What Lugar’s Defeat Could Mean
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
The defeat of Senator Richard Lugar in the primary yesterday, sent signals that the traditional American two party system indeed may have entered a new and distressing phase. Hopefully, the American people will not let it happen, but Lugar’s loss yesterday by a staggering 22% seems to suggest otherwise. The six term Indiana senator did not merely come to the end of his political career—as all 81 year old mares eventually do—but he was defeated by an exceedingly well financed Tea Party onslaught against him. .
Lugar’s career could not have lasted forever. The other Republican moderate who faced a similar challenge, Olympia Snowe, retired rather than endure the embarrassment of being defeated after an equally fine legislative career. It is, however, the manner of how Lugar went down that ought to send shudders through the hearts and minds of Democrats as well as Republicans.
As was reiterated during last night’s celebrations, Lugar was defeated not because he took social and economic positions which were not conservative enough for today’s Republican Party. His opponent, Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, –even in victory—made it clear that Lugar lost because he was too willing to compromise in the Senate, too willing to work with other Senators who disagreed with him, too willing to work across the aisle with Democrats (perish the thought.) In other words, Lugar was defeated because he understood that the role of being a Senator (a legislator) was to legislate and not to obstruct; to participate in the governing process; and to facilitate its ability to function, not to disrupt and block it.
Democrats need to be very careful themselves how they respond now to the implications of the Lugar defeat. Democrats need to avoid letting the Tea Party rupture of the Republican Party lead to a similar polarizing effort within the Democratic Party. If the play their cards right in Indiana, they might even be able to conceivably takeover Lugar’s Senate seat in November, an hysterical result after all this Republican effort.
If the Democrats move too much to the left now, however, they too ultimately will bear responsibility for moving the Government into an ungovernable condition. In addition, party politics could then evolve into a condition which has historically failed in this country; having two ideologically extreme parties and not two centrist parties. Not since the days of the Federalists and the anti-Federalists have there been ideological based political parties; even not during the ante-bellum period. Such action could challenge and even destroy the uniqueness of the American two party system.