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Obama and Lugar

Mark Halperin over at The Page (Time.com) is teasing Senator Dick Lugar as a running mate for Obama.

It's probably highly unlikely this will happen — Lugar is scheduled to be out of the country the next few weeks.

But it's the first really serious mention of Lugar I've seen from an influential insider (sure there have been off-handed inclusions in various lists, but Halperin acts as if he knows something), and if Obama makes this pick, I would be thrilled, as I think I'm probably one of the few people in the country who have worked for both men.

From the summer of 1985 to summer of 1987, I was a young staffer in Lugar's office. I won't pretend I had an important job — I didn't, really. I answered constituent mail (mostly related to Lugar's work as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee), and occasionally drove the Senator to meetings at the White House or to television studios in Washington so he could read en route.

And like most young Lugar staffers, I also was occasionally drafted as a running mate during the Senator's five mile sessions on the Mall. Lugar ran almost daily, and despite being 30 years younger and reasonably fit I had to work to keep up with him.

As a result of all this, I got to watch him and his staff up close during two critical years in his career. As Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, Lugar was expected by his fellow Republicans to rubber-stamp President Reagan's foreign policy. And he was supportive where he thought the policies were in the main correct.

But Lugar took enormous political risk during the years I worked for him. Lugar led the effort to impose sanctions on South Africa's apartheid regime in the Congress, including the fight to override the veto of Reagan. He also led the effort to call attention to the rigged election of Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, and to advocate withdrawal of US support for Marcos, a position that was at odds with the Reagan White House. His actions led to Marcos being removed from office, and the subsequent democratic election of Corazon Aquino.

Going against his party held risks, and Lugar indeed paid the price. After the 1986 mid-terms, Jesse Helms — with help from Majority Leader Bob Dole — led the effort within the Republican Party to punish Lugar for his work on the South Africa sanctions bill and the 1986 Philippines elections, depriving Lugar of the Foreign Relations Committee chairmanship.

Senator Lugar, though, moved on and devoted his energies to some of the most important work by anyone in the US Senate over the past 20 years. Most notably, with Sam Nunn, he passed the Nunn-Lugar initiative to help the countries in the former Soviet Union safeguard and dismantle their  weapons of mass destruction. He ran for President in 1996, and presciently forecast the risks posed by "loose nukes" and rogue states and terrorist cells.

In short, he's one of the most impressive people in public service I've encountered, focused and principled and thoughtful.  Unlike John McCain, who mostly talks about being a maverick, Lugar has actually made the tough decisions and votes, risking his own political fortunes and paying the price. I can imagine few people better served to be President, and I can't imagine anyone better than Lugar as Barack Obama's Vice President.

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