Senate Republicans have not merely chosen to filibuster the nomination of Chuck Hagel, himself a former Republican senator, for secretary of Defense. That step alone would be remarkable enough, a serious break with the understandings and traditions of American politics.
What makes it worse is that some among them have tried to justify the filibuster by implying that Hagel has sold himself out to this nation’s enemies. They have challenged his patriotism. They have assaulted his honesty and character, based on no evidence whatsoever. Some in the conservative movement have even funded an anonymous, multi-million-dollar media campaign against Hagel, accusing him of wanting to weaken America. It is a charge that was also aired publicly by former Vice President Dick Cheney.
In Senate confirmation hearings, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas demanded access to years of Hagel’s financial records, well beyond those requested of any other Cabinet nominee, explaining that “it is at a minimum relevant to know if that $200,000 that he deposited in his bank account came directly from Saudi Arabia, came directly from North Korea.”
Likewise, Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma noted that Iran had spoken favorably of Hagel, suggesting that it made his former colleague a fellow traveler with the mullahs because “he’s endorsed by them. You can’t get any cozier than that.”
This is the very same Chuck Hagel whom John McCain once lauded as a likely secretary of state in a McCain White House. It is the same Hagel whom Mitch McConnell has praised in the past as a great statesman. It is the same Hagel who volunteered for service in Vietnam, where as an infantry soldier and squad leader he earned two Purple Hearts. It is the same Hagel whose nomination has been endorsed by the most respected names in the Republican foreign-policy establishment, including Gen. Colin Powell, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Admiral Brent Scowcroft and former senators Richard Lugar and John Warner. Those men earned their reputations back when the Republican Party was still quite sane on such issues, and they must be privately horrified by what has happened to it since.
Part of this can be explained as payback for Hagel, who dared to break with his party by sharply criticizing both the U.S. decision to invade Iraq and the militaristic, imperial mindset that drove that decision. McCain, Cheney and others viewed that as an act of betrayal. Hagel has also dared to suggest, in public, that the best interests of Israel and the best interests of the United States might not always be in perfect alignment, which is both obviously true and apparently must never be uttered.
At its most basic, however, the GOP decision to filibuster Hagel has little to do with the nominee himself. It is instead an act of foot-stomping, preening petulance by politicians who are frustrated by their own increasing irrelevance. It allows them, for a time, to feel as though they matter. They do not seem to realize that the act itself compounds their political isolation. It becomes further evidence that obstructionism is all they can muster and that their romance with extremism continues.
Put another way, they pull stunts like this because they are frustrated by losing. And they are losing because they pull stunts like this. It’s a spiral that they cannot bring themselves to break.
– Jay Bookman