Here are random snapshots of the past political week, from global to local. All struck me as having potential for shaping events in the months ahead.
- Lugar goes down: Long-serving Republican Sen. Richard Lugar was defeated Tuesday (May 8) in the Indiana Republican primary by a Tea Party-backed state treasurer.
Lugar, a former reform mayor of Indianapolis, came to the Senate in 1976 and since then had been one of its most thoughtful and respected members, finishing as ranking Republican and former chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He joins other departing moderates of both parties in Senate and House. Whatever happens in this fall's presidential election, Congress seems certain to be even more greatly polarized in 2013, populated by diehard believers on both sides of the aisle. TV talking heads, for the most part, have characterized Lugar as a victim of Tea Party extremism. Fact is, though, that his opponent was no rightwing crazy.
Challenger Richard Mourdock probably won, mainly, because Lugar, 80, seemed old and tired to Indiana voters. His campaign appearances reportedly lacked energy and Lugar personally appeared worn as election day loomed.
Washington's nationally and locally respected Sen. Warren Magnuson met a similar fate in 1980 in his general-election defeat by Slade Gorton. Despite his prior accomplishments, he seemed tired and done to state voters. Forget gratitude for past service; voters can be uncaring and ruthless when they're done with you.
- Gay marriage confusion: President Barack Obama had equivocated and dodged regarding his stand on gay marriage but, over the last week, Vice President Joe Biden and three Cabinet members stated their unequivocal support for it. These appeared to be more than trial balloons but, instead, advance signals that Obama soon would follow suit.
Then came Tuesday night's adoption in North Carolina of a provision banning gay marriage in the state. That made it the 31st state with such a law. Yet Obama bit the bullet Wednesday and went ahead with a straight-up gay-marriage endorsement. It is always better politics to appear strong and straightforward rather than equivocal and evasive. But the decision must have been difficult.
Obama campaign officials have been characterizing North Carolina as one of a handful of swing states which will decide the fall election and speaking confidently of their chances there. Both the president and First Lady have visited there often. The Democratic national convention will be held in Charlotte this summer. The gay-marriage vote had to have surprised them.
- European weakness: France has elected a new president opposed to further austerity measures in his country. Greece has held a national election which gave increased power to irresponsible demagogues on both the Right and the Left. A new election probably will need to be held there within a few weeks.
Voters' message in both countries: We may need to reduce public debt and undertake domestic reforms, but won't sacrifice to do it. Similar sentiments exist in Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland, where ordinary voters are rebelling against the policies of finance ministers, European central bankers, and international institutions that have kept them afloat.
Bond markets will punish these countries. Germans, who have pursued the right policies and are not responsible for euro-zone weakness, are tired of supporting European partners who refuse to put their own economic houses in order. There is talk that the Greeks may leave the euro zone and that other EU countries might follow. It is unlikely that this will happen since the countries involved have worked so intensely over the post-World War II years to construct a democratic and economically successful community.
But the present confusion and weakness will be contagious and will affect our own financial and economic stability. This is not getting the media attention of the John Edwards payoff trial or recent travails of athletes and pop-music artists. But it matters far more.
- Seattle political nonsense: Kudos to The Seattle Times city beat reporter who took the trouble to check Mayor Mike McGinn's recent KUOW statements regarding local transportation against the facts of the matter.
McGinn made his statements to reinforce his proposal to the City Council that developers not be required to provide parking in new buildings within one-quarter mile of transit. Seattle, he said, "had better things to do than build parking spaces that will go empty."
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