Monday, November 24, 2014

Tea Party Victory, Global Defeat

CANBERRA – You wouldn’t expect much interest beyond the United States, or even beyond his own state, when an 80-year-old conservative legislator, who has already served six terms, loses his party’s endorsement to run yet again. But the crushing defeat of Senator Richard Lugar in the recent Indiana Republican primary, in a Tea Party-supported campaign of shocking mindlessness, has reverberated in capitals around the world, including my own.

On most issues, Lugar is and always has been a natural conservative. In recent times, he opposed all of President Barack Obama’s major domestic legislation, including the economic stimulus package, health-care reform, and financial-services regulation, and has consistently supported anti-abortion legislation. With his 36-year record in the US Senate, national stature, and essentially conservative constituency, he would certainly have won again in November. But none of this was persuasive enough for Indiana primary voters, who backed his rival, State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, by an astonishing 20-point margin.

The problem for Lugar was two-fold. First, he was of the old school that instinctively embraced compromise across party lines in the Senate on crucial issues, in order to avoid the kind of gridlock that is always potentially endemic in a presidential system (unlike a parliamentary one), where the elected executive has no guaranteed majority in the legislature. If party lines are strictly maintained, US presidents may be unable to pass any legislation at all, or to make any judicial or other senior appointments.

Lugar, for example, had voted to confirm Obama’s Supreme Court nominations. Mourdock’s position, by contrast, was that, “Bipartisanship ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view.”

Second, and most alarmingly for those around the world who crave decent and intelligent international leadership from the US, Lugar was mocked by his opponents for his foreign-policy expertise and reputation as an outstanding statesman, who for decades had played an absolutely central role on arms control and disarmament issues. His signature achievement was joint authorship with then-Democratic Senator Sam Nunn of the 1992 Cooperative Threat Reduction program (universally known as “Nunn-Lugar”), which successfully secured and dismantled nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction in former Soviet states.

Beyond that, Lugar had fully supported Obama’s vision, like that of Ronald Reagan before him, of a world without nuclear weapons, and his endorsement of the New START treaty with Russia, reducing the number of deployed strategic weapons, was crucial in securing its narrow ratification by the Senate last year. But, for Mourdock and his supporters, “The time for being collegial is past – it’s time for confrontation.”

One television advertisement said it all about the low-rent cynicism of the Tea Party-driven campaign. It featured two clips of Obama saying, “I’ve worked with Republican Senator Dick Lugar to pass a law,” and, “What I did was reach out to Senator Dick Lugar.” The context was not explained, but what Obama said in full was this: “I’ve worked with Republican Senator Dick Lugar to pass a law that will secure and destroy some of the world’s deadliest, unguarded weapons,” and, “What I did was reach out to Senator Dick Lugar, a Republican, to help lock down loose nuclear weapons.”

With the defeat of Lugar, and the simultaneous exit of the last Republican moderates, like Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine, who were prepared to put national interests ahead of partisanship, the Senate is unlikely to produce the 60 votes needed to ratify further US-Russia arms-control treaties, should they be negotiated. Moreover, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which would replace a fragile international moratorium, cannot come into force without US Senate ratification.

At a personal level, I am also afraid that Lugar’s defeat may be the end of an era of enormously attractive and distinctive civility in the way that America’s most senior legislators conducted themselves. As Australia’s foreign minister, and a global NGO head, I met Lugar many times, and, whether or not we agreed on issues, he was always a model of gentle courtesy.

I can’t help but compare that to the occasion, not so long ago, when I accompanied my then co-chair of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, former Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, in a call on Jon Kyl, the most ideologically fierce Senate opponent of Obama-style arms control. On my arrival in his office, a senior Kyl staffer, after consulting the senator, said brusquely: “We only agreed to talk to the Japanese, not you. Would you please leave?”

There was nothing like a perfectly understandable, “Sorry, we misunderstood, and are only prepared now for a bilateral session. Can we see if we can possibly reschedule a joint meeting later?” I suppose that I should be grateful that he said “please.” But it’s the kind of experience that I had never had before in Washington, and I fear that it’s not unique.

In the past, anguish at home and abroad about the quality of US governance – its apparent arrogance, mindless parochialism, and incapacity to deliver coherent, credible, and decent policy outcomes – has for the most part proved short-lived. Maybe that will be the case again. But the passing from the national stage of Richard Lugar has properly rung new alarm bells not only among concerned Americans, but also among policymakers far removed from the US and its partisan battles.

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    1. CommentedNunya Bizness

      We (the TEA Party) have 15,915,036,254,750.35 reasons for refusing to compromise with you and those like you.

      We didn't wake up today and find the national debt sitting there as if a small animal that had wandered in through a hole in the wall during the night. The national debt is a trail littered with broken promises, corruption, and debasement, going back for the better part of most of our lives.

      You and those like you are responsible for creating that massive debt, and I'm sorry if it seems like the rules are changing and the ground is moving beneath your feet - they are, and it is, and it won't stop until everyone is on the same page ... "oh, wait, I think they want us to actually do something about the debt, I don't think they're kidding this time".

      Nothing gets people's attention quite like a few Lugar's being replaced, an admittedly great candidate and representative, but at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and concerned about the wrong issues. Are Americans concerned about non-proliferation and testing ? Sure, you bet, but none of that matters when you're 15,915,036,254,750.35 dollars in debt.

      Once you lower the debt you can have your toys back, until then you're all in timeout.

