The Ea­gle Scout hits the saw­dust

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - Opin­ion by Wes­ley Pru­den

Once upon a time, sum­mer­time was camp-meet­ing time all over In­di­ana, but now not quite so much. Nev­er­the­less, it’s a sea­son for politi­cians to hit the saw­dust trail in search of some­thing that passes for the old­time re­li­gion. Judg­ment Day is at hand.

You could ask Dick Lu­gar, still the Ea­gle Scout at 79 and the se­nior Repub­li­can sen­a­tor back home again in In­di­ana. He has been un­touch­able since he went to the Se­nate from City Hall in In­di­anapo­lis in 1977. He’s up for re-elec­tion next year.

Only yes­ter­day, he took pride in be­ing Barack Obama’s fa­vorite Repub­li­can. And why wouldn’t he be? Three weeks be­fore the ‘08 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, he all but en­dorsed Mr. Obama. The Demo­cratic can­di­date had re­vealed how naive he was when he talked of want­ing to sit down with the bad guys of the world to talk about peace, love and what a won­der­ful world it would be when lions lie down with lambs with­out eat­ing them. Mr. Obama imag­ined he could charm Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad of Iran with hon­eyed talk of hope and change. Mr. Lu­gar, the only Repub­li­can saint in the Se­nate, loved it.

“He cor­rectly cau­tions against the im­pli­ca­tion that hos­tile na­tions must be dealt with al­most ex­clu­sively through iso­la­tion or mil­i­tary force,” the sen­a­tor said of Mr. Obama. “In some cases, re­fus­ing to talk can even be dan­ger­ous.” Mr. Lu­gar, who fan­cies him­self as know­ing more about for­eign af­fairs than al­most any­one else, cited North Korea as a shin­ing diplo­matic suc­cess. He pre­dicted that Syria and Iran would be the next suc­cess sto­ries if only the Repub­li­cans would lis­ten to the wis­dom of the mes­siah from Chicago.

Such talk in the home­stretch of the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign didn’t make Mr. Lu­gar the prince of the party, but soon made him a prophet with­out honor among con­ser­va­tives, of whom In­di­ana has plenty. He later gave Pres­i­dent Obama a grade of A for his first few months in of­fice.

Not to worry, or so he thought. He was sitting on a cam­paign chest of $2.3 mil­lion and bask­ing in the hosan­nas of the New York Times and oth­ers of the “elites” who can’t imag­ine why ev­ery­one doesn’t think the way they do.

Then along came the tea party, shuf­fling the deck in a way that Mr. Lu­gar and the A-stu­dent pres­i­dent couldn’t have imag­ined, the emer­gence of a move­ment of vot­ers who de­cline to tug their fore­locks and say “thank you” for the guid­ance of their bet­ters. Such ig­no­rance. Such ef­fron­tery. John Dan­forth, the for­mer sen­a­tor from Mis­souri who has never got­ten over him­self, ei­ther, has been driven within an inch of de­spair. “If Dick Lu­gar,” he says, “hav­ing served five terms in the U.S. Se­nate and be­ing the most re­spected per­son in the Se­nate and the lead­ing au­thor­ity on for­eign pol­icy, is se­ri­ously chal­lenged by any­body in the Repub­li­can Party, we have gone so far over­board that we are be­yond re­demp­tion.” This was an odd re­mark from a man who was once the Epis­co­pal pri­est The Wash­ing­ton Post called “St. Jack.”

The “most re­spected per­son in the U.S. Se­nate” couldn’t un­der­stand why any right-think­ing per­son wouldn’t agree with his sup­port for more arms treaties with the Rus­sians and more re­stric­tions on the right of Amer­i­cans to own guns, his ea­ger­ness to re­peal “don’t ask, don’t tell,” his votes for Obama eco­nomic schemes, his op­po­si­tion to a Repub­li­can mora­to­rium on ear- marks and his votes to con­firm So­nia So­tomayor and Elena Ka­gan to the Supreme Court.

But now, just in time for the 2012 elec­tion cam­paign, he’s grad­ing Pres­i­dent Obama on a steeper curve. No more A’s. When Al Hunt of Bloomberg News asked him the other day how he now grades the pres­i­dent, he replied: “I think at best a C.” He’s skep­ti­cal of the pres­i­dent’s in­sis­tence that the bomb­ing of Libya is not re­ally meant to get rid of Moam­mar Gad­hafi, only to per­suade him to be a nice guy. He has soft­ened his on­ce­with­er­ing crit­i­cism of tea party con­ser­va­tives.

Richard Mour­dock, the Repub­li­can state trea­surer who an­nounced a pri­mary chal­lenge in Fe­bru­ary, is a tea party fa­vorite but he is care­ful about sound­ing rude and im­po­lite. He wants to save Mr. Lu­gar from an em­bar­rass­ing exit. “I don’t think any Hoosier, and this in­cludes my­self, wants to see the last im­age of Sen. Lu­gar’s ca­reer be­ing a con­ces­sion speech,” he says. “We re­ally do have great re­spect for him. But I hear it 500 times a day; peo­ple come up to me and say, ‘Thank you for run­ning,’ and two words: ‘It’s time.’ ”

Wes­ley Pru­den is edi­tor emer­i­tus of The Wash­ing­ton Times.

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