Commentary Magazine


Topic: Richard Lugar

Moderate Dems Keep Quietly Disappearing

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:

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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:

“I was hoping I’d see more of the ‘We are America’ team. What I’ve seen instead is divisiveness. It’s an us vs. them mentality, Democrat vs. Republican, liberals vs. conservatives. And I would really have liked to [have] seen more of an ‘about America’ mind-set,’” he said. “So often up here, I feel like a kindergarten teacher separating two children from fighting over crayons. It’s because the maturity level is on that level sometimes.”

Shuler’s remedy to get over the bickering: Make members live in Washington, eat dinner together and spend more time getting to know one another.

Since Pelosi and President Obama famously dislike even talking to Republicans, and since Harry Reid has chosen to bring Senate business to a halt rather than let Republicans take part in the democratic process, that’s probably not going to happen. Nor is it likely that the media will mourn a dissenting Democratic voice, which they generally view as a nuisance.

But Shuler’s quiet retirement is a good opportunity for conservatives to realize that if they thought the Pelosi-Reid Democrats were hostile to working with them when Shuler and Joe Lieberman were still in office, they’ve probably only witnessed the beginning of the Democrats’ relentless partisanship.

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Lugar Proves His Critics Right

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:

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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:

Mourdock “will achieve little as a legislator” if he pursues his goal of pushing partisanship in Washington, Lugar wrote in a 1,425-word statement. And he has insisted for months that he has no plans to campaign for Mourdock. In an interview with POLITICO, the lame-duck senator declined to say why he won’t stump for Mourdock or whether the nominee has even requested his help.

But Lugar recently told an Indiana blogger: “I’ve not been a factor in the campaign and I don’t intend to do so.”

This behavior will ensure that Indiana voters won’t regret voting Lugar out no matter how the general election turns out. Lugar’s behavior has, in fact, proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that voters’ complaints about Lugar were spot-on, and Lugar’s defenders way off the mark.

The two most common complaints about Lugar were that he has become too comfortable and embedded in D.C. culture and far removed from those he is supposed to represent, and that he no longer possesses loyalty to the Republican Party—something that may earn him bipartisan plaudits from the media and his peers in Washington, but which would certainly concern, if not perturb, Republican Party voters to whom Lugar owes his cozy spot in the nation’s capital.

Lugar’s bitterness and refusal to help the candidate voters chose to serve in his place has shown the very sense of entitlement and disregard for the wishes of the voters that elites often settle into. And Lugar’s decision not to help his state party’s Senate candidate, in a year in which any race could theoretically make the difference between a Democratic Senate and a Republican one, shows that he does not feel any obligation to help his party. It doesn’t much matter to him whether a Democrat or Republican wins in November. The “No Labels” crowd loves this sort of thing, but it proves correct the Republican voters who sensed they were becoming indistinguishable, in Lugar’s mind, from their Democratic counterparts.

Lugar’s foreign-policy experience is something the GOP, whose congressional candidates are getting ever younger and focused on fiscal issues, should not dismiss in and of itself. Indeed, both parties will always need experienced hands on deck. But the policies matter too. We’re a long way from Nunn-Lugar, and despite that policy’s success Lugar can’t expect to trade on that legacy forever. And the presence of John Kerry at the helm of the Senate’s foreign relations business shows that some lifelong senators never learn a thing, no matter how much time they spend on Capitol Hill.

Lugar may have been hailed by his peers as a model of civility in an increasingly uncivil age, but he is now establishing a second legacy—as a man of dispiriting bitterness, entitlement, and haughty elitism who simply cannot let go.

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GOP is Right to Oppose Bipartisanship

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.

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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.

The impasse between the two parties in Washington stems from the fact that the president and the Democratic majority in the Senate were elected in the liberal waves of 2006 and 2008 while the Republican majority in the House came in as a result of the GOP landslide in 2010. These were two different sets of elections driven by completely different ideological trends. If President Obama is re-elected along with a Democratic Congress this year, there will be no need for them to accommodate conservatives. Nor should they if they get the confidence of the electorate. Conversely, if Mitt Romney wins the White House along with fresh Republican majorities in Congress, then the GOP will have the opportunity to govern as it sees fit.

