Time to Fight

The Hagel Nomination

01.07.13 11:32 AM ET

We have many theories today as to why the Potus is proceeding with the nomination of Chuck Hagel to the Pentagon, despite what appears to be fairly significant opposition from senators of Hagel's own party. Let's cut to the darkest-scenario chase: Suppose they filibuster him.

That is extremely hard to envision--senators filibustering a former senator for a cabinet position. But with these people, you just never know. My guess at this point would be that even if they have more than 40 votes against him, they would permit an up-or-down vote to proceed, and Hagel would pass.

I would bet today, though, that they don't even have 40 at the end of the day; more like 15 to 25 nay votes would be my guess. Which won't matter once he gets the post. Clarence Thomas had 48 votes against him, a fact that does not, alas, detract a whit from his votes and opinions.

I would reckon that Obama is counting on something like the above. It's a little risky to proceed with a second "controversial" nomination after the Susan Rice mess. He must feel pretty confident that at the end of the day Hagel will get through.

Okay, now; the basis of the opposition. Fred Kaplan has a smart take as usual arguing that opposition to Hagel is really more about Obama, and I think that's right. Or I'd phrase it like this: To the extent that Hagel takes Obamaesque positions, or perceived Obamaesque positions, that's the issue.

So they've persuaded themselves that Obama is against Israel. That's number one here, let's face it. And now some say the same thing about Hagel--and more: that he's allegedly anti-Semitic. Five ex-ambassadors to Israel have signed an open letter rejecting these charges.

And there's Iran and nukes, and there's Hagel's opposition to the Iraq war (he voted for it originally but turned against it fairly quickly). I think Hagel's willingness to talk about Pentagon bloat, and by extension to oversee some defense cuts, is also both a big problem for the reflexive right and a big reason Obama wants him.

I'd bet this is the main reason why Obama wants a Republican. Making defense cuts a part of any budget/sequester deal is a must. Obama can't afford a secdef who talks the way Leon Panetta talked, about how this or that cut would be devastating. Hagel probably won't do that because a Republican can more credibly stand up and say no, we don't need X weapon system or two more carriers or whatever it is than a Democrat can.

The bottom line is that Hagel has simply been too individualistic, hasn't been a Serious Person in the way a Republican senator who's a combat vet is supposed to be. That's what that creepy Washington Post editorial a couple weeks ago was about. And yet, Hagel has the backing of those ex-ambassadors, former NSC heads of both parties, and more.

So this is an interesting peek into the structure of the Washington establishment. We often speak of this establishment as if it's one big thing, but in fact it consists of two factions: Those who arrogate to themselves this notion that they must be the guardians of the acceptable, and those who don't do that and just call things as they seem. Hagel is generally opposed by the former and supported by the latter. That's probably enough to get him through.

The wild card among Democrats is this homophobic statement from 1998. I see that Barney Frank (who is angling for a temporary Senate seat and thus might have a vote on this nomination) opposes Hagel on the grounds that the 1998 statement about James Hormel was representative of long-held bigoted views on Hagel's part. Hormel himself posted a statement on Facebook sorta-kinda accepting Hagel's recent apology, although, Washington being Washington, the statement was chopped into bits and played more negatively.

I hope the relevant interest groups, and Frank, back off here. It's really not hard to imagine that what Hagel thought on that issue in 1998 isn't what he thinks today. So much has changed. Hagel will and should have to endure that ritual of answering certain questions, but everyone should at the end of the day declare themselves satisfied. Castigating someone for a 15-year-old statement instead of applauding that person's evolution isn't a very smart way to attract adherents. Besides, do these LGBT activists really want to don the same uniform as the neocons here?

Finally: Maybe this is also a sign that Obama is just sick and tired of these nincompoops on Capitol Hill and he's going to take some stands. I hope, and more or less now suspect, that this is the case. Good for him.