Quote of the Day: The Republicans’ Ugly and Shameful Chuck Hagel Filibuster

Steve Sack, The Minneapolis Star Tribune

Our political Quote of the Day comes from The Daily Beast’s John Avlon, who writes about the Republican Party’s effort to “get” former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel — an effort which has presented the American public with a quintessential example of political hypocrisy and spin (i.e. lying). GOPers are insisting their unprecedented filibuster is really NOT a filibuster at all.

That’s like saying “pre-owned cars” are not “used cars.”

Avlon’s piece is worth quoting in some detail and discussing here (and by TMV readers in comments). Some meaty excerpts:

Since the election, Republican talking points have reflected the fact that they need to reach out beyond their base: to be positive rather than negative; appear more reasonable, less obstructionist.

But how you act speaks more loudly than what you say, and Senate Republicans have doubled down on obstructionism with their shameful filibuster of secretary-of-defense nominee Chuck Hagel. Add to this fresh insult the hold Sen. Rand Paul put on Obama’s nominee to be CIA director, John Brennan, and it looks like Republicans are backing a cynical political strategy that could compromise national security while proliferating hyperpartisanship even further in the future.

No matter how you slice it, the GOP seems unable to break out of the influence of the segment of the GOP (Tea Partiers, some conservative new media writers, and powerful talk show hosts) who above all seek confrontation and the absolute use of any powers in the GOP’s possession to take many issues to the brink. This frustrates the Democratic Party’s left, which wonders why their party isn’t doing the same — most notably in the case of the filibuster. And every day the GOP is strengthening the Democratic left’s view that today’s Republican Party — 2012 election or no 2012 election — has no real interest in reaching across the aisle, unless it’s to hold up a certain finger.

Let’s put this in perspective—Republicans decided to filibuster a Republican secretary-of-defense nominee, someone Mitch McConnell once called one of the most respected foreign-policy voices in the Senate, someone John McCain said would make an excellent secretary of state.

The Senate, of course, is entrusted with the ability to advise and consent—but filibustering a cabinet nominee is virtually unprecedented, because it violates the time-honored principle that presidents should be able to pick their cabinet. In the process, Republicans are creating a dangerous precedent that could impact presidents of both parties for decades to come. If this is the new normal for national-security appointees, I’m sure the next Supreme Court nomination will be a model of reason and civility.

Keep in mind the GOP doesn’t have the votes to kill these nominations. Because Democrats control 55 seats in the Senate—after winning uphill races in states ranging from North Dakota to Montana to Indiana—Republicans can’t hope to win an up or down vote. And so they pulled a cowardly parliamentary move to obstruct a straight vote, imposing a filibuster that breaks with all precedent, simultaneously reminding Americans why we desperately need filibuster reform.

Reality check: In recent history, there have been only two other instances of cabinet officials needing to meet a 60-vote threshold for cabinet confirmation..

Avlon examines some history, then writes:

The Hagel attacks have been particularly ugly, because they involve Republicans trying to tear down the reputation of a fellow Republican and former senator. Hagel—an enlisted combat vet, two-time Purple Heart winner, and veterans-affairs director under Reagan—is bitterly resented by neoconservatives for opposing the 2007 surge and the Iraq War, in a break with President Bush. But on a deeper level, his sin might be described as collaboration—agreeing to cross party lines to work for this Democratic president—and in this he must be made an example.

It is in fact, a classic smear campaign. When you watched the hearings (as I did) you didn’t see GOP Senators interested in policy who were foward-looking, so much as seemingly bitter, scorned political lovers involved in personal payback. There was a bad feeling — virtually a smell akin to the aroma on the Carnival Cruise ship — about it. This will NOT play well with independent voters and moderates.

Moreover, as Avlon notes, just repeating a political mantra won’t do it. If the Republican Party tries to present a less Twlight Zonish face, or a face that doesn’t seemingly resemble Rush Limbaugh’s or Sean Hannity’s, it needs to do so on a consistent basis to erase perceptions of the party that are now clearly ingrained among voters the Republican Party will sorely need if it intends to win another national election. Right now many Republican Senators seem as if they’re vying for becoming cast members of Fox & Friends.

Special-interest-funded opposition research and conservative super PACs have been deployed for months to derail the nomination, trying to create the impression that Hagel is anti-Israel and weak on Iran, despite voluminous testimony to the contrary.

This effort led to the words “Israel” and “Iran” being used more than 100 times each during his hostile confirmation hearing, but “Afghanistan” barely at all, as this now infamous word cloud shows. It is a sign of the times: as with Obama Derangement Syndrome and Bush Derangement Syndrome before it, there is the dogged impulse to create a monstrous caricature out of a basically honorable person who wants to serve his country. The gap between partisan narrative and reality grows.

And this — unfortunately — is the way our partisan politics now works on so many levels.