But the Washington establishment seems to determined to cast this conflict as one that is not between two ideological camps vying for the public’s approval but one in which conservatives are inherently wrong because what they desire is genuine change in the system. To liberals, that is radicalism that must be opposed not just because it is wrong but because it is different from the way things are done. And to those who live off that system and support it, that is an unforgivable sin.

The establishment is also uncomfortable with a political alignment in which the two parties are not both amorphous coalitions without any guiding philosophy. Some may regret the way Republicans have become more conservative and Democrats more liberal, but again, there seems to be a double standard at work. It is only when Republicans express disgust with members of their congressional caucuses who seem more interested in making nice with their opponents than in defending conservative principles that words like “purge” are thrown around. As it happens, the GOP is no more radical than the Democrats. They are about to nominate the most moderate of their presidential contenders.

As for working with the other party, the Democrats are in no position to cry foul. They spent the eight years of the George W. Bush administration doing their best to demonize him with respected members of Congress using invective about him and members of the Cabinet that were just as bad as anything the Tea Party says about President Obama.

Let’s also understand there is nothing inherently noble about compromises which merely allow the federal leviathan to go lumbering along sucking the life out of the economy and bringing the nation closer to insolvency. Though sometimes deals must be struck to keep the government open in the case of a hopeless deadlock as was the case last summer with the debt ceiling, it is dishonest of liberals to pretend their insistence on defending the system doesn’t make them as much a part of the problem as their opponents. The only difference between the two sides is that the left assumes it is the right’s job to give in. That is why they are shedding crocodile tears about the exit of weak Republicans like Dick Lugar.

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The Media’s Apocalyptic Vision of Richard Mourdock

Conservatives often complain that when the mainstream media is forced by events to pay attention to conservative views they have long ignored, the tone of the reporting often is that of an anthropological grant application. The reporters brave the native habitat of conservatives and find that they’re practically human. But that’s actually better than what we witnessed after Richard Mourdock defeated Richard Lugar in the Indiana GOP Senate primary this week.

Lugar, you may have heard, has been in the Senate a very long time, and he is a statesman and throwback to the gilded era of Republican acquiescence–sorry, bipartisanship, and statesmanship. A true mensch, a centrist Republican, Dick Lugar was, above all, a statesman, we are now told. But what about Mourdock, the man vying to replace Lugar in the Senate? Is he a statesman? Let’s find out, by reading some of the liberal write-ups of the election. The results may surprise you.

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Conservatives often complain that when the mainstream media is forced by events to pay attention to conservative views they have long ignored, the tone of the reporting often is that of an anthropological grant application. The reporters brave the native habitat of conservatives and find that they’re practically human. But that’s actually better than what we witnessed after Richard Mourdock defeated Richard Lugar in the Indiana GOP Senate primary this week.

Lugar, you may have heard, has been in the Senate a very long time, and he is a statesman and throwback to the gilded era of Republican acquiescence–sorry, bipartisanship, and statesmanship. A true mensch, a centrist Republican, Dick Lugar was, above all, a statesman, we are now told. But what about Mourdock, the man vying to replace Lugar in the Senate? Is he a statesman? Let’s find out, by reading some of the liberal write-ups of the election. The results may surprise you.

Salon, for example, carries a story titled “Republican Party: Hawks-only club.” The article details how Mourdock’s victory makes the GOP uniformly hawkish on foreign policy. Most of the article is an explanation of why liberals liked Lugar so much, but finally the author gives us the damage: “In practical terms, Lugar’s loss means that U.S. foreign policy will be less civilized, less responsible and less effective.”

I noticed something was missing from this article, however: it omits any mention whatsoever of Richard Mourdock’s views on foreign policy. This is a rather glaring omission, but maybe the reporter’s instincts are right.

To find out, let’s head on over to an expert on foreign policy, Tom Ricks. Ricks maintains a blog on Foreign Policy’s website, and sure enough he weighed in on Mourdock’s victory. He, too, was horrified by the erosion of the foreign policy center. But he has a somewhat different take on what it means. Mourdock’s victory, Ricks admits, “makes me wonder if the great Midwest is turning away from internationalism and back to its pre-World War II isolationism.”