    2. CommentedBryan Johnson

      Mr. Evans,

      You obviously know nothing about the United States of America...or worse yet, you think you do! Let me bring you up to speed on what has been happening in our great nation and maybe then you will understand why We The People are on the move politically and why we are flushing those like Mr. Lugar. Whatever Mr. Lugar did good for this nation I applaud, however we are in real trouble here mainly due to socialist/marxists like Obama, Reid, Pelosi, and the rest of their thug associates! Over the past 40 years we have watched as these despots have eroded our values, spat upon our constitution, and brainwashed our children in our schools right under our noses....but no more!! We took back our House in 2010 thanks Mr. the TEA Party, an organization I am a proud member of and whom you know nothing about except what you have likely heard on our socialist broadcasts on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and their marxist counterparts in todays American journalism. In 2012 we will take the Senate and the White House and on that glorious day we will flush their marxist laws, policies, and mandates right down the political toilet of history which is exactly where they belong. You mentioned that Mr. Lugar would compromise and the TEA Party is unwilling to compromise and this is the one thing you have correct! We do not negotiate with marxist/socialists we fight them and destroy them. ZERO you get that Mr. Evans?? We are not about to watch as this excuse for a president Obama destroys everything we, our fathers, and their fore fathers fought bled and dide for. So, if in a time of real fear for our nation we decide to retire those who have put us in this situation...we the people will do so. TEA Party Victory, will lead to global salvation!! You are just too damned short sighted to see that.

    3. CommentedDarren Fykke

      Kevin Lim couldn't be more wrong. I challege Kevin to give one example of a Democrat policy or *cough* "sensible solution" that the Tea Party has opposed that didn't require more government spending and/or government intrusion in our lives. In short, Lim is merely engaged in attempting to marginalize the Tea Party, a tried-and-true Democrat strategy.

    4. CommentedPatrick Ferrell

      Awwww, too bad poor DICK got kicked out of his chance to run as a Senator again. For too long we have "reached out" to democrats and gotten burned. Ask Reagan, who was promised $2 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax hikes, but he never got them. G.W. Bush immediately reached out to democrats when he took office, helping Ted Kennedy get his "No Child Left Behind" bill passed into law, but the program, like most democrat feel good programs, was a HUGE FAILURE, and what did our "Bi-Partisan" efforts get us? The Democrats IMMEDIATELY blamed BUSH for this horrible idea. Same with Bush Sr. who, during his first campaign promised "Read my lips, no new taxes", but in an effort to WORK with Democrats, he raised taxes, and what did he get for his effort? Clinton and the DNC running ads showing him saying "READ MY LIPS" and then explaining how George Bush (Sr) LIED, and we lost that election.

      Nope, it's high time REPUBLICANS start being the hard asses and saying NO to new spending, new and bigger government, no matter what the compromise, it isn't worth it.

      Was it "bi-partisan" of democrats when they refused to allow Judge Bork on the seat on the Supreme Court, just because he believed the role of the Supreme Court was to show restraint, and enterpret what the Constitution said and it's original intent, which, had Judge Roberts done that on Thursday, Obamacare would be on the ashheap of history. Instead, Judge Roberts re-defined the meaning of the word IS, by saying something that was not ever called a tax, a tax, but for the purposes of them hearing the case, it had to NOT be a tax, so it wasn't, but in the end, it was. How he was able to wrap his brain around that one is beyond me.

      SCREW getting along with Democrats. For years, compromise TO THEM was republicans agreeing with them, well, LUGAR, now it's OUR TURN. LET THEM be the statesmen and come across the aisle, break their promises so we can use it against them. We need to start playing THEIR game. Sotomyor should have recused herself from this decision since she helped write Obamacare, but she didn't. They have no integrity, so neither should we as far as they are concerned. Only the Tea Party can clean up Congress. Democrats never will, they are tax and spend tax and spend, and never cut anything. Neither will the RINO/moderates who always kiss democrat butt, but when do Democrats come across the aisle?

      During this whole Obamacare ordeal, it was a GIVEN that 4 of the Justices were going to find in favor of Obamacare, there was NO DOUBT about it. It wasn't even QUESTIONED that one of them may be persuaded to vote against a law that is so unconstitutional, it's not even funny. The media and everybody else only pondered whether Justice Kennedy or Roberts could be persuaded to come over to "the dark side" and vote to keep it, and we all know what happened. Why was it never even considered that one of the liberal judges might be persuaded over? Because thats how THEY are, and to chastise the TEA PARTY for being like them, and not "Civilized statesmen" makes you a MORON dude.

      We need to send a LOUD message to Washington, and that's WE ARE NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE. No more wasting our tax dollars. Enough is enough already.

    5. CommentedAndrew Purdy

      First of all, ratification of all Treaties requires 67 votes, not 60. Read the Constitution before commenting on such things.

      Second, I randomly encountered 2 people from Indiana a month ago, and they had the same opinion of Lugar - "he is the Senator who hasn't lived in the state for 23 years". He is simply an old pol who outstayed his welcome. Nothing to get all bent out of shape about. He won't be the only one to lose this year either.

    6. CommentedKevin Lim

      Disgusting behavior. and this from the office of the Senate Minority Whip?!? Once upon a time, the Tea Party seemed like it (understandably) only cared about one issue -deficit reduction. Now it is for all intents and purposes a fringe far-right group that reflexively opposes anything the Democrats support even if it has nothing to do with the deficit. The search for sensible solutions has given way to a crusade for idealogical purity. Jon Kyl is exactly the sort of crusader they are looking for - no compromise, disdaining engagement, close-minded.

    7. Commentedjames durante

      The US has a certain penchant for throwing up the worst sorts of demagogues during stressful periods; think of Father Coughlin or Joe McCarthy.

      Now, with inequality, debt, deficits, poverty, and corporate campaign spending at near record levels, you can expect much worse than a few idiotic t.v. commercials.