Cutting away all the spin, niceties, and fig-leaf posturing that has come to represent political debate in our country, Slate’s Fred Kaplin nails why Republicans hate President Barack Obama’s candidate for Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagle. And Daryl Cagle does in the above cartoon, too. Kaplan:
Let’s look at the real issues. Hagel is a former two-term Republican senator. He won two Purple Hearts as an infantry squad leader in Vietnam. No one could possibly dispute his devotion to the country, its security, or its armed forces. But he is a pragmatist, and there may be the rub. What Republicans seem to fear most is that by appointing Hagel as secretary of defense, Obama can claim a false bipartisanship in his national-security team. In fact, these critics say Hagel does not reflect the values or positions of the Republican Party; his presence in Cabinet meetings would not constitute real bipartisanship.
If that is true, the real problem is with the present-day Republican Party. It’s often said that today’s GOP wouldn’t nominate Ronald Reagan for president. By the same token, much of its leadership would rail against Robert Gates for secretary of defense.
That’s the bottom line. Much of what we are seeing play out in American politics is like watching pre-schoolers act out.
It’s a further manifestation of hyperpartisanship, of finding a way to oppose, to lash out, to score points so your side can say they stopped something or imposed it if not in its totality then 90 percent in its totality. And, within the parties, it may manifest itself in one faction trying to shove its belief down the other side, take-no-compromise-prisoners.
Yes, the final election results may have found that Obama won 51% and Mitt Romney a highly ironic 47$, and results may show that Obama is only the second President since Eisenhower to win two elections by 51%. But much of what is going on on the GOP side (just turn on talk radio or some ideological cable shows) is still about trying to checkmate and oppose Obama at every turn.
And there are some other factors at play. NBC’s First read:
*** Hagel — a man without a party: This afternoon, President Obama will tap former GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel to be his nominee to lead the Defense Department. Hagel’s biggest obstacle to confirmation isn’t his controversial comments about Iran and Israel or his “overly aggressive gay” remark. Rather, it’s that he’s a man without a party. If Hagel were a Democrat, for instance, you would have seen someone like Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) embrace his potential nomination on “Meet the Press” recently instead of being tepid about it. And if Hagel were a true-blue Republican — having campaigned for Mitt Romney and other GOP candidates last fall — you wouldn’t have seen folks like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) speak so critically of him. But Hagel’s in no-man’s-land territory, the place where the public says it wants many public officials to be, but where Washington can eat folks like this alive. He’s a Republican who later opposed the Iraq war, whose wife endorsed Obama in ’08, and who campaigned for Democrat Bob Kerrey in 2012. In recent times, every cabinet nominee from the opposition party (Bill Cohen, Norm Mineta, Bob Gates, Ray LaHood) has sailed through easily. But since we started covering politics, Hagel might be the first cabinet nominee from the opposition party who doesn’t have the backing from that party. It’s amazing how things can change: Republicans universally support John Kerry for Secretary of State, but oppose Chuck Hagel for Defense.
*** The nut of Hagel fight: There are two basic lines of attack against Hagel. One has to do with whether he’s a true ally of Israel. Detractors point to some votes Hagel made when it came to Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as some votes on Iran sanctions. But supporters of Hagel note he always voted in favor of full funding of Israel aid and did sign on to key pieces of legislation that did target Iran’s nuclear program and did target Hamas. Then, of course, is the quote attributed to Hagel where he referred to pro-Israel groups as “the Jewish lobby,” which is offensive to both pro-Israel supporters and Jews who do not like to be lumped in with the AIPAC’s of the world. Gay rights groups are not excited at all about Hagel because of comments the Nebraska Republican made against a gay ambassador nominee from the Clinton years, when he referred to James Hormel as “openly aggressively gay.” Former Congressman and (and potential TEMPORARY Massachusetts senator) Barney Frank has been highly critical. So there is a lot of “cover,” if you will, for someone on the left or right who WANTS to oppose Hagel to find a political reason to oppose him. But realize, some of the real reasons for folks to be against Hagel won’t be the issues we discussed above. For some Republican senators, it will simply be the fact that many of Hagel’s former Republican colleagues have not gotten over Hagel’s high-profile flip on the Iraq war. And for some Democrats, it’s the frustration that the president is turning to his SECOND Republican to run the Defense Department.
Hyperpartisanship is indeed catchy..
If media reports are true, Barack Obama will soon nominate Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense. If so, it may prove the most consequential foreign-policy appointment of his presidency. Because the struggle over Hagel is a struggle over whether Obama can change the terms of foreign-policy debate….
At the end of his piece:
As John Judis notes, Hagel was considered a plausible Republican presidential candidate in 2008 until his blunt criticism of the Bush administration’s Iraq policies ended his career in the GOP. He is, therefore, one of the very few public figures in recent memory—Joe Lieberman, whose blunt support for the Bush administration’s Iraq policies ended his career in the Democratic Party, is another—to have forfeited a national role in his political party because of his policy views. In the process, Hagel has incurred the wrath of the same hawkish “pro-Israel” forces whose influence he was rash enough to acknowledge. He has done, in short, exactly what people who aspire to jobs like secretary of defense in Democratic administrations learn not to do. If Barack Obama nominates him anyway, it will be the greatest blow in years to the culture of timidity that dominates the Democratic foreign-policy class. As one former Obama administration official puts it, “Before, when 25-year-olds came to me for career advice, I would tell them, ‘You should be very circumspect, very cautious.’ After Hagel, I would say it’s OK to have strong, even divisive opinions.”
Barack Obama has been commander in chief for nearly four years, but in important ways, the Obama era in American foreign policy has not yet begun. It will begin when Democrats express their foreign-policy views as fearlessly as do their Republican counterparts and when those Republican counterparts can no longer impose their historical amnesia about the catastrophes of the last 10 years on public debate. It will begin when the American right can no longer marginalize public officials with whom it disagrees about Iran by hurling charges of anti-Semitism with a promiscuity that would make Al Sharpton blush. It will begin when Obama surrounds himself with advisers more interested in shifting the foreign-policy “mainstream” than parroting it. It will begin when Obama declares independence from the Bush-era assumptions that have so far constrained his foreign policy. And with luck, we will one day look back upon Chuck Hagel’s nomination as the day it did.
To my mind, this is his core qualification. Unlike so many of the lemmings and partisans of Washington DC, Hagel actually called out the catastrophe of the Iraq War as it happened. The neocons cannot forgive him for exposing what they wrought on the nation and the world. For good measure, he has a Purple Heart and has served in combat. Not easy to say about most of the Iraq War armchair warriors and war criminals.
Which is to say, as Chuck Todd said this morning, this nomination is about accountability for the Iraq War. All those ducking responsibility for the calamity – Abrams, Kristol, Stephens – are determined that those of us honest enough to resist, having supported in the first place, be erased from history. Or smeared as anti-Semites. Or given that epithet which impresses them but baffles me: “outside the mainstream”. Rephrase that as – after initial support – being “outside the Iraq War mainstream” in DC – and you have a major reason to back him.
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Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.