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Trading Mays for Throneberry; or, the Disquiet of Losing Dick Lugar

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As a perfervid Democrat, the worst news I received in the past week (outside of the Phillies dipping under .500) was that Dick Lugar lost his GOP primary to a Tea Party conservative who vowed never to "compromise." Perhaps, the aversion to his using the word (indeed a blasphemy for John Boehner as well) is because the word comes from the French "compromis" and Republicans couldn't tolerate anything French even though Mitt Romney speaks it. But I digress. However, that Republican shibboleth reminded me of the line, "What did the president know and when did the president know it" uttered by then Republican Senator, Howard Baker during the Watergate Hearings. Just think... a Republican Senator calling out the president of his own party for alleged improprieties against the integrity of the nation. How far we've come since those days of Howard Baker not to mention those days of Lowell Weicker. Which brings me back to Dick Lugar.

The reason why I felt that way about Dick Lugar is that he and I went back decades. While I was working on a graduate degree in comparative literature at Indiana University, Dick Lugar was Mayor of Indianapolis and though he was Nixon's favorite Republican mayor, Dick Lugar was not Richard Nixon. I was always impressed with Lugar on multiple levels: Rhodes Scholar, urbane, intellectual, progressive. Progressive? Yes, progressive, and, perhaps, that was his downfall. Too progressive by today's Republican standards. I recall that at the time Lugar was Mayor of Indianapolis there was a federal program called CETA, the Comprehensive Employment Training Act which became the Job Training Partnership Act of 1982.

As I recall, Lugar was one of three mayors (the others being the mayors of Boston and Seattle) to use some of the CETA jobs created to hire painters, writers, musicians, vocalists and actors to work for the City of Indianapolis. To a great extent, it was the revivification of the WPA, the Works Project Administration of the 1930s which included the construction of public buildings and roads, and operated large arts, drama, media, and literacy projects. Brilliant idea. The job of interviewing potential artists fell to the Metropolitan Arts Council and, as I recall, about a dozen of us (I was chosen as one of the writers) were then hired by the city to do various artistic things. For example, there were recitals, poetry readings, and theatrical performances held in the public parks. Writers gave poetry and fiction workshops. Painters would paint wall murals wherever the city wanted wall murals painted; we even visited a V.A. hospital and painted the walls in many of the corridors, albeit artistically, to make them more attractive and less hospital-like. It was an innovative approach to hiring the heretofore unemployed while benefiting the public. I once suggested the same thing to David Axelrod, but never heard back from him.

At any rate, hearing of Lugar's demise was truly disturbing since Lugar was clearly someone who crossed party lines in order to accomplish what he thought best for the country. On multiple levels, his loss is a true loss for the United States. I'm certain that Richard Mourdock, the Indiana State Treasurer, is truly an accomplished numbers guy, but hiring a truly accomplished numbers guy with credentials in geology to replace someone of Lugar's political experience would be a bit like trading Willie Mays for Marv Throneberry. And if you don't get that analogy then Lugar losing his job wouldn't make any difference to you.