Capitol Idea: Republicans Dishonor Dick Lugar, One Of Their Best

Lugar with then-Senator Barack Obama in August 2005 near Perm, Russia

Time was that when the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee declared it imperative to ratify a given treaty — any treaty — senators on both sides of the aisle would take heed.

But, then, time also was that politics was supposed to end at the waters’ edge, too.

Apparently, both are equally quaint notions.

As I write this, Sen. Dick Lugar has a headline blasting on his Senate website reading, “Breaking Video: Lugar Demands New START,” referring to the hoped-for passage of a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

Except no one seems to notice, or care.

The counsel of this Indiana Republican — a former chairman of the Foreign Relations panel so distinguished that his name is virtually synonymous with much of the major disarmament work of the last two decades or more — is being turned aside.

Instead, all eyes are on Jon Kyl, a Republican senator with no formal foreign-policy expertise and whose career registers just a fraction of that which Lugar could boast. (If Lugar was the sort to boast, which he is not.)

What Kyl is, however, is a wily and cunning politician eager to strike against this treaty on what appears largely partisan grounds.

There’s no disagreement on the substance of the treaty, which pretty much falls in line with previous disarmament agreements with Russia championed by Republican presidents of the past.

Although the White House has publicly assured Kyl it would address whatever technical concerns he may have, the Arizona conservative has not budged.

No, it’s become increasingly clear that Kyl simply wants to hurt President Obama.

Obama, after all, is the Nobel laureate for whom nuclear disarmament is a signature issue. How better for Kyl to ingratiate himself with the right-wing hordes who appear ascendant for the moment than to deny the president such an achievement.

Such partisanship is a disgrace for so many reasons, but none more so than the dishonor it imparts upon Lugar, who has made a career of being tough-but-serious about foreign affairs in the interest of the country he loves.

The fact that Lugar is demanding the Senate approve the new START, and do so during the current lame-duck session, appears meaningless.

The only reason this could be is that his fellow Republicans have decided that Lugar suffers from “Crist’s disease,” that being the ailment first seen in outgoing Florida governor Charlie Crist. Like Crist, Lugar dared nothing more than to show Barack Obama some friendship and kindness — and allow his photo to be taken with Obama while still having a smile on his face.

This is an ignominous end for a great American statesman who, one might recall, very nearly was the running mate to conservative godfather Ronald Reagan in 1980.

Meanwhile, the demands of some incoming GOP senators that the new START vote be delayed until they’re sworn in only adds to the Republican shame.

Steve Clemons, one of the most respected and bipartisan foreign-affairs scholars at work in Washington today, is blasting these newcomers.

“That’s right. Even the so-called strict constitutionalist Rand Paul is engaged in lobbying that would impose illegal burdens on incumbent elected representatives violating the word and spirit of the United States Constitution,” he says.

It is a sad day when Republicans who claim so loudly to love the Constitution show how truly ignorant of it they really are.

Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade. Capitol Idea is his regular column from Washington. This article was first published as The Incredible Shrinking Dick Lugar on Blogcritics.
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