The Spectacle Blog

When Senator Lugar Came to Dinner

By on 5.9.12 | 12:56AM

If I may add to the farewells to Richard Lugar, it's said that one reason he lost so soundly yesterday is that he'd lost touch with his constituents. But maybe he was always like that. Not exactly a patrician, but certainly somewhat aloof, without an easy, schmoozy touch. He had more serious things on his mind. In early March 1994 I saw them on full display. As an old friend from our Indiana days, Lugar was the featured speaker at our magazine's annual gala dinner. Other than a brief opening sentence or two alluding to our common Hoosier roots, he devoted his entire speech to U.S. policy toward post-Soviet Russia, not exactly a red-meat topic in those first Clinton years. All right, foreign policy was always his favorite area, so I assumed it would be okay to listen to 15 minutes on the subject, 20 at most -- no one spends longer on a late night, post-dinner speech in Washington. But no -- he droned on and on, as if we were the Council on Foreign Relations, or maybe the United Nations. Guests started walking out. One of the most amiable reporters I knew who was seated nearby was just about pulling his hair out. It was a nightmare. I lost track, but my guess is he spoke for at least 45 minutes, well past curfew. There was talk in those days that Lugar might run for president in 1996. If so, he sealed his fate right then and there. More likely, he was running for secretary of state and on that score he had a major cheerleader in New York Times columnist Willilam Safire. In a column days later, Safire singled out Lugar's "heavy thinking" on foreign policy:

In an unnoticed but memorable speech last week titled "The Russians Are Tough Rivals, Not Partners," Senator Richard Lugar -- somebody's next Secretary of State -- overcomes the present fear of line-drawing to call for "associate membership" in NATO for Eastern European states with criteria and a timetable for full membership.

Safire was the Times' house conservative, but not even he dared (or condescended) to mention where Lugar's "unnoticed" speech was delivered. The Times did not like to mention us in those post-Troopergate days. So in the end, we didn't even get any lousy publicity from the speech. On the other hand, I can no longer disagree that it wasn't "memorable."

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