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A Tale Of Two Indiana Centrists

Pity Dick Lugar. Not only was he resoundingly rejected by Republican voters in the state he had served for decades, but he has not received anything close to the kind of valedictory from the Washington establishment that one might have expected for one of his reputation.

Consider: when Evan Bayh announced that he would not run for reelection in 2010, the conservative Democrat from Indiana inspired all manner of Beltway laments. Bayh encouraged this reaction with an elegiac op-ed in the New York Times in which he mourned the loss of the bipartisan comity that had prevailed in the days of his father, Birch Bayh. In the column, he came out for a host of reforms to improve matters, including regular bipartisan lunches in Congress, public campaign financing, and requiring only 55 votes to break a filibuster. The reformist stance surprised many, given how bland a figure Bayh had cut in the Senate; he has since returned to form by ensconcing himself deeply and lucratively in the Beltway status quo, serving as a contributor to Fox News and as a consultant to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

When Lugar headed to defeat earlier this week, many were expecting that he would be showered with the same centrist hosannas that Bayh and, more recently, Olympia Snowe, received on their announcements of departure -- not least because Lugar, unlike Bayh, actually accomplished a lot as senator. But that hasn't really happened. Sure, there have been scattered laments about what Richard Mourdock's victory means for the Senate, but they've come more from liberal commentators. Instead, reaction from the centrist Beltway establishment has been grudging, and even chiding. The reason? Well, for one thing, Lugar lost his reelection instead of bowing out ahead of time as Bayh and Snowe did, and in Washington, the only thing worse than a quitter is a loser. Worse, Lugar committed the grave sin of speaking his mind, and speaking with an edge. In his concession, he congratulated Mourdock but then proceeded to deliver a warning that went far beyond the pabulum expected on such occasions: 

If Mr. Mourdock is elected, I want him to be a good Senator. But that will require him to revise his stated goal of bringing more partisanship to Washington. He and I share many positions, but his embrace of an unrelenting partisan mindset is irreconcilable with my philosophy of governance and my experience of what brings results for Hoosiers in the Senate...This is not conducive to problem solving and governance. And he will find that unless he modifies his approach, he will achieve little as a legislator. Worse, he will help delay solutions that are totally beyond the capacity of partisan majorities to achieve.

You might think that this would please the Beltway's champions of bipartisan comity. But no -- it was against form, because it was spoken with some real bite, even venom. If Lugar had been following the rules, he would have given a straight concession and then left it for the centrist commentators to gently chide Mourdock's bluntly partisan approach. Instead, here's what Lugar got from the commentariat: the Washington Post's Melinda Henneberger declared him a "poor loser" and, in the ultimate barometer of Beltway score-keeping, the Post's Chris Cillizza today branded Lugar as having had the "Worst Week in Washington."

After his defeat, Lugar issued a 1,400-word rant against the rise of partisanship in the Senate — a denunciation that rang slightly false, given that despite all the unsavory aspects in the institution, Lugar had still done everything he could to remain in it.
Dick Lugar, for forgetting that Moscow, Ind., mattered more to your political career than Moscow, Russia, you had the worst week in Washington. Congrats. Or something.

Ouch! A pretty rough send-off for a man who helped bring democracy to the Philippines, end apartheid and secure Soviet nukes. But hey, maybe he can get a consulting gig at the Chamber and get back in our good graces.

follow me on Twitter @AlecMacGillis