The Shocking Chuck Hagel Smear Campaign

Senseless “controversies” break out constantly in Washington, D.C. Political media habitually magnify the most inane, insider-y machinations and petty divisions, which most of the time can be safely ignored. But the ongoing dispute over Chuck Hagel is worth paying attention to, if only because it has provided such useful insight into the nature of modern D.C. governing norms.

Chuck Hagel (via Politico)

Hagel is a former Republican senator from Nebraska known for his nonconformity and expertise in foreign policy issues. A Vietnam War veteran, he was highly-revered by members of both parties during his twelve years in office. Though Hagel voted in 2002 to authorize the invasion of Iraq, he quickly became one of George W. Bush‘s most trenchant critics on war policy, gaining bipartisan credibility by virtue of pointing out a fellow Republican’s catastrophic blunders. Years later, Hagel has been largely vindicated on this score.

Barack Obama reportedly desires to nominate Chuck Hagel as the next Secretary of Defense. In recent history, such appointments are not subject to the sort of political gamesmanship that, say, nominees to the Supreme Court must navigate; the president is normally given a fair amount of leeway to install his preferred National Security personnel. One might have further assumed that Hagel’s confirmation process would be especially smooth, given his experience and high stature.

Instead, a smear campaign — shocking even by D.C. standards — was unleashed to destroy Hagel’s hopes. The very same crew of hyper-aggressive neoconservative elites who brought us the failed Iraq War and the failed Romney campaign are once again asserting their dominance over the Washington “conversation,” and amazingly, it seems possible that Hagel will be forced to withdraw from consideration as a consequence.

Hagel is no radical, but in the past has suggested that capriciously attacking foreign nations and imposing “crippling sanctions” could be damaging to U.S. interests abroad. Among powerful D.C. foreign policy circles, this is simply unconscionable.

Astonishingly, Hagel also stands accused of being an anti-Semite. Bill Kristol‘s arch-interventionist Weekly Standard magazine ran a story in which an anonymous “top Republican Senate aide” was quoted as declaring, “Send us Hagel and we will make sure every American knows he is an anti-Semite.” By the lights of this anonymous aide, who may as well not even exist (some journalistic standards!) Hagel is an anti-Semite because he said in 2008, “The political reality is that… the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here.”

Here’s a good primer on past usage of “Jewish lobby” as a term of endearment by the likes of former Jerusalem Post Washington correspondent and current CNN figurehead Wolf Blitzer.

M.J. Rosenberg observes:

In short, Hagel is an anti-Semite because he stated that the “Jewish lobby” both exists and “intimidates”…

It is true that it is impolitic to use the term “Jewish lobby” rather than “Israel lobby” [...] In any case, the term Jewish lobby is accurate when one refers to organizations like the American Jewish Committee or the Anti-Defamation League, etc. They are Jewish organizations and not AIPAC, the registered Israel lobby.

In D.C., making a basic statement of fact — Jewish lobbying interests exert pressure on legislators like every other lobbying group — is portrayed as tantamount to harboring hatred for Jews. And we wonder why political discourse in this country, especially with respect to Israel, is so constricted. If even Chuck Hagel, a decorated former Marine and straight-talking Nebraskan Republican, can’t question Israel’s clearly outsized influence on American policymaking without being subject to such vile allegations, who can?

One of the leading anti-Hagel crusaders is Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post. Over the course of the 2012 election cycle, Rubin dispensed with all pretense of journalistic impartiality and became a full-fledged Romney surrogate. After election day, she admitted to repeatedly deceiving her readership over the course of the campaign, praising Romney at various points when in reality she was disconcerted by his ineptitude. But rather than suffer any professional consequences for her admitted deceptions, Rubin’s influence has apparently only grown.

Likewise, Rubin’s former boss, John Podhoretz of Commentary magazine, has lent his efforts to the assault against Hagel. Podhoretz’s punditry throughout the 2012 election cycle was proven wildly wrong, but similarly to Rubin, his platform is bigger than ever. If Rubin and Podhoretz are not discredited yet, they never will be.

Consider the destructive incentives at work here: advocate for disastrous foreign policy misadventures that kill hundreds of thousands of people and destabilize an entire region, lie brazenly on behalf of a failed candidate, publish wholly unsubstantiated charges of “anti-Semitism” — and what do you receive in return? Even greater power.

If Hagel’s nomination is derailed by these noxious slurs, it will set an awful precedent. The corrosive culture of Washington, which appears to be worsening by the day, never ceases to amaze. You can sign a White House petition in his defense and/or call your U.S. senators. With enemies like these, Hagel must be doing something right.

About michaeltracey

Journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. Follow me on Twitter at @mtracey.

  • Michael

    If he hasn’t got shit files to use against his political opponents then he’s not a proper politician.

  • Jeff

    Thoughts on his his “gay” comments about James C. Hormel? There are some on the Left that are using that against him, though I believe he’s being mischaracterized.

  • Invincible Irony Man

    Chuck Hagel looks weirdly like the love child of Bill Clinton and Ron Paul. That certainly bring some disturbing images to mind!

