Monday, March 12, 2007

Hagel, Prince of Denmark

by Ryan Anderson
So there we have it. Senator Hagel's big announcement that he has nothing to announce and won't until sometime later. Wasn't that just thrilling?

Of course, prognosticators now say this is all a ploy to ward off a primary challenger, or that he's really committed to a presidential run and just hoping to get some mileage as a "fresh face" come Labor Day.

What this proves to me is we can't afford to be spectators any more. The Nebraska blogosphere has served as a vigilant watchdog of Chuck Hagel's record. That's all fine and dandy, but there comes a day when every public official must answer those critics and defend that record and for Senator Hagel, that day is Election Day, 2008. If we aren't committed to making that a contest, we can't pretend to be serious about building a "new Nebraska".

Building a new Nebraska, of course, will require a renewed two party system and the return of a true political dialogue. Neither of these goals are advanced by allowing the dean of the Nebraska Republican Party to be re-elected by acclamation. How would a campaign against Hagel work? Easy, just read the blogs:

1. It's not (all) about the War

There's little way Democrats in this state can win on the war: they can't run to Hagel's right without losing their base, they can't run to his left without losing the state. Given that every discussion involving Hagel has revolved around Iraq for at least the last two years, this has led some observers to declare Hagel invincible. In fact, it may be his greatest weakness.

Hagel can scarcely gain ground by making Iraq the central focus of his re-election. He has already isolated many of his conservative supporters, many of whom say they will never vote for him again. On the other hand, his decision to "embarrass Democrats" at the expense of an honest debate over Bush's Iraq policy should cost him whatever credibility he has on the left.

It may be possible to bridge some of the divide between Hagel's critics on the left and the right. Many Republicans seem to believe that Hagel is only attacking his president and his party to get face time on Sunday morning talk shows. Many liberals, frustrated that his passionate rhetoric doesn't match his actions on the Senate floor, feel much the same way. This may provide an opening for a candidate who aggressively campaigns on those issues which have been forgotten under the long shadow of the war.

2. Bread and Butter
Chuck Hagel has been one of the Bush Administration's most active and loyal allies: voting to drastically cut Medicaid, block PAYGO legislation, and slash federal subsidies for student loans. Not only has he voted to block a raise in the minimum wage, he's voted to abolish it altogether. This is a potentially powerful wedge issue, especially considering how effectively Ben Nelson campaigned against "Wall Street Pete".

3. Be Proactive
A high profile statewide race offers a platform to advance new ideas and promote a new vision. By leaving so many races uncontested, we've allowed the Republican Party to dominate and determine the course of political debate. A Democratic Senate candidate could change this by taking the lead in calling for federally aided rural broadband (working side by side with progressive efforts on the state level), or suggesting Congressional intervention to save Initiative 300. Seizing this opportunity to introduce Nebraskans to a true political dialogue would benefit our party in the future, even if this campaign is a bust.

Look, we ran an inexperienced, first-time candidate in the most hopeless race of 2006 and we are a stronger party for it. What good have we done by conceeding race after race after race to the Republican Party? Has it made us any stronger? Given us a bigger bench? More volunteers
? Or just more of the same?

Nebraska deserves better than that. Nebraska deserves better than one party control. Nebraska deserves better than Chuck Hagel.

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Anonymous Dave Sund said...

Alright, Ryan. You've convinced me. We can't concede this race. But we need to do this just right. No businessmen who think they're running for dog-catcher and ignore the entire city of Omaha. No folks who will blame their loss by 70% on Hagel's voting machines.

If our top tier doesn't want to get in this race (which is almost a given if Hagel runs for reelection), we need a challenger who is willing to run a different type of campaign on a statewide level the same way Kleeb and Esch were able to do on a district-wide level.

This will be a very difficult race. And the only way it gets remotely competitive is real grassroots action.

But you'll forgive me if I feel a twinge of doubt that the current Democratic Party leadership will do the same to this sort of candidate that they did to Jim Esch.

Do we have a Democrat like this willing to run a statewide race?

Blogger Ryan Anderson said...

"If our top tier doesn't want to get in this race (which is almost a given if Hagel runs for reelection), we need a challenger who is willing to run a different type of campaign on a statewide level the same way Kleeb and Esch were able to do on a district-wide level."

I agree whole-heartedly. Political experience isn't necessary. In fact, it might hurt.

"Do we have a Democrat like this willing to run a statewide race?"

I don't know. I only figure it's our job to shake the trees until somebody falls out.

Blogger Kyle Michaelis said...


Thanks for taking a crack at this one. I just don't have a whole lot to say about Hagel having nothing to say. But, the ruffles were a brilliant touch.


The Democratic Party leadership did nothing to Jim Esch. They may not have done a whole lot for him either, but let's be a little more careful before casting aspersions in all directions. We both get enough of that crap from other corners, and I just really can't stomach it here.

Anonymous Dave Sund said...

Kyle, fair enough, I didn't mean to imply the same as some other individuals. But sins of omission and active or passive ridicule are sins all the same.

I won't get into that discussion here, because I know part of what Ryan's fighting against here in this post is that specific attitude: we can't win, so why bother? I know it's a real concern, because I voiced that same concern here, before.

I hope that we can overcome it. And, understand, my criticism is substantive: we can't repeat the mistakes of 2006.

Blogger Eric said...

The Republicans all have to sit and wait for Chuck to formally announce his intentions before they can start running, but the Democrats can start running whenever they want. Why not take advantage of that? Why play his game? The worst case scenario is that Hagel gets a serious challenge in the Senate race. A lot of national pundits like to talk about this being a safe seat because he wiped out Matulka, but lots of Democrats and Independents don't like his conservative record, and lots of Republicans don't like his disloyalty to Bush. Also, is there anybody who agrees with him on the draft? I think he's vulnerable if he's faced with a serious challenger, so go on shaking those trees.

Anonymous Dave Sund said...

I wrote a bit about this here. Nothing wrong with the horserace. I love the stuff. But step back for a second and realize that it's still March of 2007. Whoever our candidate is, they can really afford to wait until the fall to announce. No need to accelerate our timetable yet.

Blogger Ryan Anderson said...

Dave's right, and I'm glad he pointed that out.

But a campaign starts long before it's announced. A race starts in the candidate's head. Certainly the thought of a presidential race was born in Hagel's head years ago. It's up to us activists to serve as a sort of midwife in this process, y'know? Help someone else see themselves in this race, so when it comes September or October and Hagel finally decides to commit to re-election we don't have to start from scratch.


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