If you want an example of both the short, selective memory of the mainstream media in the U.S., and a mark of how far to the right corporatism has pulled this country, there is no better example than the controversy surrounding Obama’s nomination of former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense.
Hagel was an enlisted man in Vietnam, who rose through the ranks to become a squad leader, making him one of the few upper-level members of our government who has actually been under fire. I think that is a vital experience for anybody who is going to send others into harm’s way, just as spending at least a week in jail should be required of anybody who is going to pass laws that will put others behind bars. Hagel hasn’t been there and done that, but pretty much nobody in the law-making business in this country has, so I can’t really hold that lack against him.
I think it’s worth noting that he was well enough regarded by the soldiers under his command that he did not get “fragged,” i.e., killed by his own troops for being an a-hole, which was the fate of at least six hundred and possibly as many as a two thousand U.S. officers in Vietnam. His mere survival is thus another mark in his favor. On the other hand, the military’s job is to intimidate or murder people they don’t know personally, and, divorced from the military context, that is a sign of psychopathy. Mark against.
After his time as a hired killer, Hagel worked as a staffer for a Republican Nebraska Congressman, a lobbyist and a Ronald Reagan campaign organizer, which earned him a position in the Veterans’ Administration under Reagan, but he soon bounced out of that due to conflicts with a superior who thought that veterans were “greedy” and that the worst thing Agent Orange did to people was give them acne. While I don’t think joining the military is a smart move. I’m strongly in favor of taking the best care possible of anybody who has made that error, and Hagel stood up for better treatment of veterans. Points for ya there, Chuck, but zeroed out by your work for the gypper–I mean, the Gipper.
He got in on the ground floor of the cell phone boom, and became a multi-millionaire, with all the connections that go along with that–corporate and charitable Boards of Directors, various semi-honorary government positions, and the like, and here’s where one of the big question marks in his career emerges. He became president of The McCarthy Group, an investment bank, and that led him to the position of CEO of Election Systems and Software, a company that manufactures computerized voting machines, which were adopted for use by his home state of Nebraska.
He resigned from ES&S to run for the U.S. Senate from Nebraska, and won an upset victory, according to the proprietary software on his company’s voting machines, and six years later he won an even more impressive victory, with even traditional Democrat strongholds like Native American Reservations and African-American neighborhoods apparently turning out heavily for him. The Democrat who lost the election demanded a recount, but was hamstrung two different ways–first, the 83-17 vote meant that the election results almost certainly would not be changed by a recount, and, second, state law commanded that the only kind of recount allowable was having the voting machines recompile their totals–a hand-held, human-inspected recount was, by Nebraska law, “off the table.” This episode of Hagel’s life definitely gets a “WTF?” rating.
As a Senator, I again have to give him very mixed marks. He voted for The Patriot Act and the Cheney tax cuts, but against No Child Left Behind and the Cheney Medicare prescription subsidies for pharmaceutical manufacturers. On the other hand, he voted against the McCain-Finegold (campaign finance reform) Act.
As an aside, I want to acknowledge that, while I frequently write/speak from what I would call a “radical fundamentalist” Green perspective–i.e., “we are going to Hell if we don’t change our ways pretty damn fast,” my analysis of Chuck Hagel is coming from what might be called the “Realo” Green perspective. In other words, I am looking at our political situation “just as it is” and commenting on it within that framework. I have not abandoned my “fundamentalist” perspective. I’m just engaging in an exercise of mental flexibility. In the longer run, in my view, the acceptance or rejection of Chuck Hagel and the inherent complacency of the debate over his suitability is a disagreement over placement of the deck chairs on the Titanic–a massive iceberg has calved from a melting Greenland, we are in its path, and we are, it seems, too distracted by entertainment, guns, the economy, and politics to really grasp the danger we are in as a species. That said, back to the debate over Senator Hagel.
He had expressed doubts and reservations even as he voted to authorize Cheney’s use of force in Iraq, and, by 2007, shortly before he left the Senate, and politics, he joined with Democrats in an unsuccessful attempt to end the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Since then, he has also expressed doubts about the wisdom of U.S. support of Israeli violence against Palestine, and the wisdom of military threats against Iran over their alleged nuclear weapons program. Unlike many of his opponents, he seems to remember that our government claimed that Saddam Hussein was developing nuclear weapons, which turned out not to be the case. Something else occurs to me–it used to be that Jews were generally liberals and radicals, and conservatives were generally anti-Semitic. These days, many Jews are “neoconservatives,” and most conservatives are fervent Zionists. How did that happen? I don’t know!
Another issue that he seems to have changed his mind about is climate change. In the 90’s, he expressed doubts about climate change and joined with Democrat/coal state Senator Harry Byrd to keep the U.S. from ratifying the Kyoto treaty, although he now claims he did this because he wanted to see a stronger treaty–and it’s true, the Kyoto protocol was an inadequate answer to the problem as we understood it then, let alone now.
As he was leaving the Senate (and considering a Presidential/Vice Presidential run), he wrote a book, “America–The Next Chapter,” in which he compared our current political gridlock to American politics in the 1850’s, as the nation drifted into the Civil War, and said, “I wonder, if Abe Lincoln were alive today, if he would throw his hands up at the whole mess and decide it was time for another party, beholden to no one.” Psst, Chuck! That’s us, The Green Party! We’re over here!
And all this is anathema to Republican stalwarts, who want to believe that U.S. aggression against Iraq and Iran, and our support of Israeli aggression against the Palestinians whose country they have seized, are completely and totally justified, and that climate change is some kind of socialist plot to rein in Unfettered Capitalism, the True Religion of Republican and Democrat alike. From my perspective, