ON A STEAMY summer afternoon in the 1970s, Richard Lugar came to Hanover College in southern Indiana to speak at a synod meeting about politics as a sacred calling and about how his faith and church membership were an important part of his vocation. Lugar was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1976 after two terms as mayor of Indianapolis. He had gained national recognition for Unigov, a consolidation of the Indianapolis and Marion County governments that is credited with stimulating Indianapolis's impressive economic growth.
As a young pastor in northern Indiana, I was deeply impressed, and reminded of John F. Kennedy's words about the importance and dignity of the political vocation. I was proud of Lugar, a Republican, and of Democratic senator Birch Bayh, both of whom had reputations as moderates who collaborated with senators from the other party.
One of Lugar's crowning achievements was collaborating with Sam Nunn, a Democrat, to reduce the use, production and stockpiling of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Today the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program has deactivated more than 7,500 nuclear warheads. Lugar also cooperated with then-senator Joe Biden on complex Pakistani issues and traveled to Russia with then-senator Barack Obama.
I was sorry when Lugar lost his recent primary race to state treasurer Richard Mourdock. The race wasn't even close. Lugar's age was a factor, as were questions about his residency. But the major reason for his defeat was that the Tea Party and conservative Super PACs such as Freedom Works and Club for Growth poured cash into the Mourdock campaign for the express purpose of replacing Lugar's brand of moderate bipartisanship with more ideologically orthodox conservatism.
Lugar wrote a letter afterward, affirming his continuing loyalty to the Republican Party and his commitment to working for Mourdock's election. Then he offered some advice. Mourdock had attacked Lugar's brand of Republicanism, saying that "it's time for confrontation, not collaboration." …