far too early to draw any definitive conclusions, this may provide some tentative indications that the surge is in fact succeeding, notwithstanding the predictable and lamentable increase in American military casualties in recent months.
One of the most common arguments employed by those who argue for a rapid drawdown of U.S. force in Iraq is that we don’t need to have a lot of troops trying to police a “civil war” between Shiites and Sunnis. A far smaller number of soldiers, primarily from the U.S. Special Operations Command, supposedly could achieve our core mission of disrupting al-Qaeda operations.
Never mind that we haven’t enjoyed much success in using commando forces to go after terrorists in unfriendly terrain. How often, after all, do we strike against terrorists in Syria and Iran? Or even in Pakistan? The reality is that without a permissive political climate and plenty of on-the-ground support our special operators, skilled as they are, have a very limited ability to prevent terrorist groups from making major gains.
Recent events in Iraq reinforce the point. As Rowan Scarborough notes in the Washington Examiner, the city of Baqubah served as a template for the previous U.S. strategy (which looks a lot like the future strategy advocated by most Democrats and Republicans, such as Richard Lugar and Chuck Hagel) of rapidly turning over “battle space” to the Iraqi Security Forces and drawing down our own forces.
Senator Richard Lugar is winning encomia from all the predictable quarters—e.g., Joe Conason in the New York Observer—for his supposed wisdom and independence in declaring the surge a failure before it has barely begun.
Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, declared in a widely covered speech that he doesn’t think “that the current ‘surge’ strategy will succeed in the way originally envisioned by the President” and that we should therefore “downsize the U.S. military’s role in Iraq.” Interestingly, Lugar does “not doubt the assessments of military commanders that there has been some progress in security” as a result of the surge. He just doesn’t think that the surge will succeed in the long run because “three factors—the political fragmentation in Iraq, the growing stress on our military, and the constraints of our own domestic political process—are converging to make it almost impossible for the United States to engineer a stable, multi-sectarian government in Iraq in a reasonable time frame.”