So Salon was wrong? Mourdock is the opposite of a hawkish hawk? He’s actually an isolationist? I wondered what led Ricks to this conclusion, but his post didn’t help me answer that question, because Ricks doesn’t even mention Mourdock’s name, let alone Mourdock’s views on foreign policy.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Reporters sometimes trick politicians into revealing what they think by employing an age-old tactic commonly referred to as “asking them questions.” It turns out that some reporters did. Richard Mourdock, as a supporter of cutting the Pentagon’s budget and skeptical of the mission in Afghanistan, is not a superhawk, as Salon would have it. But he also believes America plays an important role in the world, and that it must not retreat from its responsibilities around the globe. So he isn’t an isolationist either.

But if he’s starting to sound like a mainstream candidate, he’s got you fooled. Richard Mourdock is, according to the sandwich board Jonathan Chait has been wearing around town, the harbinger of doom. This is an interesting point of view coming from Chait, who is the author of the magnum opus of leftist anti-intellectualism and anthem of paranoid incivility, “Mad About You: The Case for Bush Hatred.” Some things have changed since Chait published his plea for incivility–namely, we have a Democratic president. So now it’s time to protect “social norms”–specifically, he says, court-related social norms permitting the confirmation of a president’s court picks. Mourdock cited Lugar’s support for President Obama’s Supreme Court picks in his case against the incumbent senator, mirroring a Republican approach to politics that is, in Chait’s view, bringing upon us a “crisis of American government.”

Some have pointed out that the collapse of the nomination process was brought about by Ted Kennedy and Joe Biden when they took a sledgehammer to “social norms” during the confirmation process of Robert Bork. That’s true. But I’d like to defend Chait somewhat. I, too, have been concerned about the collapse of social norms.

For example, it was once a social norm never to use the filibuster against a circuit court nominee. But then George W. Bush nominated Miguel Estrada, an undeniably qualified candidate, to sit on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The Democrats were playing the long game, however, and were willing to buck social norms in order to prevent the Republicans from starting a process that would end with a conservative Hispanic judge on the Supreme Court. So they blocked Estrada.

In October 2003, the Associated Press reported that Democrats were preparing to expand their use of the filibuster to everything the GOP put forward. “Perhaps we ought to prepare some bumper stickers that say ‘Obstruction: It’s not just for judges anymore’,” remarked Republican John Cornyn.

More recently, Harry Reid has perfected a tactic called “filling the tree” to prevent Republicans from even being able to offer amendments on bills. Reid and the Democrats are, it turns out, innovators in the means to tear down social norms and prevent the government from functioning as it was intended. In fact, it’s now been more than three years since Reid’s Senate passed a budget.

But hey, at least he didn’t criticize a Democratic nominee who was confirmed anyway. Now that would just be uncivil.

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Primaries Show Obama 2008 is Over

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.

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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.

Though one shouldn’t draw hard and fast conclusions from last night’s primaries, the results in Indiana and North Carolina and even West Virginia should not reassure Democrats. The marriage vote may have cut across party and demographic lines, and the Democratic presidential primary in West Virginia in which a felon currently serving time in federal prison won 40 percent of the vote against Obama in a two-person race tell us nothing about the way these states will vote in the fall. But even the jokey protest vote in West Virginia shows that those empty seats at the president’s campaign kickoffs last weekend are truly an indication of a decline in enthusiasm for his cause.

There’s little question that Obama has an Electoral College advantage over Republican Mitt Romney, as there are more votes to be had in solidly blue states than those that are deep red. But if Republicans are daunted by the prospect of Romney having to come close to running the table of tossup states, the results in Indiana and North Carolina reveal the GOP is well-positioned to take back both in 2012.

While Democrats were crowing about the low turnout in some Republican primaries earlier this year, the fact that more turned out to vote in a virtually uncontested GOP primary for Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin than in a competitive Democratic primary to choose his opponent in a recall election means the president ought not to make any assumptions about Wisconsin either.

As Mourdock’s Indiana victory showed, the Tea Party can’t be dismissed as a caricature of racism and extremism. It has gone mainstream because those who sympathize with it — such as the 60 percent of Republicans who turned out Lugar — are mainstream voters. While the president retains important advantages, the liberal surge fueled by an unpopular war and an economic collapse that sent him to the White House is over. Though 2012 won’t be a repeat of the GOP’s midterm massacre of Democrats, anyone who assumes that Obama can hold Indiana and North Carolina and some other traditionally Republican states he seized four years ago needs to pay better attention to last night’s returns.

