Long-time United States Senator Richard Lugar was defeated in a Republican Party primary by some 20 percentage points in his home state of Indiana this week by that State’s Treasurer and beloved Tea Party activist, Richard Mourdock. The Senator was 80, seeking his seventh term and one of the most knowledgeable and respected legislators on foreign policy on either side of the aisle on Capitol Hill. He was also, in the minds of the small turnout of party activists (just 17 percent of the state’s electorate participated), too willing to compromise with “The Devil,” read Democrats or Democratic Party leaders or adherents of any stripe. Lugar had long demonstrated interest in addressing the public’s problems and had supported immigration reform via the Dream Act, assistance to the auto industry during the worst of the recession (clearly a demonstrably successful policy choice many times over by now, but still loathed in principle by Tea Partiers, even in Indiana, traditional home of many auto plants and suppliers) and disarmament regimes that would reduce the nation’s admittedly huge weapons arsenals.
While Lugar was otherwise a very orthodox conservative Republican (it is, in truth, hardly accurate to call him a “moderate” by traditional standards), his willingness to countenance the perspectives of others with different points of view and to compromise to obtain legislation aimed at the nation’s challenges, was used as a cudgel by various conservative national Political Action Committees and Tea Party enthusiasts to whip the party’s most rigidly ideological and angry members into a frenzy in the Hoosier state’s recent campaign, and their few votes cost the senator his seat. While much rightly has been made of the fact that this defeat means the Senate and the Congress have lost yet another deeply experienced and relatively “moderate” GOP senator, and one surely cannot know what it means for the Congress until November’s election, I am struck by what it signals about the continuing solidification of a perspective in the Republican Party among its most fervent identifiers. Their attitude reminds me of this nation’s past brushes with the No-Nothings and with ardent ideologues unwilling to countenance difference at any cost. The result, whether labeled so plainly or not, are individuals and a party unwilling to engage in democratic dialogue and to acknowledge the standing and legitimacy of any point-of-view other than their own. Bluntly put, this is a peculiar, and especially sad, sort of tyranny.
Indeed, Mourdock argued in a post-election interview that his definition of compromise was when others adopted the GOP (his) perspective. In short, there can be no negotiation or acknowledgment of difference for the new Republican vanguard. This stance is both tyrannical and fantastical at once. Huge swathes of the American electorate do not agree with the Tea Party or the argument now being pressed ever more fervently by its loyalists within the GOP of a society characterized by Social Darwinism domestically and sabre-rattling idealistic militarism internationally. More, large numbers of Americans do not imagine that repealing the nation’s health care law will magically make the very real problem of health care access for millions go away. Nor, will deep cuts in federal assistance programs to the poor, disabled and mentally ill make the issues those populations confront go awaywhether those concern capacity to participate in life with dignity, find a place in the labor market or receive the support they require to live with debilitating illness. All of these beliefs, however, now represent the ideological lockstep creed of the new GOP. None attempt to tackle the problems and populations they demonize Lugar and others for seeking to address. They seek scapegoats and cast blame, as if miraculously that will make thorny and complex international and domestic public policy matters disappear.
In short those in the emerging Republican Party first adopt a shared narrow and hard-lined orthodoxy of loathing “the other” that demands that all adherents adopt the view that nothing can be countenanced of that other’s views and adherents. One cannot and will not compromise with those whose views differ from one’s own. And this stance is adopted, despite the fact the American regime is designed to work only with compromise so as to ensure that multiple points of view receive due (and respectful) attention in the democratic process. To this stance, the new GOP now ties a willingness to argue against much and for, apparently, little besides claims that spending and tax cuts will remedy policy and political challenges by themselves. Sadly, they will not, and meanwhile we are witnessing the growth of a new sort of willful tyranny of perspective in our politics. This represents both a dispiriting and alarming turn.