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Opposition to Chuck Hagel is a No-Win Scenario for the GOP

Hagel and Obama

Chuck Hagel and Barack Obama (AP Photo)

Republican opposition to the idea of having Senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican himself, serve as Secretary of Defense, is a problem for Republicans; a problem made by Republicans, for Republicans.

We listen daily to the Republicans claim that Obama has imposed himself on government, shut out conservative voices and so forth. But Obama had previously selected Robert Gates, another Republican, as the 22nd Secretary of Defense, from 2006 to 2011. And now, with the departure of David Petraeus, the president wants Hagel.

So what’s to be upset about? You’d think they’d be leaping out of their seats to dance with joy.

They say Obama doesn’t reach across the aisle, but here he reaches across the aisle and they slap his hand away. Angry white man Lindsey Graham (R-SC), obnoxious as ever, appeared on CNN’s State of the Union and said the nomination of Hagel was an “in-your-face nomination.”

Watch the video from Mediaite:


How does that work, exactly? One would expect that sort of comment if Hagel was, say, Muslim. But he is a Republican as well as a Christian – Episcopalian, to be precise. Hell, he’s even white.

David Boaz, at the Cato Institute, answered the question in 2010, “Is Chuck Hagel a Republican?” in reply to a charge by Weekly Standard senior writer Stephen Hayes, who “dismissed former senator Chuck Hagel as ”an anti-Republican Republican.”

Boaz points out that Hagel,

  • Voted for the Iraq war
  • Voted for the Patriot Act
  • Voted for the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts
  • Voted against No Child Left Behind
  • Voted against Bush’s Medicare prescription drug bill
  • Voted against McCain-Feingold

As Boaz says, this sounds Republican. On top of it all, Boaz reveals that “Hagel had a lifetime rating of 84 percent from the American Conservative Union and consistent A and B grades from the National Taxpayers Union.”

Yeah…I don’t see that whole “in your face” thing. Boaz concluded that “if a leading conservative TV commentator can call Chuck Hagel an “anti-Republican Republican” when his actual record is more traditionally Republican than the policies of the Bush-Cheney administration, then there’s an odd sort of blacklisting going on.”

I’m with Boaz on this one.

I suppose there could be the little thing about Hagel being *gasp* anti-war. He served in Vietnam. Was wounded, earning two purple hearts, and at one point, had his life saved by his brother (after previously having saved his brother’s life).

God’s Own Party, after all, has embraced the Biblical concept of Just, or Holy War. This makes Hagel a heretic, a defiler of sorts.[1] Just War is a cry taken up by Augustine, of whom scholar Peter Brown says,

It was a prophetic truth that the church should be diffused among all nations…it was a prophetic truth on exactly the same level that the kings of the Earth should serve Christ in fear and trembling; that the gods of the Nations should be uprooted from the face of the Earth, and that what had been sung, centuries before by King David, should now become manifest, as a public command, in the repression of pagans, Jews and heretics throughout the Roman Empire.[2]

If this doesn’t sound like today’s Republican Party, as embodied by the policies of George W. Bush and later taken up by Rick Santorum and others, I don’t know what does.

Hagel sounds like a virtuous man, to me, so what other problems are there?

They say Hagel is anti-Semitic, because of a comment he made in 2007 when he told an interviewer that the “Jewish lobby intimidated lawmakers.”

How is this anti-Semitic? There is a Jewish lobby. They do lobby on behalf of Israel. This has nothing to do with religion or even ethnicity. Nor is it even untrue. Lindsey Graham says Hagel would be the ”most antagonistic secretary of Defense toward the state of Israel in our nation’s history.”

If, by antagonistic, Graham means Hagel oppose Israel directing American foreign policy, I’m all for antagonistic. Bring Hagel on. Graham and his friends would just as soon have an Israeli serve as Secretary of Defense.

And what about Ann Coulter, who says she wants Jews to be “perfected,” in other words, made into Christians. Isn’t this anti-Semitic? Or is it okay for ravening Republican extremists to be openly anti-Semitic in religious terms, but expressing disagreement or reservations about Israel as a state, is forbidden?

And then there is the little matter of Hagel wanting to actually TALK to Iran before blowing it into the Stone Age. In this he dares *gasp again* agree with President Obama. Not only that, but Hagel dared oppose the labeling of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization (how could anything Iranian not be terrorist in orientation?) and before that, he opposed Bush’s surge in Iraq (just as he opposed Obama’s surge in Afghanistan).

