December 10, 2012

“There will have to be some courageous souls”
Lugar Talks about Political Environment and Challenges Facing the Republican Party in Speech to The Ripon Society

WASHINGTON, DC – As he prepares to leave the Senate after more than four decades of distinguished public service, U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) appeared before a breakfast meeting of The Ripon Society this past Wednesday morning, delivering a speech in which he talked about the current political environment in Washington and the challenges facing the Republican Party in the wake of the November 6th general election.

“The ink is barely dry on the results of the 2012 election,” Lugar stated, “and yet we’re already seeing people talk about which candidates may be running in 2014 and 2016. We’ve also seen special interest groups step forward and declare which of these potential candidates are potentially unacceptable because of a vote or a position that he or she may have taken in the past. This permanent, partisan gamesmanship has gotten out of hand. Politics has become a constant campaign, where one’s oath to the Constitution has too often taken a back seat to one’s fealty to some pledge.

“Take the debate we just had on the U.N. disabilities convention. This was a fairly minor treaty. It had come before the Foreign Relations Committee, largely thanks to Bob Dole, some veterans organizations and others. They pointed out that although the United States is the gold standard for the treatment of disabled individuals, we have never signed onto a convention that would discuss how these individuals are being treated worldwide.

“We were getting calls in our office from some parents who said their home-schooled children were going to be affected by this treaty. Well, that was total nonsense. But the fact that this kind of thing could get going almost like a disease -- infecting the phone banks of nearly every U.S. Senator -- reflects how the pledge mentality of American political campaigning has created a bunker mentality on Capitol Hill.

“It has paralyzed the legislative process, and contributed to much of the dysfunction we are seeing today. It is also the reason we find ourselves on the edge of the fiscal cliff. We know the steps that must be taken to keep our country from going over. The question is whether we are too wedded to our pledges of political purity to keep from stepping back from the abyss.”

Lugar began his political career in 1964 on the Indianapolis school board, and served two terms as the city’s mayor. In addition to discussing the current political environment, Lugar -- who is the U.S. Senate's most senior Republican and the longest serving Member of Congress in Indiana history -- also discussed some of the challenges facing the GOP in the wake of the November 6th general election.

“The new Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas, has raised the possibility of being more active in party primaries the next time around,” Lugar observed. “Some say that’s not a very good idea. Some also point out that the involvement of the Senatorial Committee is just one of many factors at a time when outside groups are playing an increasingly bigger role in state and local campaigns. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus recently told a Republican policy luncheon that Republican organizations and state organizations need to get their act together.

“He also noted that when it came to turnout, we were completely obliterated by the Democratic machinery. We just have not achieved the sophistication that people now employ to track every voter from the beginning: make sure the voter is registered, make sure the voter has an absentee ballot, give him a ride to the polls, check him off when he votes, down to the last one. We were also outperformed using social media. Some people have figured it out in this regard, and their ability to communicate at all levels, all the time, was the difference. In the key electoral college states, it clearly was a big difference in terms of sheer organization. I don’t want to dwell on organization, but if we’re worried about outside groups, or if we’re worried about other extraneous events, having a strong organization makes a big difference.

“At the end of the day, the good thing about all of this is that we do, I believe, have messages that are very important. I don’t say the Republicans exclusively have the answers with regard, for instance, to how we’re going to bring about much more substantial economic growth in our country. But one of the things many Republicans are beginning to talk about is immigration reform. My own view is that we’re going to have to think about this in a very concerted way. Somehow, we’ve been overcome by the Arizona law or by various other debates about restricting anybody from ever coming into the country again. Some applaud these debates. But we live in a world that is very competitive. We live in a world in which we have opportunities because we have a dynamic economic system that attracts capital and talent. In my view, we better take advantage of that capital and talent while we have it.”

Lugar said he has loved the Senate, and is not disenchanted with it or the ability of American political institutions to solve our serious problems. But he said some political courage will be needed to turn the corner.

“This is where The Ripon Society’s mission -- as you celebrate your 50th anniversary -- is critically important. When I told my wife Char that I was going to have the pleasure of visiting with The Ripon Society, she went immediately to Google this group. She came back and said: ‘They’re described as centrists!’ I said, ‘That’s very dangerous. These folks don’t realize what trouble they’re in.’ But maybe you do. And I am hopeful you can be the center around which we can build consensus on these critical issues. Because there will have to be some courageous souls who do have a program for America and take some of the stands I talked about today.”

The Ripon Society is a public policy organization that was founded in 1962 and takes its name from the town where the Republican Party was born in 1854 – Ripon, Wisconsin. One of the main goals of The Ripon Society is to promote the ideas and principles that have made America great and contributed to the GOP’s success. These ideas include keeping our nation secure, keeping taxes low and having a federal government that is smaller, smarter and more accountable to the people.

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