INDIANAPOLIS — Bless Richard Lugar.
Spared the necessity of having to navigate through the ever increasing idiocies of petty partisan politics by being removed from office in 2012 and rejected by the party he served faithfully for more than 50 years, Indiana’s former six-term U.S. senator has become something rare, an adult talking about public and foreign policy issues.
Lugar’s latest contribution to returning America to something resembling sanity has come during the national discussion over President Barack Obama’s proposed deal with Iran to delay and perhaps stop that country’s development of nuclear weapons.
Much of the debate among elected officials — and those who aspire to be elected officials — has resembled nothing so much as a series of playground taunts. Much of the back-and-forth is about being tough. Very little of it seems to be about being smart.
Perhaps the most conspicuous offender has been U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who also is running for president. Graham’s solutions to national problems, as demonstrated during the first GOP presidential debate, have a certain quality of monotony.
Sen. Graham, what’s the best way to deal with the Middle East? Go to war with the Islamic State group.
Senator, how would you foster job creation in the United States? Go to war with the Islamic State group.
How about improve schools and student performance? Go to war with the Islamic State group.
Celebrate Labor Day? Go to war with the Islamic State group.
Lugar’s tempered approach provides a stark contrast to such stridency.
To critics who say the Iran deal is not perfect, Lugar agrees. But he reminds everyone that we do not live in a perfect world, and perfect solutions tend to be found only in fairy tales.
But he argues that the Iran deal is a start, a way to work toward resolving difficult issues that does not involve racking up large body counts. Lugar fears nuclear weapons will spread throughout the Mideast if this deal falls apart.
He also cautions us against using every dispute or development in the world as an excuse to score political points. He calls for us to return to an earlier time when our political battles stopped at the water’s edge and we did not seek to undermine presidents before other nations, particularly during troubled times.
“There is extreme partisanship in Washington,” Lugar said in an interview with MSNBC, “but extreme partisanship does not work well in a dangerous world.”
I haven’t agreed with Richard Lugar on everything.
In fact, one thing I found ironic about his defeat in the 2012 primary by tea party favorite Richard Mourdock was the misperception about his supposed “moderation.” Lugar’s voting record in the U.S. Senate was not markedly different from the voting records of the late U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., and the late U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., two of the most right-wing politicians in American history.
Lugar was and is a conservative. He’s just not the sort to throw temper tantrums as a way of communicating his position. In short, he’s an adult.
That serves him and us well, particularly in this situation.
All of the problems critics of the deal say Iran poses still will be there if the agreement falls through. The only difference is that Iran likely will have nuclear weapons at its disposal.
The alternative is that we fight another bloody, costly and endless war on terrain far from home.
Lugar understands that, perhaps because he has seen and studied more of the world than any other political leader of this era. He knows that this deal is and should be only a start, that the way to handle the challenges Iran poses is in stages. We deal with the most immediate threat first and then come back to work on the other problems once we have established a framework for resolving differences.
That’s how adults deal with conflict.
And that’s how Lugar approaches the world.
It’s good to watch a grown-up go to work.
I just wish we had a few more of them around.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.