Outwardly, life in Indianapolis seemed unchanged. People were buying flowers for Mother's Day, waiting in the McDonald's drive-through lane and roasting hamburgers on charcoal grills outside. Business as usual.
But the city and state suffered an invisible but not intangible loss last Tuesday when Republican voters lived up to their reputation as being the most short-sighted, ignorant and narrow-minded voters this side of the Mississippi and unceremoniously dumped Sen. Richard Lugar in favor of a semi-educated hillbilly with a flair for memorizing Rush Limbaugh stories.
Even if the new nominee, Ricky Bob Mourdock or whatever his name is, self-destructs and loses the election, ironically helping President Obama by giving him a new Democratic ally in the Senate, it will take a long time for Indiana to live down the shame of kicking out one of the most intellectual and effective senators in American history.
Indiana has a long history of electing crazy, unqualified people to office. Congressman Dan Burton shot watermelons with a rifle to prove his theory that the Clintons were murderers. Mike Pence parlayed hosting a radio talk show into many undistinguished and embarrassing years in Congress and is threatening to be an equally incompetent governor.
The patron saint of Indiana incompetence, Dan Quayle, not only got elected to the Senate, but also the vice presidency, as well, where he spent four years with the same deer-in-the-headlights look. If not for Sarah Palin, he would still hold the record for dumbest nominee on a national ticket.
Despite that, on occasion Indiana has sent men and women of excellence and intelligence to national office. Congressman Lee Hamilton was a rock of solid thinking in Washington, helping build bipartisan alliances to protect America's military and intelligence operations. He is one of the few politicians publicly praised by both Bill Clinton and Dick Cheney.
Birch Bayh was a senator who stood up to Richard Nixon and helped defeat Tricky Dick's segregationist Supreme Court nominees in the early 1970s. He also helped craft the constitutional amendment granting the vote to 18 year olds.
And in Indianapolis, Mayor Bill Hudnut was perhaps the greatest visionary the city has ever seen. He dreamt of a vibrant, sparkling downtown area full of shiny hotels, restaurants and shops to help build a world-class city and create thousands of jobs.
And Richard Lugar was perhaps the greatest of them all. Although he was a conservative, he didn't mind working with moderates and liberals when their goals were shared. Lugar's goals were to help win the Cold War and then, even more importantly, help rebuild the former Soviet Union and keep its nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists.
Lugar worked with three Democratic presidents and three Republican presidents to help guide American foreign policy in the right direction. He didn't care about ideology when it came to our nation's security. All he cared about was doing the right thing.
And for 36 years, that had been enough. We felt free to elect zany, radical people to other offices because we knew that Lugar's steady, quiet leadership would always be there. Until the corrosive, subversive teabagger wing took over the Republican Party, Lugar's seat was always considered safe.
I'm not sure what the teabaggers think Mourdock will do if he is elected other than craft speeches in the style of Glenn Beck on Fox News to talk about how un-American it is for President Obama to try and help people who aren't white.
That's really all he will do — if he bothers to even show up for work, which as state treasurer he didn't bother to do very much. He will join the lunatic caucus of the Senate and be completely ineffective in getting anything done except saying no to Obama over and over again until the end of the president's second term in 2016.
Lugar accepted defeat gracefully, as he has done everything else in his public life. But he issued a written warning to Mourdock, advising him (gracefully) that his approach is full of shit. Lugar then defended his service in the Senate in this way:
"Ideology cannot be a substitute for a determination to think for yourself, for a willingness to study an issue objectively, and for the fortitude to sometimes disagree with your party or even your constituents."
Whatever else may be said about Richard G. Lugar, he was a man who always thought for himself and strove to do the best he could for Indiana and the United States. His kind of compassionate, thoughtful leadership is nearly extinct in his party. No wonder he had to go.
But long after Billy Bob Mourdock is forgotten, Lugar's name will be remembered as a true statesman and patriot. We are all diminished by his defeat. We should be ashamed of ourselves.