Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., offered suggestions to those who wish to pursue a career in public office while describing his own experience in politics at a Civil Engagement Forum in Irwin Library Saturday.
Lugar, the most senior Republican in the Senate, was first elected in 1976. While years of serving on committees and legislating gained him respect, his leadership skills were first developed through his years of high school and college debate and writing for publications.
“The major elements of authority always come down to, ‘Are you able to speak well and can you write well?’” he said.
When asked about the qualities of a good leader, he also emphasized critical thinking and
“[They include] the ability to try to think clearly and to attempt to frame dutiful answers that will bring confident responses from others,” Lugar said.
Lugar entered local politics in a tumultuous era. He was elected to the Indianapolis School Board in the midst of desegregation efforts and served as mayor of Indianapolis during the civil rights movement.
From the beginning, he said he found it alluring.
“I was immediately immersed in something that went beyond anything I studied,” he said. “But in a way, it was exhilarating.”
While he said civil service is both rewarding and important, he said he has seen firsthand the incivility sometimes directed at politicians.
He recounted a time during his tenure as mayor in which a group of people were arrested for plotting his assassination.
Beyond direct violence, he said public life has other pitfalls, including intense public scrutiny, which intimidates many people who might wish to enter politics.
Lugar also said that maintaining credibility and consistency can be very costly to politicians.
In the face of such challenges though, he said telling the truth is more advantageous than bending it or lying, in terms of both personal and political integrity.
“It does count, what you have to say,” Lugar said. “Believe in what you say.”
He also defended his reputation as a politician who has reached across the aisle to work on and pass legislation.
Lugar said while some of his colleagues are “not above insulting people, apologizing and insulting them again,” he said he has found that diplomatic discussions are more convincing and sustainable.
Civil conversation and involvement was also the intention of the forum’s hosts, Butler’s College Republicans and College Democrats.
Both of the groups’ leaders emphasized that in a time of political division, it is important for students on the left and right to engage with each other.
“It is great for people to come out and see that it is possible to have a conversation without all the yelling and bickering,” Kelsey Druckman, president of College Democrats, said.
Carson Wells, chair of College Republicans agreed, saying that such events build a sense of activism and engage people in politics, no matter their beliefs.
He also said Lugar’s ability to work in bipartisan efforts can be a model for civil interaction among students.
“[Lugar] exemplifies what we should be doing,” Wells said.