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Richard Lugar Is Remembered as a ‘True American Statesman’

INDIANAPOLIS — Richard G. Lugar, a six-term senator from Indiana known for expertise in international affairs and a voice incapable of a shout or a slur, was remembered on Wednesday for qualities that are rarely seen in today’s Washington: thoughtful deliberation, willing compromise and relentless civility.

In a service that had many of the trappings of a state funeral — attended by Vice President Mike Pence, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and more than half a dozen senators and other officials — Mr. Lugar’s life was celebrated for traits often associated with presidents. Mr. Lugar died last month at 87.

Mr. Pence called him “a true American statesman” who “will be remembered among a discrete pantheon of senators who commanded the respect of his peers in both parties and exercised enormous influence in foreign affairs.”

As the tributes flowed, the contrast between the life of Mr. Lugar and the fractious realities of the era of President Trump was yawning. Mr. Pence’s single mention of the president, whose approach to foreign affairs was the polar opposite of Mr. Lugar’s, was the only time his name was spoken.

“Cooperation and compromise is often misunderstood today,” said Sam Nunn, the former Democratic senator from Georgia who worked with Mr. Lugar to reduce nuclear weapons stockpiles in the former Soviet Union. “Some take it to mean giving up on principles. Dick Lugar never compromised his principles.”

He added, “Dick made the world a safer place and a better place.”

Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, lauded his former colleague as a blend of humility, graciousness, generosity and politeness. “People came first,” Mr. McConnell said. “He met everyone where they were.”

Another of the eulogists, Mitch Daniels, the president of Purdue University, who started his political career working in Mr. Lugar’s Senate office before being elected to two terms as Indiana governor, made a wistful criticism of the battle-stations climate in Washington.

“I can’t be the only one here who is weary of hearing people issue these blanket condemnations, ‘They’re all this, they’re all that,’” Mr. Daniels said. “No, they are not.”

Of his mentor he said, “If Dick Lugar ever had an ill-tempered moment, I never saw it,” adding, “We live in such a cynical age.”

Many of the senators who attended the service stood out because of their own efforts to strike compromise and modulate the acidic tone of many contemporary congressional fights, including Senators Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Susan Collins of Maine, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, all Republicans, and Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont.

There were several times in Mr. Lugar’s career when he seemed destined for higher office. Ronald Reagan and George Bush considered him for vice president.

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At times Mr. Lugar seemed destined for higher office. Ronald Reagan considered him for vice president.CreditGreg Griffo/The Indianapolis Star, via Associated Press

Many were those who could imagine Mr. Lugar sitting in the Oval Office. But few were those who could see how he would get there.

A man better suited to seminars than sound bites, Mr. Lugar believed that alliances made the United States stronger and the world safer. The issues that he focused on, like nuclear nonproliferation, did not roll easily off the tongue.

Though Mr. Lugar made it a practice to not criticize others, he made an exception when talking about some of the policies of Mr. Trump, calling both his efforts on North Korea and his use of tariffs “a disaster.”

Mr. Lugar was a former chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and his views on international affairs carried unusual weight on Capitol Hill and with presidents of both parties.

Mr. Lugar built a résumé that seemed preordained for politics. An Eagle Scout, he was the co-president of his class at Denison University in Ohio (his soon-to-be wife, Charlene, was the other president), then became a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. While in Britain, he enlisted in the Navy and after returning to the United States, he was responsible for briefing Adm. Arleigh Burke, then the chief of naval operations.

He returned to Indiana and became a member of the school board, then was elected mayor of Indianapolis. He lost his first race for the Senate against a popular incumbent, Birch Bayh, who died in March. But two years later, in 1976, Mr. Lugar defeated another incumbent, Vance Hartke, and went on to serve 36 years in the Senate.

Mr. Lugar’s devotion to international affairs created some distance with Republican voters in Indiana just as the Tea Party wing was ascendant.

His primary opponent in 2012, Richard Mourdock, the state treasurer, cast Mr. Lugar as out of touch with his constituents, and pointedly noted that the senator had not lived in Indiana for years. Mr. Mourdock won, but then lost the general election to the Democrat, Joe Donnelly, who attended Wednesday’s service.

“Models like that are hard to come by in any era, and right now they seem especially scarce,” Mr. Daniels said in an interview. He recalled that Mr. Lugar served with Senators Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Edmund Muskie, Henry Jackson, Howard Baker and Jacob Javits. “It is kind of hard to think today’s Senate will be remembered in the same way,” he said.

Mr. Lugar long held aspirations to be president, and he ran for the Republican nomination in 1996. His record was that of an orthodox conservative, but his lower-key, big-picture approach could verge on the ponderous and he did not connect with primary voters.

But Mr. Lugar later proved to be an important mentor to another presidential candidate, Barack Obama. In 2005, Mr. Lugar took Mr. Obama, a freshman Senator from Illinois, on a tour of nuclear facilities in the former Soviet Union, providing him with some needed experience in international affairs.

Mr. Obama awarded Mr. Lugar the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.

“We will miss him,” Mr. Nunn said. “So will the world.”

Source: NYT

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