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Dick Lugar

Republican Dick Lugar represented Indiana in the U.S. Senate from 1977-2013. He currently is president of the Lugar Center, a nonprofit organization focused on global food security, preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction, aid effectiveness and bipartisan governance.

INDIANAPOLIS — Former U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., is calling on Americans to put aside their anger this election season and put into office well-informed, experienced leaders willing to work across party lines to solve the nation's problems.

The longest-serving Hoosier senator said last week at the inaugural Lugar Symposium at Ohio's Denison University, his alma mater, that the widening partisan gulf is the principal cause of recent dramatic failures in the American political system.

But, he observed, voters seem to be ignoring the decline of civility in government and instead embracing candidates who "exemplify partisanship, confrontation and political coarseness."

"We are at risk of attempting to solve our problems by doubling down on their main cause," Lugar said.

Despite living in anti-establishment times, Lugar emphasized that a return to "establishment values" — civility, experience, studiousness and compromise — is desperately needed, not least because they have served the nation well for more than 200 years.

"They are American virtues, because they are necessary for the orderly and productive operation of our Constitution, and they have been tested by generations of Americans who found that good governance depends on them," Lugar said.

"A reading of constitutional-era literature underscores how much the framers valued compromise among well-informed, experienced leaders who would work with each other in a civil framework of laws."

Without mentioning any specific candidates, Lugar said this year he sees those virtues not just being de-emphasized but also outright scorned.

"Civility is equated with weakness, experience with corruption, studiousness with pedantrym and compromise with a lack of principles. Instead, candidates have run on vacuous and sometimes cartoonish proposals that lack any political realism or programmatic details," Lugar said.

"Carpet-bombing ISIS, deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants and having Mexico pay to build a wall blocking the entire length of our southern border may be powerful cathartic symbols, but such proposals cheapen political debate and alarm friends and allies overseas."

Lugar, whose 36 years in the Senate ended after his defeat in a 2012 Republican primary, said he understands some voters have "real and heartfelt" anger toward the political system. 

But absent a realistic reform agenda, he said that anger can become "misguided and destructive" when it is "manipulated in ways that lead to intolerance, civil unrest, violence and self-destructive national policies."

"Most of the notable anti-Washington candidates of the past four decades were experienced governors who vowed to bring to the federal government the successful practices and programs that they had honed in their states," Lugar said.

"In this election, too often an anti-establishment posture has been used as an excuse for irresponsible behavior and statements. This draws attention and distinguishes a candidate from the crowd, but ultimately it hurts the reputation of the United States and our own political process."

Nevertheless, Lugar is sanguine about the current era of hyperpartisanship ultimately fading just as past partisan eras in U.S. history similarly came to an end, often "with surprising speed."

"My hope is that it will not take a grave crisis that threatens the safety and prosperity of the nation to rekindle a broader appreciation of civility, experience, studiousness and compromise in our political leaders," Lugar said.

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Statehouse Bureau Chief

Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.