  • Michael Tracey

    Hahaha, you’re right.

  • Michael Tracey

    He has apologized for the comment, and affirmed a commitment to LGBT rights. Attitudes toward LGBT people have shifted dramatically in recent years, so I don’t particularly fault Hagel for that language and accept his apology.

  • Ibis3

    How about the point that it’s time for Democrats not to give into the conservative propaganda accepted wisdom that only a right wing Republican person has the ability to safely handle the post?

  • Michael Stone

    Why is some asshat like Chuck Hagel being defended on the Friendly Atheist blog? What does this have to do with free thought or atheism?

    I don’t come here to read politics with a libertarian slant, and I don’t appreciate some libertarian clown advocating for some homophobic bigot. What gives?

  • Stev84

    A self-serving PR apology if there ever was one. He made those comments in 1998. Even for that time, what he said was way out of line.

    I do agree with him on Israel though. All he said was basically that they aren’t saints and that the US shouldn’t blindly support them. Nothing anti-Semitic about that.

  • Michael Tracey

    I agree that the remark was out of line even for that time, which is why he was correct to apologize.

  • Stev84

    But we don’t have to buy the apology. Especially because his comments were so over the top. It wasn’t just the casual homophobia even many Democrats showed in the 90s, but pure vitriol. He probably doesn’t mean it, but just did it pro-forma to keep his nomination going.

    He is also lying when he says that his views “do not reflect [...] the totality of my public record”. His voting record is thoroughly anti-gay.

  • Michael Tracey

    What evidence is there that Hagel’s apology was insincere? Millions of Americans have had a change of heart about LGBT rights over the past 13 years. Hagel also has a good number of gay supporters in D.C. policy circles.

  • macprince

    If anybody is interested, I used FeedRinse to create a version of the Friendly Atheist RSS feed with michaelt’s posts edited out:

  • TCC

    I knew as soon as I saw the topic that someone would whine that this post wasn’t about atheism. Seriously, don’t read a post if you don’t like it. I’m not interested in every post at every blog I read, but I have better things to do than to complain that they didn’t cater to my personal interests.

    And on what planet was Chuck Hagel being defended here? The topic was the campaign against him and what it says about the dysfunctional political system in America, not on his virtues as a potential SecDef. Take off the blinders for a second.

  • Michael Tracey

    I’m sorry to see that your creation was no help in avoiding this post.

  • Guesty Guest

    Are we currently living in a weird alternate universe where Leon Panetta is a “right wing Republican”? WTF?

  • Guesty Guest

    I read Michael Stone’s whine and instantly got an image straight out of A Clockwork Orange with him strapped to a chair, eyes pried open, forced to read Michael T posts. It was a chilling image, and the only sort of scenario in which such a complaint isn’t simply the most ridiculous whinging imaginable.

  • coyotenose

    The really amazing thing is how such complaints only arise when the speaker doesn’t agree with the post. The rest of the time it’s just dandy.

    Of course from a secularistic point of view, there is the fact that Hagel is being slandered for not kissing the asses of bullying religious groups that exert disproportionate influence. That’s only the focus of the post.

  • Helanna

    I never get it. I don’t really like reading posts about, say, most atheist fundraisers or posts about new college atheist groups. But you’ll never see me whining in the comments about how I don’t like them because I *skip them*. It’s really, really easy.

  • Randy

    I’m surprised to find this level of support on Friendly Atheist for the proud anti-gay bigot Hagel. That’s no smear. It’s simple fact.

    On Hormel: “[Ambassadors] are representing America … our lifestyle, our values, our standards. And I think it is
    an inhibiting factor to be gay – openly aggressively gay like Mr.
    Hormel – to do an effective job.”

    On DADT: “The U.S. armed forces aren’t some social experiment,”

    On marriage equality: “I am opposed to gay marriage. That’s my personal position”. And he voted for the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004, even after saying in the previous year that’s not how the constitution should be used.

    Hagel repeatedly voted against adding sexual orientation to the federal hate crimes law.

    In 2002, 2004, and 2006, Hagel earned a score of 0 out of 100 from HRC. In 2008, he earned a whopping 20 out of 100, by voting for HIV PEPFAR and ending the HIV travel ban.

    He voted against ENDA, various hate crimes measures (including the one Obama signed), anti-discrimination in Senate work, various immigration measures like PPIA and UAFA, and comprehensive sex ed.

    He voted for the Federal Marriage Amendment (in two separate sessions) which would have also banned civil unions, and voted for multiple conservative-biased judges including Alito.

    Did he sincerely apologize for all that? I haven’t heard it.

  • Randy

    scratch the note about Obama. Although it’s basically the same, it was not the actual one Obama signed.

    Some comment systems allow editing… :/

  • Michael Stone

    My previous comment was unnecessarily rude and mean spirited.I wish to apologize to MichaelT and fellow readers.


  • Zedd

    I don’t disagree but what does being a homophobe have to do with the Secretary of Defense job? Personally, I think he’ll do a great job.