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.
Gareth Evans, Australia’s foreign minister for eight years and President and Chief Executive of the International Crisis Group from 2000-2009, is currently Chancellor of the Australian National University…
On most issues, Lugar is and always has been a natural conservative…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…
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.
If American voters are bright enough, capable of sufficient perception of how we’ve been hustled by rather an old-fashioned populist barrage of lies and slogans – perhaps the United States might only become a grown-up partner of other nations with a civilized interest in progress. Perhaps we might begin to deal intelligently and in an informed manner with our own problems. There’s a grocery list that extends from civil rights to election reform long overdue to sort our political larder.
RTFA for the details of Gareth Evans feelings and analysis. Examine the perception of the United States from the other side of the social fences being rapidly erected around our borders. Reflect upon a new isolationism founded in imperial arrogance, greed, hatred and fear. Not what a nation in economic trouble needs. Not what any modern nation deserves.