Anyone who has written something on the Internet can’t help but see the kind of personal attack mode demonstrated by partisans in website comments and via emails where he who does not agree with a partisan or ideologue somehow has bad motives (they’re always “lying” if they disagree with some partisans rather than expressing a personal political perception). If I had $1 for every email suggesting where I should put my computer (the computer won’t fit up there), I could buy the Los Angeles Times. Avlon details some of the shrill, almost McCarthyite charges against Hagel, then writes:

Yep, this is getting ugly. And unnecessary. Reasonable people can disagree on policy, but it just so happens that the majority of Americans agree with Hagel (and Obama) that the Iraq War was a costly mistake in retrospect, driven by bad intelligence and ideology rather than national interest. But this fight isn’t rooted in a debate over reasonable policy differences as much as an investment in the politics of personal destruction—the demand that demonizations be disqualifiers in themselves.

And so we see lies and distortions—senators convincing themselves that a man McCain once said would be qualified to serve as secretary of state is suddenly a threat to national security, as they try to run out the clock and pray that well-paid opposition researchers dig up more dirt on Hagel so they can be proven right.

AND:

This bitter confirmation fight is sadly ironic, because picking a member of the opposite party to serve in a cabinet is usually an olive branch, a sign of outreach.

But no longer. And the abuse of the filibuster to try to block—or at least delay—the confirmation of a secretary of defense again raises questions about filibuster reform. Because if a senator had to hold the floor and risk his bladder—like Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington—while keeping at least 41 of his colleagues on the floor over Presidents’ Day weekend, my guess is that this block never would have occurred.

Instead this hate-fueled game of Kabuki continues, and the Pentagon is denied a new leader with a NATO summit just days away. This can’t be the headline Republicans want as they try to rebrand: “GOP Plays Politics With National Security.”

But the here’s the sad, stinkin’ truth:

To some of today’s Republicans, that headline wouldn’t bother them at all and they’d consider it a sign that they’re doing the good battle:

The battle of power-play, decimate-the-opponent, hyperpartisanship and/or hyper ideologism where you fight mercilessly until the other side is on their knees — no matter what the consequences may be to a government agency, or even to the country.

A review of Avlon’s latest book is HERE.

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8 Comments

  1. Avlon’s piece is worth quoting in some detail and discussing here (and by TMV readers in comments).

    Speaking only for me, one of the reasons comments seem to have fallen back is that there really in nothing to add to what Congressional Republicans are saying.

    The silence from, or the defense of, these ‘people’ by ‘moderate republicans / right leaning persons’ speaks volumes… After all the evidence these ‘moderates’ are unable to open their eyes.

    They have shown through their lack of comments that this is something they cannot do.

    As a progressive ‘lefty’ :) it is so much easier to stand back… listen to the silence… And shake my head and laugh a silent, non-humorous laugh.

    It’s also as affective an eye opener to those who lean to the ‘right’ as a fact filled, link backed, commentary… And it’s easier.

  2. Thanks, Joe and Steve.

  3. I’m sure that most of the enmity displayed by Republicans is coming from a perception that Hagel is a turncoat who is now wanted for working with the enemy. And more than that, it is a continued attempt to whittle away at the credibility of the President, by refusing to let the public forget about Benghazi.

    Other comenters point out that McCain was the recipient of especially dirty political rumors spread by GW during the 2000 Republican primaries, composed of debased lies concerning McCain’s ethics. So why should it suddenly be so upsetting that Hagel once expressed strong and vocal differences with Bush over the wisdom of the Surge? If we are to penalize members of Congress for disagreeing with the wisdom of their own parties, then even McCain has undoubtedly been guilty of the same. Being a member of Congress, does not mean that one can never vote ones own conscience and, that sometimes, that conscience will clash with the consensus expressed by their peers.

    Last term, the number one goal of Republicans was unequivocally expressed as seeing that Obama would be brought down. Just the fact that they lost the 2012 Presidential race does not imply that they will willingly give up this obsession and not milk it for all it is worth in the 2014 and 2016 elections. I think this is much more about Obama than Hagel any day!

  4. it just so happens that the majority of Americans agree with Hagel (and Obama) that the Iraq War was a costly mistake in retrospect, driven by bad intelligence and ideology rather than national interest

    That’s putting it mildly. There are still plenty of folks who continue to imagine the Bush/Cheney War was justified – which is a testament to the power and persistence of denial. Yes, Hagle is being smeared. This should be no surprise to anyone who has been watching the steady disintegration of republican character over the last couple decades.

  5. As I’ve said before, let the president pick his cabinet already.

  6. I think its funny, and quite telling, that one of their beefs is that Hagel opposed the Iraq war. I would think that at this point with 20/20 hindsight anyone who was on the record opposing that fiasco would be viewed in a positive light, as not only someone who knows what they are talking about but also someone who can buck a trend in the face of popular opinion. This is a big plus in my mind.

    But no, to the GOP of today, they can STILL manage to see only the fact that someone didn’t want to play ball and therefore its open season on them. Essentially, ability means nothing, facts and reason mean nothing, shut up and do what we tell you or you will be exiled from the party, even if history shows us that you were right and we were really, really wrong about a major call.

  7. Slam, actually, I think like many others, including probably commenting on TMV, was “for the war” initially. I think Hagel was against the surge and dissed Bush for it.

  8. Hagel didn’t march in lockstep. That is his cardinal sin.

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