Let’s start off with the obvious. Former Nebraska Senator, Chuck Hagel had a bad day. It seems the old warrior went into the hearings with a ‘first do no harm’ strategy. It didn’t work. It didn’t work because two senators in particular behaved with an extraordinary level of malice and shame. I of course, am referring to John McCain and Lindsey Graham.
These senators have some history together. Hagel, a republican, served 12 years (1997-2009) in that congressional body with Graham and McCain. For most of that time, they were on good terms, if not better. In fact, Hagel served as National Co-Chairman for John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2000. They were three relatively like-minded conservatives.
However, something happened to Hagel after the Iraq War commenced. He began to doubt. He doubted the validity of the mission, whether it was the appropriate target, and most of all, whether it was worth the loss of life. Twice decorated with a Purple Heart for injuries suffered in the Vietnam War as an enlisted man, Hagel knows the horrors of conflict all too well. He began to believe the war was a mistake, and a colossal one at that. So, even though Hagel supported the original resolution to invade Iraq, he found himself in deep conflict with his original position. A conflict he began to share with the public.
Soon, his relationship with Graham and particularly with McCain began to deteriorate. The final straw for McCain (who once claimed that Hagel would make a fine Secretary of State) had to be when Hagel didn’t endorse McCain against Barack Obama in the 2008 election. Worse than that, Hagel went overseas with the Illinois Senator and while Hagel never officially endorsed Obama, his wife did.
After the presidential election, Hagel decided to retire from the senate. Having righteously steamed a number of his fellow republicans, he was essentially a man without a country. Fellow republicans didn’t trust him and in an increasingly polarized environment, democrats weren’t looking to hold hands with him either.
Now Hagel hasn’t always been perfect. He once made an extremely offensive comment about an openly gay diplomat, and used the unfortunate term “Jewish lobby” when referring to the more strident supporters of Israel. Hagel has since apologized for both sets of remarks and supports the repeal of DADT. On the Israel issue, his voting record has been quite consistent in supporting our strongest ally in the Middle East. His point was simply that he was an American Senator first, and a supporter of Israel second.
Normally one would think a republican nominated for Secretary of Defense by a democratic President would be given considerable deference from republicans in a confirmation hearing. However, one would be wrong. The behavior by Graham and McCain today was nothing less than an embarrassment. A man who has fought and bled for this country should at least deserve an opportunity to answer a question when asked. As well, when someone tells a grown man that he can only answer a question with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ (as McCain did) they aren’t really seeking a higher truth. Especially when the issue in question is as complex as the “surge” in Iraq. And here’s the really galling thing: suppose–for the sake of argument–that Hagel was wrong to say that the surge was unlikely to be successful. What about the war in its entirety? Graham and McCain were wrong about the WHOLE DAMN WAR. Which you know, is a much more significant error in judgement than whether the surge was a good idea or not.
I do have to admit, Hagel looked more than a bit caught off guard by the nature of McCain’s questions on the surge. But did he ever have a chance? McCain, ever the bully, behaved as he always does when someone disagrees with him on the subject of war or national security. He hectored, berated, and interrupted Hagel in such a way that he might as well have been auditioning for a prime time slot of Fox News. Watch the video below and tell me if this is the behavior of a mature person.
Clearly, the dignified and restrained effort by Hagel to answer McCain’s question about whether he was wrong on the surge or not did not show Hagel in the best light. Perhaps he would have been better off going off on McCain much like Hillary railed at Ron Johnson during the Benghazi hearings. A stronger defense from the future Secretary of might have played better than Hagel’s mild effort to respond. That being said, can anyone see how McCain improved his already fast descending stock with the bulk of Americans? His petty, personal, and childish attack on a decent man who simply felt that a complicated question deserved a nuanced answer was another low mark on a career full of them since his last presidential run. While Hagel may not have presented himself in the best light, at least he did not shame himself. Then again, maybe McCain didn’t either. Because as we have learned with great dexterity, neither he nor his lap dog, Lindsay Graham, have any shame.
Speaking of Graham, how about this line of attack? Graham went after Hagel repeatedly over the “Jewish Lobby” comment even though he knew good and well that Hagel had already stated his regrets over the remark. This wasn’t an effort to find clarity, it was a strident verbal assault on a proud veteran. The type of behavior that Graham and McCain would decry if anyone else were doing it.
The sad thing is, on some small (and by small, I mean very) level, the Senators from South Carolina and Arizona were successful. Oh, not as much as they might think they were. I doubt anything that happened today will change the outcome of this confirmation. I bet those two know it as well. But on the level of trying to make a decent, qualified individual look uncomfortable and worn, they certainly hit the mark. You see, if you aim low, it’s not hard to meet expectations.