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The Senate Will Survive Without Lugar

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.

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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.

Lugar is portrayed by normally sensible writers such as Peggy Noonan as the voice of reason in a town gone mad with ideologues. But as even she understands, the frustration of the GOP grass roots with people who call themselves conservatives but spend more time making nice with liberals and enabling the growth of the federal leviathan is not just a matter of Tea Party intemperance. It might be unfair to label Lugar a RINO, but to dismiss the refusal of many Republicans to bow to Lugar’s inflated Washington reputation as foolish populism says more about Washington than it does Indiana Republicans.

In the last two years as we have once again experienced the frustrations that attend to a divided government, those members of Congress who are less interested in agreement for its own sake than they are in fidelity to the ideas that they ran on have been demonized as extremists. President Obama has sought to brand GOP members who wouldn’t bow to his demand for tax increases as having put party before country, a theme the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank also uses in his hit piece on Lugar’s opponents. But the notion that government should be left to the so-called “adults” — a term that Noonan also uses to describe Lugar– is wrong.

It is true Congress must ensure the government functions, but Lugar’s fans seem to be saying the business of Washington is too important to be left in the hands of the people,  which is profoundly offensive. We have gridlock because we are currently stuck with a president who was elected in a liberal Democratic year with a House of Representatives that was swept in on a conservative Republican tide. That standoff should be resolved, one way or the other in November, as it should be, by the voters. But so long as people like Lugar, who, for all of their virtues, seem to be part of a permanent governing class, elections don’t count for much.

It is true that a Lugar defeat can be seen as part of a trend in which both parties have shed those members whose views deviate from those of their respective bases. That will lead, we are told, to politics where compromise is impossible. There is a cost to ideological politics, but there is also a price to be paid for Washington to be run by politicians whose primary loyalty is to the status quo rather than to the voters, and we have been paying for this for generations.

Compromise is a tactic, not a vision for governance. Moderation has its uses but when it becomes a faith in of itself, it has little to offer but the defense of existing institutional imperatives. The Senate will survive without its Dick Lugars. Other adults, including those who have not lost touch with the sentiments of their party’s grass roots, will replace them. The result will not be the collapse of our republic. In fact, it just might be the first step toward its salvation.

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Reports of Tea Party’s Demise Premature

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.

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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.

Though Casey is closely identified with President Obama and might be vulnerable if the Democratic ticket faces a strong challenge from Mitt Romney, he is probably not in much danger of being defeated. Casey, who remains popular despite a lackluster record in the Senate, has enough resources to match Smith’s wealth, and the GOP candidate is not likely to gain much traction outside of western Pennsylvania.

But no matter what happens in November in this race, the idea that the Tea Party is a spent force in the GOP is not realistic. We may get even more evidence of this when Indiana Senator Richard Lugar faces off in a May 8 primary with State Treasurer Richard Mourdock. Unlike a marginal figure like Smith or Tea Party favorites who crashed and burned in the general election in 2010 such as Utah’s Sharon Angle or Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell, Mourdock has a good chance of holding the seat for the GOP if he beats Lugar. If Tea Partiers can topple a Senate institution like Lugar, it will be more proof of the staying power of the movement. As Pennsylvania Governor Corbett and his cronies can tell Lugar, underestimating the Tea Party is a mistake experienced politicians should try to avoid.

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Morning Commentary

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.’”

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.’”

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Earmark Vote

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.

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.

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RE: New START Treaty

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.

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.

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Lindsey Graham Discovers Cap-and-Trade Is a Bad Idea

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.

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.

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The Search for the Next Hillary

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.

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.

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St. Barack and His Pastor

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.

And this:

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?”

And this:

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.”

And this:

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?

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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.

And this:

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?”

And this:

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.”

And this:

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 one thing, the Times piece was much more charitable toward Reverend Wright than I can ever remember the New York Times being toward anyone on the “religious right.” Making a hate-spewing, conspiracy-minded, anti-American pastor appear sympathetic isn’t easy–but leave it to the good folks at the Times to try their best to achieve it.

Beyond that, Senator Obama has now taken on, at least among his supporters, angelic powers. To them St. Barack can move figurative (and perhaps even literal?) stones that are holding us in places of death and away from God. And to think I only viewed him as an impressive, if deeply liberal, junior senator from Illinois. Silly me.

