Foreign Policy Chat - Sen. Lugar: A Casualty Of Our Broken Institutions

Senator Dick Lugar was defeated in last night's Republican primary by Tea Party-supported state Treasurer Richard Mourdock. Over his 36 year career in the Senate, Lugar has served as one of the GOP's leading elder statesmen on foreign policy. He was widely respected on both sides of the isle and helped craft key arms reduction regimes at the close of the Cold War. His rational and moderate positions on issues like international law, multilateralism, and immigration, though, have become increasingly heterodox within a Republican party that has shifted far to the right over the last few years. As national security reporter Spencer Ackerman predicted, Lugar's ouster has already prompted countless deferential eulogies from various "Washington Serious People."

Senator Kerry joined the chorus, releasing a lengthy statement describing Lugar's loss as a "tragedy for the Senate." And it is. President after President has slowly aggrandized more power over foreign affairs and the shifting media and electoral environments have made politicians less interested in the complex and distant realm of foreign policy, favoring domestic economic and parochial issues that tend to pay off at the ballot box. Senator Lugar was one of a dying breed, not just of moderate Republicans, but of elected legislators willing to invest the sustained effort needed to develop the skills, knowledge, and relationships necessary for the effective and responsible conduct of American foreign policy. In his concession statement, Lugar acknowledged that he was running afoul of the enforcers of right-wing orthodoxy, and opined that "ideology cannot be a substitute for a determination to think for yourself, for a willingness to study an issue objectively, and for the fortitude to sometimes disagree with your party or even your constituents."

Jacob Heilbrunn has a less fawning and more realistic take on these events over at Foreign Policy. Senator Lugar was not only a man in his eighties with his most productive years behind him; he increasingly operated as a rogue in a system no longer conducive to his style of policy making. "In a party that will become increasingly torn between its neoconservative wing on the one hand and its Tea Party wing on the other, Lugar had become a party of one." The larger, and more troubling, reality is that the ceremonious eulogizing should not be for the loss of Richard Lugar, but for the political system that allowed him to flourish.