The most important and alarming facet of Lugar’s defeat, and a factor whose importance is being overlooked at the moment, is one of the things Mourdock cited against him: Lugar voted to confirm two of Obama’s Supreme Court nominees. Obviously, Lugar would not have chosen to nominate an Elena Kagan or a Sonia Sotomayor. But he was following a longstanding practice of extending presidents wide ideological latitude on their Supreme Court picks. In the absence of corruption, lack of qualifications, or unusual ideological extremism, Democratic presidents have always been allowed to pick liberal justices, and Republican presidents conservative ones. That’s not a law. It’s just a social norm.
But the social norms that previously kept the parties from exercising power have fallen one by one. Under Obama’s presidency, Republicans have gone to unprecedented lengths to block completely uncontroversial appointments, paralyzing the government and using the power to paralyze government to nullify duly passed laws. It is bringing on an approaching crisis of American government.