Richard Lugar, 1932–2019
The Hoosier senator who shaped world affairs
Few Americans outside the White House have had as big an impact on U.S. foreign policy as Richard Lugar. During his 36 years in the Senate, the Indiana Republican established himself as an authority on international affairs, often forcing presidents to follow his lead. In 1986, Lugar defied President Ronald Reagan by leading the Senate effort to override Reagan’s veto on legislation imposing sanctions on South Africa’s apartheid regime. The same year, he persuaded the Reagan administration to not recognize the fraudulent re-election of Philippine strongman Ferdinand Marcos, paving the way for a democracy. But Lugar’s greatest passion and legacy was arms control. In the aftermath of the Cold War, he co-authored legislation that helped former Soviet republics secure and reduce their arsenals, leading to the deactivation of more than 7,500 nuclear warheads. “Our nation and our world are safer because of this statesman,” President Barack Obama said in awarding Lugar the Medal of Freedom in 2013.
Lugar was born in Indianapolis to a “solidly Republican family” that “owned a company that manufactured biscuit-making equipment and had a farm,” said The Washington Post. The young Lugar was a high achiever, becoming an Eagle Scout and a high school class valedictorian and graduating first in his class from Denison University before heading to Oxford University as a Rhodes scholar. Lugar joined the Navy after his studies, said The New York Times, and developed a “fascination with foreign policy” while serving as an intelligence briefer. He went home to Indiana in 1960 to help run the family firm, and in 1967 was elected mayor of Indianapolis. He won national acclaim for streamlining the city’s government, a record that helped him oust Indiana’s incumbent Democratic Sen. Vance Hartke in 1976.
Lugar’s “popularity gave him the freedom to concentrate largely on foreign policy and national security matters,” said the Associated Press. In 1995, the senator tried to parlay his stature and expertise into a presidential campaign, but his soft-spoken and intellectual style was ill-suited to national politics. He failed to win a single convention delegate. Despite being a committed conservative, Lugar’s independent streak on issues such as immigration reform ultimately led to a backlash at home; he was ousted in a Tea Party primary challenge in 2012. Lugar left the Senate lamenting Washington’s growing partisanship. “Whatever is won today through division,” he said, “is usually lost tomorrow.” ■