I’ve watched with amusement over the last several days as the media has all but fallen at the feet of Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, treating them like they used to treat Senator John McCain, which is to say, they are treating him like a ‘maverick’. Since McCain’s media darling days are over because he’s tried to break bread with the "Christian right" and is on friendly terms with the President over his surge plan, the media has been on the hunt for another Republican war veteran – one who is at odds with the President – who they can bestow their unofficial ‘maverick’ crown. Hagel, it appears, is that man and is now being portrayed as a "rebel" and even in certain conservative circles, a man with "guts", because of his opposition to the surge – and the Iraq war. Micky Kaus at Slate begs to differ on the assessments of Hagel as being ‘courageous’ on this issue:
Why, exactly, is Sen. Chuck Hagel showing "courage" in conspicuously denouncing the Iraq War now that virtually the entire American establishment has reached that same conclusion–now that Hagel is virtually assured of getting hero treatment from Brian Williams and Tim Russert and long favorable profiles in the newsweeklies? .
OK, maybe Hagel’s not so courageous. Maybe he’s just right. Except that he chose, as the moment to make his flamboyant speech, not the vote on the imprudent war itself–he voted for it–but a vote to withdraw support for a last-ditch surge strategy that even the NYT‘s estimable, on-the-scene pessimist Sabrina Tavernese thinks "may have a chance to work." Was this the right time–it certainly wasn’t the courageous time–for a speech like Hagel’s? Was he serving the nation or himself?
Saying "the war was wrong but the surge is worth a try"–that would be courageous. There’s no ready-made constituency eager to cheer a pol who says that.
Bucking your party to actively fight against the war when it would have made a difference–that would have been courageous.**
Hagel hasn’t done either of those things. Instead, he let loose at the precise moment when letting loose was least brave and least timely. Lest the MSM miss the point, his eruption took the form, not of arguing that his Republican colleagues were wrong, but of denouncing them for, in effect, being cowards, unlike you-know-who:
"If you wanted a safe job, go sell shoes. … Don’t hide anymore; none of us."
Never mind that the anti-surge resolution Hagel has cosponsored is all about hiding. It has no binding effect. But it does provide Senators who supported the war a convenient bit of late-inning skepticism they can point to when trying to save their skins.
Make sure to read it all, because Kaus doesn’t stop digging through the Hagel nonsense there.
Gaius at BCB writes:
And at a time that inflicts the most damage on troop morale, I might add. Chucky is getting lots of love from the left, the HuffnPuff had a whole front page dedicated to him the other day. But they are supporting him only in an effort to fracture the Republicans. So Chucky has a whole new set of friends. But still a less than zero chance of advancing to the presidency. No matter how he postures, no matter what grandstanding he pulls.
To be sure, Hagel’s been an Iraq war skeptic for sometime, now, but he’s ratcheted up the rhetoric big time over the last month or so – at a time when it is politically convenient to do so. He might be winning over ‘moderate’ Americans with his posturing over the Iraq war, but he’s making enemies with the base, which – I think – will virtually guarantee that if he were to run for president, he won’t make it past the primaries.
PM Update: Just visited Real Clear Politics and saw that Jim Pinkerton is on the same wavelength:
It’s official: Chuck Hagel is the new John McCain, getting the glowing treatment from glam publications such as GQ. And John McCain is the new Bob Dole – and we know what kind of press Dole got. Perhaps I should explain.
Once upon a time – say, five years ago – the liberal media were infatuated with McCain. Yes, the Republican senator from Arizona was a hard-line conservative on most matters, but he was sufficiently unorthodox on a few issues (campaign finance, global warming, tax cuts) to be newsworthy. In addition, McCain was enough of a George W. Bush basher to keep reporters interested in what he might say next.
But the Mainstream Media’s affection for the senator has come to an end, for two reasons: First, McCain, now seeking to inherit the Bush political legacy – at least until he nails down the 2008 Republican presidential nomination – is now posing as Bush’s best buddy, and the media aren’t going to buddy up to that. Second, the Iraq War. The media, and most of the country, have reached a negative judgment on the war, and so the McCain campaign plank "If you like Bush’s foreign policy, you’ll love my foreign policy" is understandably playing poorly in Manhattan and Los Angeles.
So say goodbye to the media’s portrayal of "St. John" McCain, the flinty, brave maverick. And say hello, instead, to a new "Bob Dole-ized" McCain. Like the Kansas Republican, who, as a 70-something, was mostly portrayed during the 1996 presidential campaign as a cranky and ranting old man, the 70-year-old Arizonan is being portrayed that way now.
I’d like to say "Toldjah So" but he probably wrote his column before I wrote my post – I just didn’t see it until just now