The Hagel pinata
Chuck Hagel during his confirmation hearing on Jan. 31. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
A criticism of journalism I find persuasive: Something that is not a story becomes a story when a news organization with implied credibility decides to cover it as a story. A criticism of politics I find persuasive: You can be disqualified from serving in a position not because you are not qualified, but because you haven't edited yourself the way that self-serving politicians tend to do.
From browsing the headlines today, you would be surprised to learn that an entire line of ammunition used against Chuck Hagel came from the whimsical mind of a New York Daily News reporter, speaking to a credulous and rather stubborn writer for the Daily Caller. The media might well want to take a step back and check itself. The former Nebraska senator has been vetted. Despite what the White House claims, it's fairly obvious that he is more skeptical of Israeli policies than many defense secretaries have been in public, and he's said some curmudgeonly things in the past. That's been litigated. It is what it is. Take him, or vote against him.
At this point, if Chuck Hagel farted, Sen. Lindsey Graham would write a letter asking him for a microbial study of his digestive tract. In fact, that kind of happened today.
Here is the story: A college student at Rutgers heard Hagel once say something that everyone, including Ehud Barak and Jeff Goldberg, believe to be true: If there is no Palestinian state, then Israel risks apartheid. He sent an email to a friend paraphrasing the comments, which also apparently included a parenthetical that Israel had violated many U.N. resolutions since 1967. (True.).
Lindsey Graham sees the story in his clips. He sends a letter on official stationary:
"Did you say this? Have you said anything similar? Does this contemporaneous email accurately reflect your views?"
Separately, the University of Nebraska confirms that the archives of Hagel's writings, submitted two years ago, aren't ready for public inspection for reasons of organization and national security. Another GOP senator writes a letter.
The White House spends the day on defense. From a single fake snowflake, kind of like the ones they pump out at the Grove, a Los Angeles urban shopping paradise, the news turns on its perpetual snowflake machine. They just float around and then disappear.
Now, perhaps some Hagel comment will be uncovered that catalyzes opposition to him and dooms his nomination. This, after all, is the point. It's why Republicans filibustered. They wanted to give their oppo people more time to find out quotes and quips they could use to build a snowball and throw it.
Since every person who ever wants to serve their country in the cabinet knows that they will be subjected to this unhelpful and rather idiotic scrutiny — have we learned ANYTHING new about Hagel's views since he was nominated? That he was more of an Israel skeptic than some — that's not a surprise — people tend not to want to say anything interesting anymore.
Democrats tend to do this as well when Republican presidents nominate people. But Republicans have done it out of pique and spite. And they've abdicated their advice and consent function, which, after all, is supposed to help the president govern, and not to force people out of the mainstream who have unorthodox views. Indeed, when you do that, you push people like Chaz Freeman, an incredibly intelligent thinker who was once a top Obama intelligence board nominee, over the edge. You ratify their suspicions that there is only one way to think about Israel.
If Hagel was actually an anti-Semite, we would know, and he wouldn't have survived the first week of his nomination. He's not. It's been interesting to watch Democrats play the game of listening to Hagel's contrition for not adopting the public pro-Israel consensus that seems to be required of all those who want national office. They know very well what they're getting: a man who believes that Israel is a strong ally, and also believes that the U.S. needs to push them, our friends, more than they do.
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