Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) said farewell to his colleagues after a nearly 35-year career in the upper chamber with an admonition to put governance over partisanship.
Lugar lost the Senate primary this year to Tea Party favorite Richard Mourdock, who lost to Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) last month.
“It takes courage to declare dozens or even hundreds of positions and stand for office, knowing that with each position, you are displeasing some group of voters. But we do our country a disservice if we mistake the act of taking positions for governance. They are not the same thing,” Lugar said. “Governance requires adaptation to shifting circumstances. It often requires finding common ground with Americans who have a different vision than your own. It requires leaders who believe, like Edmund Burke, that their first responsibility to their constituents is to apply their best judgment.”
He noted that it’s possible “to be re-elected and gain prominence in the Senate while giving very little thought to governance.”
“One even can gain considerable notoriety by devoting one’s career to the political aspects of a Senator’s job — promoting the party line, raising money, and focusing on public relations. Responsibility for legislative shortcomings can be pinned on the other party or even intractable members of one’s own party,” Lugar continued. “None of us are above politics, nor did the Founders expect us to be. But, obviously, we should be aspiring to something greater than this.”
“Too often in recent years, members of Congress have locked themselves into a slate of inflexible positions, many of which have no hope of being implemented in a divided government. Some of these positions have been further calcified by pledges signed for political purposes. Too often we have failed to listen to one another and question whether the orthodox views being promulgated by our parties make strategic sense for America’s future. The result has been intractably negative public perceptions of Congress. A Rasmussen Reports poll conducted this month found that only 10 percent of likely voters gave Congress a rating of ‘excellent’ or ‘good.’”
After decades in the Senate, Lugar said he believes the “vast majority” of lawmakers coming through the Hill are “hardworking, genuinely interested in public service, and eager to contribute to the welfare of our country.”
“Often, the public does not believe that. It is easier to assume that Congressional failings arise from the incompetence or even the malfeasance of individual legislators. Or perhaps, as some believe, Washington, D.C. itself is corrupting. It is far more disconcerting to think that our democracy’s shortcomings are complex and defy simple solutions,” he said.
“The Founders were realists who understood the power of factionalism, parochialism, and personal ambition. They understood that good intentions would not always prevail. Accordingly, they designed a system to check abuse and prevent power from accumulating in a few hands. But they knew that the efficient operation of such a Republic would require a great deal of cooperation. They knew that it would require most elected officials to have a dedication to governance, and they trusted that leaders would arise in every era to make their vision work.”
Lugar’s hope is ” that senators will devote much more of their energies to governance.”
“In a perfect world, we would not only govern, we would execute a coherent strategy. That is a very high bar for any legislative body to clear,” he said. “But we must aspire to it in cooperation with the president because we are facing fundamental changes in the world order that will deeply affect America’s security and standard of living.”