Earlier today, I tweeted this:
I admit, I don’t understand anything about the Hagel nomination. The whole thing confuses and enrages me. I’m like the Hulk here.
— Jimmie (@jimmiebjr) February 14, 2013
A little explanation is in order.
Normally, a Cabinet nominee has distinguished themselves in the field for which they’ve been nominated. Steven Chu was a Nobel Prize-winning physicist with a body of work about energy policy before he was Energy Secretary. Hilda Solis was a labor leader and union advocate before she was Secretary of Labor. Now, you may not agree with the ideology of the nominee, but ideology is different from qualifications. The notion that the President is entitled to have his nominees approved after a thorough Senate hearing presupposes the President’s nominee is competent to take on the job.
Here’s where I get confused. Chuck Hagel is not competent to be the Secretary of Defense. Set aside his foreign policy views for a moment and look at his management skills. He’s shown no aptitude toward running an organization even half the size of the Department of Defense; indeed, his Senate office was the very hottest of messes. He wasn’t particularly liked in the Senate, mostly because he was a grumpy coot, which is saying something in a body full of grumpy coots. His performance in the nomination hearing reminded me of a college student who showed up an hour late for class only to find out it was final exam day. He stuttered, stammered, blustered, fumbled, bumbled, hacked and choked his way through the hearing and impressed only those who want to do America harm.
Now, let’s pick up his foreign policy views. Hagel was an outspoken nutball on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His opinions were outside the mainstreams of either party, though completely at home in the anti-war left (which was odd since he’s a Republican). He considers Israel an enemy, though he’s never mustered the courage to say so in public. Again, that puts him firmly in the mainstream of the radical left, but miles outside the center of either party (or the rest of the country).
On the surface, Hagel’s views on Chimpy McBushHitler and Israel make him the perfect SecDef nominee for Barack Obama, whose own foreign policy views vacillate between 60′s radical retread and bored indifference. Aside from their party affiliation, Obama and Hagel are very similar: bad managers who think they’re far more brilliant than they are who got whatever fame they have by embracing old-school progressive radicalism.
So that’s that, right? President Obama wanted a guy who sees the world the way he does who is also a Republican, so he can say the other Republicans are horrible, horrible people who hate him so much they’d even block one of their own. Well, not so fast. That explanation would make sense if Hagel was passable as a Senator, if he hadn’t mangled his hearing so badly, and if Barack Obama was a bungling political neophyte surrounded by bungling political neophytes. But Hagel is, he did, Barack Obama isn’t, and he doesn’t. The President is a clever political operative, a product of a machine that is to politicians what Purdue or Stanford are to NFL quarterbacks. He’s surrounded by advisers who also know how to bend just enough to win a political fight even though they are also progressive ideologues. He’s closely allied with Harry Reid, who runs the Senate and could get any half-assed nominee though the Senate gauntlet as surely as he’s delayed any budget vote for well over three years. John Kerry, a former Democratic Presidential nominee, who actually accused every American soldier in Vietnam of war crimes and never recanted his accusation, was confirmed as Secretary of State in just days.
The Hagel nomination makes absolutely no sense to me at all. It is a bone-headed decision for a number of reasons, not the least of which is it gives Republicans an almost fool-proof way to label his foreign policy clueless and dangerous and the Democrats as a bunch of lemmings who’ll choose partisanship over competence. It’s not the decision I’d expect from a President who just thrashed Mitt Romney in November and whose party actually managed to claw back some of the losses they suffered in 2010. It’s not a decision I’d expect from a politician of Barack Obama’s heritage and history.
Having said that, the Republican response to Hagel’s nomination is every bit as puzzling to me. Senators who ought to know better, like Susan Collins and John McCain, are weaving about like a pack of 20-something women on the streets of London after a night-long bender. As I wrote earlier, a President ought to get his nominees confirmed, so long as his nominees are competent. Hagel, who was never a particularly popular Republican Senator anyhow, is not competent to do the job. That’s an easy message to get out. Park a Senator, any Senator, in front of a podium and have them read this off a TelePrompTer:
“Chuck Hagel is not fit to lead our brave soldiers nor the hard-working civilians who support them in the Department of Defense. His appearance before us proved he does not take his nomination seriously and we see no reason we should either. We ask the President to withdraw his nomination and send us someone worthy of the task. If he forces us to vote on this man, we Republicans and not a few Democrats will refuse to confirm him. We do not want to do this, but we will. Our Oath of Office and our responsibility to America require it.”
After that, walk away, and mount a filibuster — a real filibuster during which Senators will repeat variations of that same statement over and over again and intersperse it with the particulars of Chuck Hagel’s incompetence, bizarre hatred for one of our most steadfast allies, and fringe views about Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran. Force the President to either back down and give us a real nominee or
Now it seems Senate Republicans will filibuster Hagel, the first time in history (I believe) a Cabinet nominee has ever been filibustered, though they will reportedly stop the filibuster in a couple of weeks then confirm him. Harry Reid does not have enough Senators to break the filibuster and he’s scrambling for backers even though he’ll apparently get what the President wants if he’s patient and quiet. The White House, on the other hand, is in a state of delusion. And I am confused and angry.
None of this makes sense. The Republicans should not be this limp. The President should not be this stubborn. Harry Reid should not be this frantic. The politics are all screwed up and there’s no discernible logic to the actions of any of the major players (and most of the minor ones) right now. Our elected officials are playing silly games with the lives and careers of thousands of Americans and no one has spent any time at all to give us, their bosses, any clue about what they’re doing. I shouldn’t be the only one angry about the whole ridiculous affair.