May 13, 2012 at 2:53PM
by Jim DiPeso
Richard Lugar ran a short-lived campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 1996. His campaign didn't come to much and is mostly forgotten.
Still, I voted for him in the Washington State GOP primary that year because I believed then, and still do, that Lugar is an exceptional public servant dedicated to the common good. The man has more knowledge about critical issues such as energy, agriculture, and defense than purist ideologues could ever hope to acquire in 10 lifetimes.
With Lugar facing forced retirement, and other mainstream lawmakers like Olympia Snowe heading for the exits, the Senate seems to be a smaller place, a shadow of what was once known as the world's greatest deliberative body.
Back in the day, when governance trumped campaigning and not vice versa, congressional leaders such as Howard Baker, Everett Dirksen, John Saylor, Henry Jackson, Edmund Muskie, and Mo Udall checked partisan baggage at the door, debated civilly, and worked together in good faith to give America legacies such as the Civil Rights Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Wilderness Act, and a great deal more.
Today, it seems, Congress agrees on names for post offices and little else.
Today, the prevailing meme among sanctimonious partisans is that bipartisanship means giving up one's principles and selling out our side's oh-so-bodacious rightness to the forces of implacable darkness and perpetual wrong. That's the mindset of a cartoon world, not the real world in a continent-sized nation of extraordinary social, economic, political, and religious diversity. Our diversity gives us strength because it means there are more good ideas on the table from which we can weave together practical answers to hard questions.
Partisans who pine for turning our country into a political monoculture are indulging in utopian fantasies. And if such a state of affairs ever came to pass, our country would, like all monocultures, be a weak and brittle nation.
As Senator Lugar wrote in an extraordinary post-election statement last week: "Bipartisanship is not the opposite of principle. One can be very conservative or very liberal and still have a bipartisan mindset. Such a mindset acknowledges that the other party is also patriotic and may have some good ideas. It acknowledges that national unity is important, and that aggressive partisanship deepens cynicism, sharpens political vendettas, and depletes the national reserve of good will that is critical to our survival in hard times."
Well said. Good luck, Senator Lugar, and thank you for your hard work to make our country better.