Political partisanship is out of control, largely the fault of a massive industry that makes money off of political discord, former Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., said in his first public speech since leaving office in early January.
Many cable news networks, talk radio, think tanks, websites and fundraisers have a deep economic stake in perpetuating political conflict. They are successfully marketing and monetizing partisan outrage, Lugar said in remarks prepared for his Tuesday address at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University in Durham, N.C.
He said some commentators are true believers whose economic interests coincide with their political views. But in other cases, they are just executing a business model predicated on appealing to the prejudices and fears of their adherents.
A senator for 36 years, Lugar lost the Indiana Republican primary election last May to state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, a tea party favorite who was defeated in the general election by Democrat Joe Donnelly.
Lugar, 80, cited a lack of bipartisan cooperation on U.S. foreign policy as the most compelling evidence that partisanship is out of control in his Duke speech.
Congress is largely failing to pursue systematic reviews of the most strategically important questions in foreign policy, said Lugar, a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. These include whether the administration’s proposed pivot’ to Asia is well considered, what an anti-terrorist campaign spanning decades should look like and how we should respond to global resource constraints.
Republican opposition to the nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska as President Obama’s secretary of defense is another example of the politicization of national security policy, Lugar said.
Hagel’s main transgression is that he is a Republican who has questioned policies that are sacred among most conservative senators, Lugar said. These include whether the surge in Iraq was worth the lives lost, whether the current high levels of defense expenditures make strategic sense, whether nuclear forces can be reduced further and whether there are non-military options in dealing with Iran.
Some conservatives regard his independent thinking as political blasphemy for which he should not be rewarded, Lugar said.
Supporting candidates who value governance over partisanship, increasing transparency in campaign finances and demanding civility from political and media figures are possible ways to lift ourselves out of political dysfunction, he said.
Lugar is slated to speak about international affairs Monday at Indiana University in Bloomington. He recently joined IU to teach at its new School of Global and International Studies, and he is donating his Senate papers to the school’s library system.