I begin to see why Obama might want Hagel. He isn’t all one thing or another, just like Obama isn’t all one thing or another. But Lindsey Graham said, speaking for many Republicans no doubt, that “quite frankly, Chuck Hagel is out of the mainstream of thinking, I believe, on most issues regarding foreign policy.”

If anyone is out of the mainstream, it is Lindsey Graham, the angry white man who says there aren’t enough angry white men to sustain his angry white man policy positions.

All this is bad enough, but perhaps Hagel’s worst crime is wanting to trim the bloated defense budget. The man who dared say “there’s no glory [in war], only suffering,” also said “The Defense Department, I think in many ways, has been bloated.” Speaking in a September 2011 Financial Times interview, he went on to utter those words no righteous Republican dare utter: “So I think the Pentagon needs to be pared down.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), appeared on ABC’s This Week to say that Hagel would get a “thorough vetting” and “subjected to the same kinds of review of his credentials as anyone else” nominated by the president, which doesn’t sound at all encouraging, given the past fate of presidential nominees under the Obama administration. Look how well Elizabeth Warren and Susan Rice fared.

Of course, they had the disadvantage of lacking penis and testicles. Hagel at least has that going for him, though no doubt Sarah Palin, who has, unlike Hagel, never been shot at, might disagree. You notice the biggest Republican warmongers are those who have never been in the line of fire.

McConnell said, in a barely veiled threat at Hagel’s Israel comments, opposition to the Surge in Iraq and support for negotiation with Iran,

“Whoever is nominated for secretary of defense is going to have to have a full understanding of our close relationship with our Israeli allies, the Iranian threat, and the importance of having a robust military.”

McConnell did not say he would support Hagel, with whom he served in the Senate.

“He’s certainly been outspoken in foreign policy and defense over the years. The question we’ll be answering, if he’s the nominee, is: Do his views make sense for that particular job? I think he ought to be given a fair hearing, like any other nominee. And he will be.”

Obama will be in for the fight of his life making Hagel the Secretary of Defense, a fight he was not willing to undertake on Susan Rice’s behalf, or on Elizabeth Warren’s. Warren turned around and bit the Republicans in the ass by ousting Scott Brown in Massachusetts and replacing him with a sweet, common-sense voice of reason. Will the GOP really go whole hog in its opposition to President Obama reaching across the aisle to pluck from their ranks a member of his cabinet?

There is no possible scenario in which this does not make the Republicans look bad and President Obama look good. Interpreting Obama’s resounding victory in November as a mandate to choose Obama’s cabinet for him is a non-starter.

Yes, gays and others can find fault with Hagel on his opposition to a man because of his sexual preferences (a comment made in 1998). Hagel did apologize for that, though opponents will argue waiting 12 years to do so is too long and marks the apology as insincere.

But David Mixner writes on his blog today,

Yes Hagel was wrong on DADT and DOMA but so was President Clinton and Ms. Clinton. His choice of language with Hormel was horrible. It is over a decade later. As Secretary of Defense his job will be to carry out the President’s policies.

The purpose of a movement is to allow people to change their minds, apologize and join our ranks. It is not to stop them from office forever, punish them and not forgive. The fact of the matter is that we have embraced and forgiven people who did far worst things to the LGBT community then Hagel.

This is a fight Obama ought to make. Whether he was wrong before to back off from opposition to Warren and Rice, he must stand up to Republican efforts to make his cabinet more congenial to them. They lost the election, after all. Hagel has the qualifications – all the qualifications – you could ask for. He’s an independent-minded Republican, just as Obama is an independent-minded Democrat. If Obama can live with a man who will tell him he is wrong to his face, all the better. That’s the kind of governance we need.


[1] Reuven Firestone “Who Broke Their Vow First? The ‘Three Vows’ and Contemporary Thinking about Jewish Holy War” in The Just War and Jihad, ed. R. Joseph Hoffman (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2006), 77). “Although the Bible does not use the term ‘holy’ to define its wars, the very fact that most of Israel’s biblical wars were authorized or associated with the God of Israel makes them comparable to ‘holy war’ – or divinely authorized warring in other religious systems and contexts.”

[2] Peter Brown, “St. Augustine’s Attitude to Religious Coercion,” JRS 54 (1964), 110.

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