Milwaukee County Labor Council AFL-CIO

October 26, 2014

In The News

Toothless pit bulls chewing on a Hagel bagel

Hagel at the Senate hearing, deflecting badly aimed bazookas from old friends.

By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Milwaukee Labor Press
Posted February 1, 2013


Clearly there are reasonable criticisms of current White House policy. I for one am disturbed by an education agenda that fails to realize that decimating arts, music and other programs actually cripple better math, science and graduation results.

But weigh the question marks about Obama’s tenure against the ugly out-of-date out-of-sync opposition, from GOP state legislators churning out bills that fail the simplest job creation test but reward their biggest corporate donors to continued blistering assaults on respected but liberal social policies.

But mainly this week was the old guard acting like San Juan Hill and the My Lai massacre should still be the American way. That was the ongoing vicious attack on military hero Chuck Hagel, nominated for Secretary of Defense and clearly chosen because of his concern that the grunts only be sent into battle as the final resort.

Incidentally the first person to recommend him for the position 12 years ago was Sen. John McCain, a fellow Vietnam veteran who also bravely served in the quagmire that justifies Hagel’s vision.

Now lobbying groups on the right pretending to be Obama acolytes have joined McCain in twisting the bayonet into an old friend.

McCain – weirdly – is refighting the war in Iraq that most Americans today understand we were misled into. Hagel, as was Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and other senators, trusted the president on weapons of mass destruction – falsely, it quickly turned out. Hagel’s sin was to grow up about that war before most of his party buddies in the Senate did. Apparently they can’t forgive him for being right and for then maturing with the times.

But reasonable has not been central in the modern lexicon of GOP senators attacking the president’s staff and cabinet choices. A little licking of wounds is natural, but this extended fury is unnaturally bestial. Long gone are the days of presumption that a president can choose his own cabinet, which once led stalwart progressive Russ Feingold to feel it was a duty of bipartisanship to let pass the Bush choice of John Aschcroft as attorney general, trusting that an ethical standard might emerge. Sadly, it only did in sections – and the Justice Department is still seeking balance from those bad years.

Hagel was clearly unprepared for the personal nature of the attack from old friends. Lindsay Graham pressed him to reveal some public official who said something “dumb” (or had been pressured by pro-Israel moneybags, though we all know that moneybags wield unnatural influence on the Senate) offering openings again and again that Hagel ignored. After all, he was a cloakroom colleague of Graham, who has the reputation as the most invective laden spewer of dumb things off the floor in the Senate.

Hagel could have, perhaps should have, reminded McCain that he supported him for president over George Bush in 2000 during the sort of ugly personal attacks against McCain that McCain now seems willing to dump on Hagel. But he held his temper, reminding observers this was the calm required in the Cabinet, a growth from the era when, as a member of the Senate, he occasionally joined the McCain world in shooting from the hip.

Such control and caution in today’s media world made Hagel look hesitant, baggy-eyes holding firm against the calculated one-liners and even video attacks readied by his opponents. Part of his control was knowing he had the votes and the president’s support. Why roll around in the dust with a small hill of ants?

But what’s happening today is the amuck running Republican tendency to chew their own tails and fight battles lost long ago. It sounds sadly familiar, more proof that the new Republican effort to sound sensible is more a matter of public relations posture than attitude correction.

It may actually be Democrats who should have a deeper concern about conservative Hagel, but it is a sign of their trust for Obama in allowing him to choose someone who will argue with him, probably fight with him and bring a different candid viewpoint to vital military decisions. That was Hagel’s reputation in Congress – tough straight talk and pragmatic business ability. Obama appears to like disagreement and Hagel believe this president will make responsible final decisions.

Hagel will immediately face tough issues -- oversight and cuts to the massive defense budget, modernized dispensation of troops around the globe, correcting the horrible record of sexual assaults in the military, all issues he addressed at the hearings in moments that did not receive much television coverage. Ironically most of the repeated sound-bites dealt with areas he had much to say about in the Senate but will not decide in the Cabinet -- policies toward Israel, Syrian and Iran that are mainly the provenance of the president and the secretary of state.

Viewers saw ample proof of an aging tired wing of the GOP trying to punish a once much admired colleague for recognizing faster than they did how America was duped -- and for growing up on social issues. By picking out phrases from a long record in the freewheeling Senate, many statements he probably now regrets, they fail to recognize a common principle of the American dream and major religions – personal growth and redemption.

Perhaps that’s why even many conservatives tell me they admire Hagel’s journey.

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