John Harwood's many years as a Very Serious Professional Insider Journalist (New York Times, CNBC, Wall Street Journal) have led him to the following conclusion about Chuck Hagel's nomination to be defense secretary:
Hagel's very likely to be confirmed. But fact it's even a question illustrates no-man's land that centrists/mavericks occupy in capital now— John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) January 7, 2013
Yes, you read that right: the attacks on Hagel are an attack on centrism. They're an attack on ... er, Tom Friedman and Simpson/Bowles and Americans Elect! Or something like that. (What's considered "centrist" in the Acela Corridor these days?)
On the left, Glenn Greenwald says it's all about the fact that Hagel challenges the militarist orthodoxy -- but I don't think it's that simple:
As Obama himself proves -- and as Biden and Clinton before him proved -- the fact that someone has a "D" after their name is hardly a guarantor that they will oppose policies of aggression and militarism....Repentant liberal hawk Peter Beinart says the problem is that the GOP establishment still won't admit it was wrong about Iraq:
There's a reason Hagel's nomination has become so intensely controversial and such a vicious target for war-cheering neocons such as Bill Kristol and the Washington Post Editorial Board. It's because Hagel is one of the very, very few prominent national politicians from either party who has been brave enough to question and dissent from the destructive bipartisan orthodoxies on foreign policy.
Had a Martian descended to earth in January 2003, and spent a few days listening to Washington Republicans talk foreign policy, and then returned in January 2013, she would likely conclude that the Iraq War had been a fabulous success. She would conclude that because, as far as I can tell, not a single Republican-aligned Beltway foreign policy politician or pundit enjoys less prominence than he did a decade ago because he supported the Iraq War and not a single one enjoys more prominence because he opposed it. From Bill Kristol to Charles Krauthammer to John McCain to John Bolton to Dan Senor, the same people who dominated Republican foreign policy discourse a decade ago still dominate it today, and they espouse exactly the same view of the world.I think all this is relevant, but I think Greenwald and Beinart are trying to give the Hagel opposition an ideological heft it doesn't deserve.
The Hagel bashers are bashing him because they can. They're bashing him because they're Republicans, which means they spend all their waking hours trying to play to the Fox News/talk radio audience, and Hagel has given them a couple of tasty gotchas that are easy for that audience to digest. His critical comment a few years back about "the Jewish lobby" is a perfect morsel to take to right-wing media. And even his unpleasant comment in the 1990s about a gay diplomat works well on Fox and talk radio. (I thought liberals loved gay people! And yet they support Hagel! What hypocrites!)
They're looking at a 2014 election cycle in which turnout is likely to be lower than in a presidential year, so the GOP's goal is to really turn out the base. Republican incumbents also know that playing up to the base is a way to fend off primary challenges from the right. (That's certainly the motivation for Lindsey Graham's attacks on Hagel.)
But it's not strictly ideological -- remember, these guys mugged Susan Rice, but (because it opens up a Senate seat) they're receptive to the notion of John Kerry as secretary of state, even though Kerry is in many ways more progressive than Rice. They don't care. The attacks on Rice played well on Fox. So do the attacks on Hagel. Any Obama nominee for whom they can find an easily comprehensible line of attack is going to get the same treatment -- regardless of ideology.