Former President Barack Obama took to Twitter today to pay tribute to his friend and former colleague, the late U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (R. IN)
USA Today has a great piece that explains Obama and Lugar’s friendship in the U.S. Senate:
When Barack Obama was elected to the Senate in 2004, he received a congratulatory note from the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Richard Lugar's outreach to the up-and-coming Democrat helped give Obama the foreign relations experience he needed to boost his future presidential bid. But Lugar's willingness to work with Obama contributed to his 2012 primary defeat by a Tea Party Republican.
As the announcement of Lugar's death Sunday prompted an outpouring of praise for his career, one tribute stood out.
“In Dick, I saw someone who wasn’t a Republican or Democrat first, but a problem-solver,” Obama said in a statement, “an example of the impact a public servant can make by eschewing partisan divisiveness to instead focus on common ground.”
Obama had talked about the problems of nuclear proliferation in his Senate campaign and Lugar saw a potential bipartisan partner for the signature issue he'd previously worked on with Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia.
Lugar invited Obama to join him on one of his regular fact-finding trips to Russia to oversee implementation of the Nunn–Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program to secure and destroy weapons of mass destruction in the former Soviet Union.
“The first thing I learned is that when Dick Lugar travels overseas, it's not a junket,” Obama said in 2012, when Lugar received the Defense Department's highest civilian award for his efforts. Obama described traipsing through nuclear weapons storage sites and land-mine junkyards, watching technicians with test tubes containing anthrax, and wondering why only the workers had on masks and gloves.
“I'm thinking, 'Wait a second. Why don't we have masks on?' ” Obama said. “Dick Lugar is standing in the back of the room. I asked him, 'Have you seen it?' He says, 'Yes, Yes, I've seen it. I don't get too close now.' That's what it's like traveling with Dick Lugar.”
I found the above picture of Obama and Lugar from Redditt. While Lugar went on to lose his primary in 2012 to Tea Party lunatic, Richard Mourdock, some would say Lugar’s friendship with Obama was one of the factors that cost him re-election bid. I think Lugar saw something in Obama and wanted to be a mentor of his when he was a young Senator. It’s a Senate tradition for freshmen Senators to find mentors from bother parties. I think he saw Obama as a rising star when it came to foreign policy because Lugar’s biggest regret was the Iraq War as indicated in this NPR piece from 2012:
If his admirers point to a low point in Lugar's career, it was his failure to communicate to the Bush administration his reservations about the Iraq War.
Lugar was seen by many who shared those doubts as the person best equipped to make a case against the war.
“A lot of people thought only Lugar had the stature to step up and say something's wrong, to slow down the rush to war,” Shaw says.
Instead, Lugar relied, ineffectively, on his mode of quiet persuasion.
“His style was not to be pushy, or out front and forceful,” says Hagel, who says he thought Lugar should have been far more forceful. “But he wasn't that, and he always remained true to himself.”
It wasn't until June 2007 that Lugar took to the Senate floor to say the Iraq strategy wasn't working — an admission, Shaw says, that “his quiet diplomacy on Iraq failed.”
While Tea Party and free-market Republicans cheer Lugar's defeat, he will likely be defined more by his singular career than by his ignominious end at a time when the electorate seems disinterested in foreign affairs.
He has worked with Democratic and Republican administrations, Hagel says, and been asked to serve often as a special envoy, shaping and framing the big international issues of the last four decades.
“Dick Lugar has never been, partly to his political peril, a guy to seek headlines or go on television and capsulize things in catchy little bumper-sticker phrases,” Hagel says. “He always was a statesman.”
On Tuesday night, the man Lugar welcomed into the Senate eight years ago issued a statement after the primary results became clear.
“While Dick and I didn't always agree on everything,” President Obama said, “I found during my time in the Senate that he was often willing to reach across the aisle and get things done. My administration's efforts to secure the world's most dangerous weapons has been based on the work that Sen. Lugar began, as well as the bipartisan cooperation we forged during my first overseas trip as senator to Russia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan.
“Sen. Lugar comes from a tradition of strong, bipartisan leadership on national security that helped us prevail in the Cold War and sustain American leadership ever since. He has served his constituents and his country well, and I wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”
Rest in peace, Senator Lugar.