As for Senator Lugar’s pastor: I’m sure Senator Lugar hasn’t agreed with everything he’s heard from the pulpit. But I also assume that if Senator Lugar heard his pastor asking God (repeatedly) to damn America rather than bless it and giving voice to batty conspiracy theories (America invented AIDS in order to champion genocide), Lugar would be troubled – troubled enough at least to raise the issue with the Reverend Millard and perhaps even troubled enough to leave the church if such rhetoric persisted.

I’m personally delighted to learn that the Reverend Samuel “may not use [Wright’s] exact language,” even as the basic thrust of much of his preaching would resonate with Wright. I am oh-so-eager to see just what formulations Kenneth Samuel would use that would bring joy and delight to the heart of Jeremiah Wright.

And then there is James A. Forbes, representing our reliable old friends at Riverside Church in New York City. It’s “nighttime” in America, according to the good Reverend, but fear not; James Forbes will bring a word of encouragement to us all. Of course the proposition on which Forbes relies–that America is a dark, aggrieved, divided and broken country– requires him to ignore the fact that we are the most fortunate and blessed people not only on earth but in human history; that we live in a nation that is imperfect and plagued by problems, but one that is more prosperous, freer, more benevolent, and filled with more opportunities than any Reverend Forbes could name.

Risible comments like those made by Forbes and company underscore why the “mainstream” churches in America have been steadily losing congregants for decades. They are utterly consumed by left-wing politics, so much so that on the most holy day of the Christian year they decide to devote their sermons to racial politics and an effort to restore the reputation of Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. The degree to which the Left is contorting itself in an effort to rationalize the venom of Wright is now moving into the comical category. One can only imagine what kind of story Laurie Goldstein and Neela Banerjee of the Times would have written if they had stumbled across words as fierce, demagogic, and loathsome as Wright’s from a right-winger instead of a left-winger.

The double standard of the Times is on display almost every day, but it is rarely as apparent as it was on Easter Sunday.

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Are There Any Lessons From Eastern Europe For Iraq?

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.

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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.

How did such profound change come about? Aleksa Djilas, among the most brilliant and lucid intellectuals in Eastern Europe (and an occasional COMMENTARY contributor who writes from Belgrade), calls it “one of the most massive shifts in the balance of power that has ever occurred in peacetime,” which he traces to “change in standards of legitimacy,” as Communist authority was discredited, almost by domino effect, across the region.

This profound change had many sources, and one of them was the role played by heroic dissidents, who risked their freedom and their lives to bring liberty to their imprisoned countries. Is there an equivalent force within Iraq or within the broader Arab world? Tens if not hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are attempting to build a new life under a new government in the face of murderous attacks by terrorist extremists of various stripes. Should we give up on our efforts to help them, or should we find another path? Is there another path? Or should we just call it quits?

In his recent lecture, “What We Can Learn From Dissidents Under Communism,” worth reading in its entirety, Djilas notes that [i]n spite of all its serious flaws, liberal democracy is the great masterpiece of Western political culture and it is a great blessing that it has spread into many other parts of the world. The West has a right and a duty to do its best to make it encompass the whole of mankind.”

Ringing words, but the question still remains: does any aspect of the East European experience apply to the Middle East? The problem of Eastern Europe, it turns out, was primarily one of regimes and not the society underneath. Is that true of the Middle East, or is the problem of the Arab world not only with the regimes but with the people?

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Gates, Way Off Message

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.

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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.

The administration and its senior policy-makers ought to be pointing to these indicators and arguing for giving more time and support to General David Petraeus to try to improve the security situation. That is, in fact, just what President Bush did in an excellent speech recently at the Naval War College. Too bad his own Secretary of Defense is undercutting the President’s message, as reported in a front-page article in today’s Wall Street Journal. The headline says it all: “In Strategy Shift, Gates Envisions Iraq Troop Cuts. Pullback Is Deemed Key To Forging a Consensus On Long-Haul Plans.”

I recently argued in a Los Angeles Times op-ed why it doesn’t make sense for Senator Richard Lugar and other Republicans to call for a premature end to the surge. But that’s a tough case to make when the Defense Secretary himself is being quoted on the front page of a major national newspaper entertaining that very strategy. This kind of leak from within the administration is deeply counterproductive. It encourages doubt about American resolve, both at home and abroad. And it is the latest indication of why even those of us who support the President’s foreign policy objectives think he has been singularly inept in their pursuit.

