The case for Dick Lugar

What Washington needs is sober and responsible adults. We are as a nation in a moment of real peril, facing challenges that are going to become existential—maybe already are—if we don’t do something about them. We won’t be able to ignore them—an unsound tax system, increasing and highly ideological regulation, an entitlement system whose demands will crush our children—for long. So right now, and more than ever, we need mature folk involved in our governance, people for whom not everything is new. People who know how to do things, who began studying a complicated issue 25 years ago and have kept up, who know it backward and forward. People who know the ways of the chamber backward and forward, and who know how to talk across the aisle. There is value in experience, in accomplishment and expertise. There is value in the ability to take the long view, and do your best with modesty and with an eye toward all the big jumbly categories of America, which are not limited to “rightist” and “leftist.”

Mr. Lugar, ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee and a longtime leader on controlling nuclear proliferation, is a sober and genial fellow. He is a conservative, always has been. He is experiencing a challenge from the right. He’s been under fire, for instance, for voting for the confirmation of Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. As a matter of form, policy and tradition he did the right thing. He also helped shepherd through the nomination of John Roberts as chief Justice. He did the right thing there, too. He firmly backed President Bush on Iraq until he came to have doubts about administration policy and execution, and when he’d thought it through he took to the floor of the senate to explain his thinking, and his break…

Mr. Lugar remains as what he is, exceptional, and in his case there are many factors. He’s fought many fights to keep bad policy from being imposed. (Unfortunately, there’s never a memorial to the bad bill that didn’t happen.) He’s waded into serious policy issues, such as disarmament, that get little credit but are crucial. And in a practical sense, conservatives might note that the senior senator from Indiana has just had the scare of his political life. He’s never been primaried before. It is likely that he will return to Washington, if he’s allowed to return, newly alive to certain conservative needs and concerns. There, he will be able to take what might be called a refreshed sense of where people are, combine it with a veteran’s knowledge of how to move things forward, and help make the kind of progress conservatives long for.