John F. Kerry, overshadowed for much of his career in the US Senate by his late colleague Edward M. Kennedy, has nonetheless steadily accumulated tenure and stature during his five terms in the upper chamber of Congress.
Without much notice, he has become the tenth-most senior member of what has been billed as the world’s greatest deliberative body. With much notice, he has also become chairman of the prestigious Senate Foreign Relations Committee and gained a familiarity with domestic and foreign affairs that propelled him to his party’s 2004 presidential nomination.
That long record of service has also left him forlorn, as he has seen the Senate in particular, and Congress as a whole, riven by partisanship.
It prompted him to lash out at the Republican Party after Senator Olympia J. Snowe announced her retirement in March. And he did so again, albeit in a more diplomatic fashion, after Senator Richard Lugar lost a GOP primary this past week.
“Because of an ideological rigidity and stupidity in Washington, we’re having an impossible time doing the most simple things,’’ Kerry said after Snowe, a Maine Republican, announced her decision.
Snowe herself declared: “I do not realistically expect the partisanship of recent years in the Senate to change over the short term.’’
On Tuesday night, just hours after Lugar lost his primary election to a fellow Republican backed by the Tea Party movement, Kerry decried the loss of experience and bipartisan spirit embodied by Lugar.
“This is a tragedy for the Senate,’’ Kerry said in a statement.
Citing Lugar’s work on issues such as nuclear proliferation, Kerry added: “This is a tough period in American politics, but I’d like to think that we’ll again see a United States Senate where Dick Lugar’s brand of thoughtful, mature, and bipartisan work is respected and rewarded.’’
Kerry’s strong defense of both Republicans belied a simple fact: By one common index, both have been more partisan than Senator Scott Brown, the Massachusetts Republican Kerry hopes to see replaced in the Senate by Democrat Elizabeth Warren. Snowe and Lugar have also been more bipartisan than Kerry.
According to a study of key 2011 Senate votes by Congressional Quarterly, a nonpartisan congressional news and tracking service, Lugar sided with the GOP 86 percent of the time.
The votes came “when a majority of Republicans oppose a majority of Democrats.’’
Snowe was at 57 percent. And Kerry sided with his fellow Democrats 96 percent of the time.
Brown is seeking reelection, in part, on the theme that he is an independent figure. Democrats say he delays taking a stand on key issues to see which way the final tally will go, but even if that were true, his own CQ rating buttresses his claim.
CQ found Brown voted with the GOP 54 percent of the time, the second- highest bipartisan grade in the Senate.
It found that Brown voted with his fellow Republicans just 54 percent of the time, the second-most bipartisan ranking in the chamber.
In analyzing its findings, Congressional Quarterly wrote a testimonial to the spirit Kerry evoked.
“The willingness of established line-crossers - including Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Scott P. Brown of Massachusetts, and [Lisa] Murkowski [of Alaska] - to vote occasionally with Democrats meant that the Republicans weren’t as cohesive as the majority party,’’ CQ said. “. . . Democrats, on the other hand, set records for party cohesion, in part because several of their traditional defectors were defeated or retired in 2010.’’
Meanwhile, in a blistering concession speech last week, Lugar embraced his Republican identity, even as he lobbied for comity by attacking the partisanship he attributed to his rival, Indiana state Treasurer Richard Mourdock. It is the same political trait Brown suggests that Warren would embody if she is elected to the Senate.
“I am a Republican now and always have been,’’ Lugar said. “According to Congressional Quarterly vote studies, I supported President Reagan more often than any other senator. I want to see a Republican elected president and a Republican majority in the Congress.’’
He called on Mourdock “to revise his stated goal of bringing more partisanship to Washington.’’
“He and I share many positions, but his embrace of an unrelenting partisan mind-set is irreconcilable with my philosophy of governance and my experience of what brings results for Hoosiers in the Senate,’’ Lugar said.
“In effect, what he has promised is reflexive votes for a rejectionist orthodoxy and rigid opposition to the actions and proposals of the other party.’’Glen Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.