Hooray for Partisanship

Dick Lugar isn’t the worst Senator in Washington, D.C., not by any means, but an institution that fancies itself “the world’s greatest deliberative body” should be able to do better. The Republican voters in Indiana apparently came to the same conclusion, as they ousted the longtime incumbent in Tuesday’s primary in favor of a fellow named Richard Mourdock.

The result has already provoked much wailing and gnashing of teeth among the leftward end of the pundit class, who fret that the result heralds the end of bi-partisanship, moderation, and reasonableness. Lugar’s 77 percent lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union was high enough for the Republicans to elect him six times, but low enough to win plaudits from the press and the purveyors of respectable opinion, and his opponent was endorsed by those crazed Tea Party types and the National Rifle Association, so the rather lopsided result is widely considered as an affront to polite society. The president even issued a statement lamenting Lugar’s “retirement,” a fitting tribute given that Mourdock often taunted Lugar as “Obama’s favorite Republican.”

Those same people who are lamenting Lugar’s loss to a Republican would have cheered his loss to a Democrat, of course, and we suspect their concern for bi-partisanship is similarly partisan. They define bi-partisanship as Republican willingness to go along with liberal ideas, so it’s quite natural that the more rock-ribbed Republicans of Indiana would eventually grow weary of Lugar for the very reasons he was respected by the left.

What are the great accomplishments of bi-partisanship, anyway? Most of the major legislation passed in recent years with a significant number of votes from both parties has been horrible. During the George W. Bush years it brought us the No Child Left Behind Act, an unholy alliance between Bush and Ted Kennedy that is now reviled by both right and left, as well as the prescription drug benefits, which annoyed the budget hawks while failing to sate the left’s appetite for more control of the health system, and the Troubled Assets Relief Program, which didn’t stave off a recession or cause anyone to reconsider Bush’s reputation as a right-wing extremist. During the first two years of his administration Obama and his huge Democratic majorities in Congress pushed through a stimulus package with little Republican support and an Obamacare overhaul with no Republican votes at all, which means that if only a few Democrats had decided to be bi-partisan those travesties could have prevented, but that’s not the kind of bi-partisanship that Lugar’s eulogists are talking about.

Mourdock could wind up losing the seat to Democratic nominee Joe Donnely, of course, which would leave the Indiana Republicans looking back fondly on the 77-percent-conservative Lugar. There’s reason to believe that he will win, though, given the victory by staunchly conservative Indiana Sen. Dan Coats in the 2010 election that threw out the Democratic majority in the House and the Democratic super-majority in the Senate, and that would be an improvement.

— Bud Norman

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