The Last Testament of Richard Lugar

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Dec. 12 2012 1:33 PM

The Last Testament of Richard Lugar

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WASHINGTON - JUNE 26: U.S. Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-IN) rides an escalator after getting off the subway at the U.S. Capitol June 26, 2007 in Washington, DC. Lugar said June 25, that a change in U.S. President George W. Bush's strategy is needed in Iraq. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Today, a mostly action-less day in this mostly action-less week, the Senate gave five senators time for farewell speeches. (The mass scheduling was probably a good idea; Jim Webb ended up giving his speech when attention was focused elsewhere, on Jim DeMint's retirement.) I went to the gallery to catch the last words of Sen. Richard Lugar, who'd been elected in 1976, and who surely would have won again this year if not for a primary challenge on the right.

Lugar, never tall, has gotten smaller with age. He's never been a terribly commanding public speaker. But freed from the Senate, prepping a few public interest causes for 2013, he could finally say how pathetic he found the partisans who'd driven him from office. "We do our country a disservice is we mistake the act of taking positions for governance," he said. In doing so, "one can even gain considerable notoriety -- namely, promoting the party line, raising money, focusing on party relations... too often in recent years, too many have locked themselves into a slate of inflexible positions and political pledges."

You could decode this in real time. Lugar was fingering people like Richard Mourdock and Jim DeMint for curdling the mood of the Senate, and blaming people like Grover Norquist for applying outside pressure.

I'm sure plenty of his peers agreed, but very few of them were there. In the chamber, as Lugar spoke, was Sen. Kent Conrad. He futzed with a fat stack of charts, preparing his own farewell. Eventually Sen. Pat Leahy walked in, and chatted with Conrad while Lugar spoke, before taking his seat. Sen. Dan Coats, now Indiana's senator senator, found his desk near the end of the talk. And that was it. Exit Lugar.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.