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Remembering Former Sen. Richard Lugar


We learned earlier today that former Senator Richard Lugar has died. He was 87 years old. Lugar, a Republican, represented Indiana in the Senate for 36 years, and before that, was mayor of Indianapolis. In the Senate, he built a reputation as a foreign policy expert and as someone willing to work across the aisle. He chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee twice and co-authored the Nunn-Lugar Act after the Cold War, which created a path toward dismantling nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union.

He later co-authored another measure to deactivate weapons in the Soviet Union with then-freshman Senator Barack Obama. Time called him 1 of America's 10 best senators in 2006. But in 2012, he lost his seat to a primary challenger backed by the Tea Party.

Dan Diller was legislative director for Senator Lugar for 10 years. He now works as the director of policy at The Lugar Center. And he's with us now. Mr. Diller, thank you so much for joining us. And we are so sorry for your loss.

DAN DILLER: Thank you for having us. It's been a hard day.

MARTIN: I can imagine. Could you just tell us why you wanted to work for the senator?

DILLER: He was a very successful politician, but the rare one who managed to come to work every day not thinking about politics. He really believed that the United States could be governed with civility and with compassion. And he worked very hard to build consensus every day. He thought the policies would be more effective and last longer if they weren't enacted with 51 percent of the vote. And, you know, he worked very hard over a long period of time to, you know, to achieve those types of consensuses.

MARTIN: Can I jump in here to say that I only was able to give a couple of examples in our introduction, but there are many. But in this current moment of deep partisanship and sort of deep polarization, I mean, you've just described how important it was to the senator to work toward policy solutions, towards solutions that everybody could buy into. Do you happen to know why he felt so strongly about this?

DILLER: I think, you know, he had seen many policies over the course of his life, you know, fall apart. And many of the things that he was focused on, you know, were international policies or difficult national policies that really - really required consensus. He did a lot of things that people didn't think were possible. And part of the reason he was able to do that was he was very good at building consensus. But he also had this mild-mannered demeanor that sort of disarmed people. And they kind of felt if Lugar was for it, it must be sensible.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, is there something that he would say to you to help you kind of stay on track, to help articulate his vision that you would want to share with us that we should keep in mind?

DILLER: He believed in people. He really thought and still thought right up to the end that, you know, people who came to work in public service and voters really, you know, were well motivated and had good hearts. And there's always a, you know, a deep reservoir of patriotic feeling and compassion in the United States. And sometimes in the day-to-day back and forth of politics, you know, we lose sight of that. But he really believes that the American people had unlimited capacity, you know, to do good in the world and to make this a great place. And he never lost that confidence.

MARTIN: That's Dan Diller. He was legislative director for Senator Richard Lugar for 10 years. He was deputy director of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He's now director of policy at The Lugar Center in Washington, D.C. Mr. Diller, thank you so much for talking to us on this sad day.

DILLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.