05/09/2012 05:49 pm ET Updated Jul 09, 2012

What Lugar's Defeat Confirms

Many of us already knew it, but Sen. Richard Lugar's defeat in the Indiana Republican primary puts things into stark relief: In 2012 any vote for a Republican is a vote for crazy. Any vote. Any Republican. No matter how sane the Republican, it's a vote for crazy.

Many commentators have observed that Lugar left himself vulnerable in many respects. Not even owning a house in Indiana did not help. But his opponent's attacks emphasized the greater problem that faces our nation today: Lugar was too pragmatic, too willing to negotiate, too -- well, not quite right-wing enough. In the wake of the election, Lugar's written statement said it all. His opponent "has pledged his support to groups whose prime mission is to cleanse the Republican party of those who stray from orthodoxy as they see it."

Neither party is perfect, but Lugar has identified the major political obstacle to our national recovery. A rigid ideological orthodoxy has taken over the Republican party. No taxes. Free rein to corporations, but draconian control over people's domestic and reproductive lives. Reward the rich and blame the poor.

And we're talking crazy. It's legal to carry a loaded gun into a bar in some states because somehow that fulfills the Second Amendment -- and pleases the NRA. Women who desire abortions now face involuntary and invasive medical procedures as a deterrent. Police in several states find themselves saddled with investigating every person they might suspect of residing in the United States illegally. Bowing to the religious right, some states free their teachers to promote creationism in biology classes.

Crazy and crazier. We all have received those "Obama is an Islamic terrorist" emails from our nutty relatives and acquaintances -- but is it fair to believe the whole right wing has lost its tether to reason? Some Republican candidates in North Carolina are once again raising the "birther" issue. The Greene County (Virginia) party newsletter includes a call to "armed revolution" should President Obama win reelection. Florida Member of Congress Allen West claims he knows of about eighty members of the Communist Party in Congress -- and then defends his outrageous claim. Not long ago at all, Republicans in Wisconsin and other states even attacked public school teachers as greedy and overpaid "freeloaders."

Obviously, not all Republicans have gone crazy. The problem is, those who have abandoned logic for ideology have intimidated the majority. The basic ideas behind the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act came from the Republican-leaning Heritage Foundation in collaboration with Governor Mitt Romney. But when the Obama administration emphasized health care reform, the Tea Partiers sounded alarms, and sane Republicans ran from the issue like squirrels with their tails on fire. Eight Republicans dropped their previous support for reform in the face of the firestorm. Confronted by the crazies, the Republicans fled their own ideas.

This is why a vote for one Republican, even a sane one, amounts to a vote for crazy. Neither party is perfect, but unless and until election results force Republicans to stand up to their crazies, the crazy will continue. Years ago the radical Republican fringe began targeting RINOs (Republicans in name only) for extinction -- and by RINOs, they meant Republicans who might value the environment, education, and the general welfare over and above ideological rigidity.

Don't let sane Republicans fool you. They cannot withstand the surge of crazy from within their own party. Since when does a candidate for elected office describe himself as a "severe" anything? Pressed by crazies like Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, that's exactly what Mitt Romney found himself doing back in February. Despite his relatively moderate record, Romney called himself a "severely conservative" governor. What exactly distinguishes a "severe" conservative from a "staunch" or "steadfast" one? Simple: the need to appeal to the crazies.

If you want to see how the crazies intimidate their own party, consider how one nutcase cowed the assured nominee, Romney, this week. A participant at a Cleveland town hall meeting told Romney she thinks the President of the United States should be tried for treason, and Romney did not -- could not -- counter her. Instead, Romney served up some pablum about his devotion to the Constitution. Only after the appearance, and in front of television cameras, did Romney acknowledge, "Obviously I don't agree that he should be tried."

And that's the point. Romney has a brain, and he knows the president is no traitor. But, like other usually reasonable Republicans, he lacks some other faculty that would allow him to confront the crazies in his own party. And that's why you should not vote for a Republican, no matter how sane or well-intentioned. A vote for a Republican, any Republican, is a vote for crazy.