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Going Backward in Baqubah

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.

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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.

By last year, the entire province of Diyala, of which Baqubah is the capital—an area with over a million people—was being held by just one U.S. brigade, no more than 5,000 American soldiers in all. Notwithstanding the presence of these combat forces—and the skilled commandos of the Joint Special Operations Command who could always swoop into the area, as they did when they killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi a year ago—Diyala became a hotbed of al-Qaeda activity. Alexandra Zavis summarizes what American troops have found in recent weeks as they have moved en masse back into Baqubah as part of the “surge of operations”:

For more than a year, hundreds of masked gunmen loyal to al Qaeda cruised this capital of their self-declared state, hauling Shiite Muslims from their homes and leaving bodies in the dusty, trash-strewn streets.

They set up a religious court and prisons, aid stations, and food stores. And they imposed their fundamentalist interpretation of Islam on a population that was mostly too poor to flee and too terrified to resist. . . .

Evidence of the group’s reign included an interrogation center with knives and saws, its walls peppered with bullet holes and smeared with blood. Nearby, a house had been converted into a prison, with six numbered cells with metal doors and bars across the windows.

Residents said they were terrified of being stuffed into the trunk of a car and carted off to one of these places for such minor infractions as smoking in public. . . .

Residents said the militants gradually began taking over last year, parading through the streets in trucks, brandishing Kalashnikov assault rifles and using bullhorns to inform residents that they were now part of the Islamic State of Iraq.

They banned smoking, closed down barbershops and coffeehouses, and required women to cover themselves in black robes with only a slit for their eyes. Iraqis working for the Baghdad government or for U.S. forces were hunted down and killed, residents said. Even a trip to Baghdad was grounds for suspicion.

If al Qaeda could set up a miniature Talibanistan almost under the noses of (undermanned) American bases, just imagine what they would be able to do in Iraq if most American forces withdrew altogether. If our commandos couldn’t stop the radicalization of Baqubah when they were located only a few miles away at Balad, how much luck would they have if they relocated hundreds or even thousands of miles away to someplace like Kuwait or Iraqi Kurdistan, as suggested by Jack Murtha and other advocates of “redeployment”?

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Lugar on the Surge

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.”

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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.”

But of those three factors it is the last that is clearly the biggest impediment to success. Yes, Iraqi politicians are at loggerheads over difficult issues; so are Senator Lugar and his colleagues. The whole surge strategy rests on the notion that improving the security climate will improve the political climate in Iraq. Since the attempts to improve the security situation have only just started—the final surge forces only recently arrived in Iraq—it is too soon to write off the chances of political progress. And, yes, there is “growing stress on our military,” but reenlistment rates remain strong, and, based on current projections, the army and Marine Corps can continue the surge until at least next April. (Longer if more National Guard and Reserve forces are mobilized.) Lugar seems to be asking for the surge to be called off not for these reasons, but because he doubts that any progress on the ground can be made fast enough to keep up with “the timetable imposed by our own domestic political process.”

Fair point, but that’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The Democrats are certainly eager to cut off funding for the war effort. But they are unlikely to succeed in the face of united GOP opposition, given that Republicans not only control the White House, but also maintain substantial minorities in both houses of Congress. If Republicans keep their nerve, there is a good chance that, as happened recently, they can win a showdown with Democrats over war-funding.

But if leading Republicans like Richard Lugar write off the surge prematurely, they are likely to set off a bidding war over troop withdrawals—a bidding war that Republicans cannot win and one for which they are likely to get scant credit from the electorate, given that troop withdrawals will almost certainly make the situation in Iraq even worse than it is today. The few undeniable signs of progress—e.g., the great improvements made recently in Anbar province—are likely to disappear if American forces start heading for the exits. That, in turn, will make it harder politically to keep even a minimal force in Iraq to continue missions—such as chasing al Qaeda and training the Iraqi Security Forces—which most Republican and Democratic leaders agree are still necessary.

It may well be that the surge won’t, in fact, work. But General David Petraeus and the 160,000 troops who are putting their lives on the line under his command deserve at least a decent chance to succeed without having the carpet pulled out from under them on Capitol Hill. Especially by Republicans.

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