Wednesday, February 21, 2007

NNN Mailbox: "In Defense of Chuck Hagel"

by Kyle Michaelis
Nebraskans For Peace have responded via e-mail to my taking issue with their recent Hagel-palooza, and the New Nebraska Network is pleased to share that response with readers.
NFP adopted the position it did to support Hagel with the view in mind that once you split an elite you begin a process of change. Hagel's unrelenting criticism of the White House has split the Republicans' 'united front' on the war in a way that Ben Nelson, or Barack Obama or Ted Kennedy never could have. That alone is invaluable.

On virtually every other issue (taxes, health care, global warming, campaign finance reform), we assertively part company with Hagel. But on Mideast policy, Hagel has been saying the sensible thing continually for the past five years--and drawn national media attention to the subject by doing it.

As both Senators Biden and Levin have acknowledged, it was Hagel who approached these ranking Democrats with the original idea and original resolution on the 'surge'--not they him. And Sen. Nelson's version, as you know, was not as strong as Hagel's.

We also don't share the New Nebraska Network's take on Hagel's original 'no' vote. To actually have a senate debate on the war resolution, the body needs 60 votes. We don't blame Harry Reid for doing some political grandstanding for the Democrats, because that't how the game is played. But that basically 'party line', 49-47 vote was a gambit to make political hay at the Republicans' expense. It didn't--and wasn't ever going to--produce a senate debate on the subject. Hagel wanted a debate, and wanted Reid and Mitch McConnell to hammer things out so a real debate could occur before the recess.

When it became obvious McConnell--at the White House's behest--wasn't going to permit a debate under any circumstances, Hagel voted with the Democrats the second time around. In that 56-34 cloture vote, seven Republicans voted with him, and ten did not vote. And although this vote too fell short of the total needed, it better sets the stage for more dialogue when Congress reconvenes. There are lots of reasons to chastise Hagel. In our book, this isn't one of them.

Ben Nelson obviously deserves credit for his leadership during this discussion as well. But many other Democrats have gone out front on this issue, while Nelson (understandably in our view, considering he represents a 'red state') has held back.

If NFP's position turns out to be wrong, so be it. But we believe the political realities argue that it is worth wholeheartedly supporting Hagel in his effort for what he's doing. The anti-war movement is stronger today for what this man has done. We think that's courageous.


Paul Olson and Tim Rinne
The New Nebraska Network thanks Mr. Olson and Mr. Rinne - NFPs State Coordinator - for so generously offering their very reasonable counterpoint on Sen. Chuck Hagel. I disagree with NFPs defining Hagel in such mythic, near-messianic terms, but I otherwise respect their appreciation of Hagel - even sharing it in many regards.

More than anything else, I appreciate NFPs thoughful response to my earlier post. Reasonable people - even reasonable progressives - are bound to have different ideas and interpretations when it comes to politicians and their priorities. If my own "rhetorical flourishes" (questioning their rationality and lambasting the idea of Hagel as an "Anti-War Santa Claus") were in any way offensive to Nebraskans For Peace and its supporters, the New Nebraska Network apologizes and will strive to be less combatative and more constructive in any future criticism.

I got out-classed on this one and am not afraid to admit it. Hopefully, I'll learn a lesson, but - alas - I can make no absolute assurances.

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