My night with the GOP



April 13, 2012

  • U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Indiana

The Dick Lugar I saw last night at a Marion County GOP dinner at downtown's Union Station was not the same Lugar I watched in an unscripted, but none-the-less carefully controlled, debate with Richard Mourdock the night before.

OK, he was the same Lugar — not some amped up doppelganger— but with pressure of the debate past, the senior-most member of the U.S. Senate shed the wooden posturing of made-for-T.V. politics. Thursday night's Lugar was more at ease and better able to convey some of the core lessons his more than a half century of leadership has taught him. In a nearly 45-minute speech he called his core constituency to action, and he shot from the hip starting all the way back with General Eisenhower.

Those Mid-Century lessons pay dividends today to those who listen — Democrat or Republican.

About 60 years ago, Indiana's state GOP party boss, the Honorable Cale Holder, recruited 20-year-old Lugar to organize rallies for visiting Eisenhower from the airport, all the way down Washington Street to a grand finale at the Circle. Next came service on the school board and a pitch from the party that he take on a powerful incumbent mayor that looked in good shape to continue the Democrat's 20-year hold on the mayor's office.

All politics is local

Lugar emphasized the importance of precinct work as the most basic building block of our representative democracy, noting that his victory in that 1967 race was due to the "brilliance of precinct committee work."

Understanding the significance of precinct work, in fact, helped him as a young mayor to handle a blowhard precinct board chair from the northern part of town. The man visited the mayor's office one day to complain that Lugar's appointments were not to his liking. Lugar recalled grabbing the precinct record book and cracking it open. "I began to recite the records (from the man's district), which were abysmal — he literally fainted on the floor. I remember watching from the mayor's office at the top of the city-county building watching the ambulance pull up to carry this precinct committee chair to the hospital."

Sometimes in his career, Lugar said, he'd taken precinct work too seriously, like when he and the party troops rallied a neighborhood, registered 400 people to vote only to watch it go 80 percent in the Democrat's favor.

Mayor Lugar ushered in UniGov, a major '70s political machination to unify city government beyond the urban core to include most of the county townships. He believed better government could be achieved with "one government and one mayor — all the responsibility around one table." The 1971 mayoral race became a referendum on the matter. More people headed to the polls that fall than ever before or since, he said, 263,000.

"That was then, this is now," he said. "It's a big year and I believe our Republican organization is up to the task, we must be up to the task," he said.

Girding for battle

In issuing his war call, Lugar charged the audience to an ambitious goal — total Republican domination. He said to make Barack Obama a one-term president, capture majorities in the U.S. House and Senate, elect Mike Pence as governor and as many state GOP politicians as possible. *

Even though he hasn't had a primary challenger to his senate seat since the 1970s, Lugar knew he had a sale to seal.

"I humbly ask that you consider support for my candidacy," he said.

When speaking to his people, without the glaring eye of the T.V. cameras, the ravenous din of the pack reporters or any boisterous confrontations from the Tea Party discontented, Lugar focused his core comments on core conservative ideals — not the "God, guns and gays" platform that's gained so much traction in some circles in the past couple decades.

Lugar warned that the scheduled expiration of the "Bush tax cuts" on Dec. 31 plus the inability of the president and Congress to agree on a federal budget are shaping up to "a very, very serious financial crisis — not just in terms of national debt but as families and farmers and people trying to create jobs." He talked about "the will to make a difference — tax reform on our terms and an end to over-regulation."

Traditionally, he said, social security is "like the third rail of politics — you touch it and you die."

With defense, social security and the Medicare and Medicaid programs representing 70 percent of the ever-expanding pool of federal expenditures (and federal debt), he said, "you have to begin to touch it."

Then Lugar went in for the kill, set up by an enthusiastic, hard-to-quibble-with endorsement earlier in the evening from Mayor Ballard. [Keep reading for details.]

"There are still more than 5,000 warheads left in Russia," Lugar said, recounting a visit to a decommissioned Russian nuclear silo that still had pictures of American cities taped to its walls — the Red Army's former targets.

"A single strike would obliterate our city," Lugar said. "One of the reasons why I'm so persistent (with the Nunn-Lugar disarmament efforts) is there are still about 5,000 warheads left in Russia."

The difference between Ballard and Pence

Remarks from newly appointed Secretary of State Connie Lawson and U.S. Congressman and Mike Pence, the GOP candidate fro governor, opened the evening.

The latter claimed "steadfast neutrality" in upcoming senate primary race, but, he told Lugar, "that does not prohibit me from saying, 'I admire and appreciate the leadership and statesmanship that is personified in you.'"

Then the ever-even-keeled Mayor Greg Ballard actually leapt to the stage to offer Lugar his unequivocal support.

The Nunn-Lugar program nuclear disarmament program "has really made, not just America, but the entire world safer," eliminating nearly a million chemical munitions, thousands of nuclear warheads, submarines and bombers, Ballard said.

"Because of what he's doing, this is a much safer world. You don't know what could have happened because it never did happen. I will tell you, as somebody who was in the military for over 23 years, we all knew Dick Lugar kept us home with our families — we weren't someplace else in a bad situation because of the work people like Dick Lugar were doing.

"That's why I will continue to support him as our senator."

The demographics of the evening did not do much to contradict a stereotype I had that the room would be filled with old, white men. There were several women in attendance. But it would not be unfair to say the room was a sea of white. Of about 23 10-person tables (not all totally packed to capacity, but most nearly full) I counted less than 10 people of color.

I wonder how the Indiana GOP narrative and demographic is shaping up in the counties.

Early voting has started. No matter what your political persuasion, if you love Indiana, now is the time to tune in and take a stand. Like Dick Lugar told his brethren, Indiana's best days are still ahead. But, this observer must add, only if we step up and make it so.

* [If I could have interrupted with a question at this point I would have asked, "Goodness, senator, isn't there a Democrat anywhere that you like, that you think would do a better job the GOP alternative?" Can the U.S. sustain a free marketplace of ideas, unfettered by the over-regulation of well-heeled special interests and pre-approved sound bites?]


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