There is no denying that Richard G. Lugar (R-IN) is less extreme than some of his colleagues; that is why the Tea Party, enfeebled as it is, is still anxious to unseat him. The other day the Washington Post ran an article titled, “In tough race, Lugar sticks to his centrist traditions,” which, for the online edition, was changed to “Richard Lugar: too mild to be memorable?” Lugar is an old-timer, and I don’t mean simply in age (he is 80) but in terms of tenure in Washington. He is ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. There are positive things to be said for Lugar, as the article by Melinda Henneberger pointed out: he refers to “so-called Obamacare” rather than Obamacare and even gets the name of the Democratic Party right, referring to Harry Reid “as a member of the Democratic, rather than ‘Democrat’ Party.”
But these are cosmetic and have nothing to do with policy stances. It is true that they make Lugar unusual; this cannot be denied. America has never seen such a high degree of polarization between its two major political parties and much of what Lugar says is “out of sync” – as Henneberger says – “with the anger of the times.” But only in early 21st century American politics could Dick Lugar realistically be called a centrist. Obama is a centrist. Lugar is a conservative, more moderate than his colleagues certainly, but then Ronald Reagan is a moderate Republican by today’s standards.
As I observed here last February, Indiana Tea Party activist Monica Boyer says that she met with Lugar in December and that left her determined to oppose him come the 2012 primaries: “He basically told us how it was. There was no discussion and he didn’t hear us. From that time on, it was game on.”
“I’m sure there are some groups that will do their own thing, but a majority have agreed that there has to be just one candidate [against Lugar].” She says she is not fazed by Lugar’s fundraising: “We have the enthusiasm and the boots on the ground, so we’re not intimidated by his money.”
Of course she is not intimidated by Lugar’s money. Why would she be? As is usually the case, outside money is funding Lugar’s adversary, State Treasurer Richard Mourdock: he has the support of the Club for Growth and FreedomWorks. Mourdock takes a Tea Party line on major issues, complaining about the government – a government, he says “picks winners and losers, and that infuriates me” and so of course he makes comparisons as Tea Partiers do to seminal events in American history that have little bearing on Republican attitudes today – the Civil War, in this case. For Mourdock it comes down to a contest between people who say “You can’t have my stuff” and those who say “I want your stuff.” Of course, the Tea Party wants your stuff too, as Mourdock certainly must know; they just want your stuff for different things.
Relatively speaking, Lugar can be called a moderate Republican but by no stretch of the imagination can he be called centrist. I wrote here last summer about Lugar’s support for the “Fair Tax” – a scheme to bankrupt the U.S. government if there ever was one, and mentioned that even President Bush, who flirted with the idea in 2005, had the good sense to push this idea aside in 2005 when his advisors brought it up, his advisory panel having had some problems with the Fair Tax, noting that it was uncertain how much revenue would be generated – arguing that the tax rate would have to be 30% (not 23% as claimed). Unsurprisingly, the Fair Tax is aimed at helping the rich – as FactCheck.org has pointed out – starting with those who make above $200,000 per year, which is not most Americans. In the process, Lugar tries to sell Americans the long-discredited “trickle down” theory of economics. This makes him no different than his challenger because the Tea Party is not about Americans but about wealthy Americans and corporations. Our salvation lies not in an accountable government but in non-accountable corporations.
Last May, Dick Lugar, after talking big about standing up to the Tea Party, caved and voted with his party’s extremists, unlike Scott Brown, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Rand Paul, and Olympia Snowe, abandoning any claim to a moderate position on the Medicare issue.
If you look at some of his other stances you don’t see a Tea Bagger but you don’t see a moderate either: He was rated 0% by NARAL, indicating a “pro-life” voting record, in Dec 2003 and received a rating of 75% by the NRLC, which indicates a mixed record on abortion, in Dec 2006. He did vote against banning human cloning in 1998 but he voted for maintaining a ban on Military Base abortions in June of 2000. He voted against repealing tax subsidy for companies which move US jobs offshore (Mar 2005) and in 2003 was rated 96% by the US COC, indicating a pro-business voting record. He also voted yes on barring EPA from regulating greenhouse gases in Apr 2011. If you want to know where Dick Lugar stands on the environment, in 2003 the League of Conservation Voters rated him a 5% – just about as anti-environmental as you can get. Additionally, Americans United for Separation of Church and State gave him a big fat 0%, indicating opposition to Church-State separation.
If you want the final damning evidence against Dick Lugar as a centrist, here it is. He,
- Voted with Republican Party 76.2% of 324 votes (Sep 2007);
- Voted YES on confirming Samuel Alito as Supreme Court Justice (Jan 2006);
- Voted YES on confirming John Roberts for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (Sep 2005).
So what does it mean to say that Dick Lugar is a centrist? Look at the chart above; the “star” indicates for each party the dividing line between moderates and extremists. It’s easy to see the spot a centrist politician must occupy, smack dab between the two extremes, where the positions of the two parties meet. Dick Lugar as a centrist requires a convulsive, even cataclysmic shift of the left-right political spectrum. There is no possible way to put Lugar’s insistent on “Democratic” over “Democrat” or “so-called Obamacare” vs. “Obamacare” on the scales against his voting record and say that he is a centrist. If Lugar is a centrist than the true centrist position is an extreme left position and everything to the left of that is beyond the pale. If he is a centrist, it is impossible to escape the conclusion of Republicans that the rest of us are “Marxists” or “Communists” and President Obama, a true centrist, more a moderate Republican even than Lugar, becomes a radical leftist just as Tea Baggers insist.
I don’t know about you, but my reality matrix just got stretched to the breaking point.
Photo from Politico