No individual embodies everything I want in a political leader. Few embody more than one or two things I want. So in choosing who I support and who I don’t I’m forced to consider a person’s qualities in light of the tasks they’ll be assigned. From that point of view I have no hesitation in endorsing Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense. I expect the national media will immediately pick up my endorsement resulting in an easy confirmation. Yeah, that’ll happen.
Certainly there are aspects of Hagel that are suboptimal from the point of view of a leader of society. But consider him solely as a SecDef and he looks more than good, he looks almost game-changing, As Peter Beinart points out, Republican officials and pundits have escaped consequence for their promotion of the most recent war on Iraq, and Hagel will never let those consequences be overlooked. Democrats have been timid with respect to stating their views and have failed to stand and fight against the hawkish Republicans. Beinart suggests that Hagel will counter both of these tendencies, serving as an object lesson in how to change the direction of the ship of state.
Hagel’s main qualifications, in my opinion, are summed up in his unassailable national-security credentials, his history of saying on the record what many others say only in private, and a record of being right about controversial issues. For example, Beinart quotes the reliably mindless bellwether Thomas Friedman: “I am certain that the vast majority of U.S. senators and policy makers quietly believe exactly what Hagel believes on Israel.” His rational rather than blind support of Israel is one of the main reasons I support his nomination.
The other main reason is his experience in Vietnam, not as a fighter or bomber pilot but as a grunt, someone who actually gets shot at. That has made him much less likely to send other young people into similar situations. With Hagel as SecDef, McCain’s "Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb bomb Iran" will get the consideration it deserves, and the ridicule as well.
What really ticks off the Republicans is that Hagel realized early on that his vote to allow the war on Iraq was a mistake and he began advocating against the war. Though, as David Sirota has pointed out, he continued to vote for the funding needed to keep it going. Even worse than opposing a particular war, Hagel appears to be down on war in general, overt heresy in the D.C. culture so heavily influenced by the "defense" industry. As Joan Walsh puts it, “Hagel is better on defense policy than a lot of Democrats.”
The Republicans are often said to be resolving into a party of the ultra-rich and the former Confederacy. Michael Tomasky has done the math on the recent fiscal cliff deal, which passed with Democratic votes because Republicans voted against it 151-85. Tomasky shows that if you remove the House members from the Confederate States of America, the bill passed with overwhelming support from Republicans, 62-36. The country is, as he says, in thrall to the most regressive and least evolved section, and I can hope with him that the South will continue to separate itself until it is “totally marginalized in American politics”.
What seems to be happening is that the elite in Washington, and particularly the Republican sector, have grown so disconnected from the world most citizens inhabit that they don’t realize a global consciousness is growing. It is no longer possible to fool most of the people most of the time in the fashion that has dominated US politics for nearly the entire history of the country. Those whose entire philosophy of government is predicated on disinformation are staring at a new world in which they’re quickly caught out, and they have yet to adjust.
Confirmation of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense could, as Beinart claims, be a watershed moment in the Obama administration. And given the extreme problems we face now, it can’t arrive too soon.