Twice during his remarks, he referred to House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as “Jim Ryan,” and in conclusion, he said he hopes to be around for six months more, when he meant six years.
But after the event, on a barstool in the empty hall outside where the NBA’s Pacers play, he had no trouble articulating why voters should renew his contract: “I believe I can make a significant difference in American foreign policy, ag policy and economic policy. I hope it’s not too grandiose a vision to say we have an opportunity to help people all over the world.” Then he went back to talking about world hunger.
Grandiose, no. But in the primary fight of his life, such talk is as radical in its way as anything tea party or Occupy protesters could write on a sign.
When asked about the controversy over his Indiana residency, he didn’t try to minimize the impact of the issue, but went on a little bit about his awe at the stacks and stacks of news clips on the subject: “It’s all about residency, and almost nothing about the campaign.”
So how did a 35-year member of the Senate wind up using the address of a home he sold in 1977 on his license and voter registration until just recently? The answer was nothing if not old-fashioned.
“At the time I left to serve in the Senate — and I don’t want to go too far with this, but it’s somewhat like going off to the military,” which as a Navy vet he has done, “I followed the legal advice of the AG’’ of Indiana to use the last address he had before his election. Now that he has been cleared to use the address of his family farm, even though he has never lived there, he said, “I was out there yesterday — a sentimental journey — just to make sure no one had destroyed the house, and my son Bob had done a good job cleaning out the rubbish.” The place is impossible to miss, he said with a smile, “because there’s a sign on the gate, Richard G. Lugar, Tree Farmer of the Year, 2005.”
Lugar recently repaid the state the $14,000 that he had charged taxpayers for the hotels he has stayed in during trips to Indiana and said he had no idea that he had been flouting the “arcane” Senate rule that members can’t be compensated for stays within 35 miles of their home — or, in his case, former home.
He not only made no apology for selling his house in Indiana 35 years ago but said that Congress functioned better when more of its members spent enough time in Washington to get to know one another better.
When asked about the much-discussed charge that he “let” Obama use a photo of the two of them together in a 2008 ad in the state, he said facetiously, “Maybe I’m just not alert enough to the possibilities and should have threatened a lawsuit.” More was accomplished, he said, when it was less scandalous to be seen standing next to someone from across the aisle. And if this campaign does turn out to mark the end of Lugar’s long career, no one will be able to say he didn’t stay true to himself in its final weeks.
Melinda Henneberger anchors the She the People blog on washingtonpost.com.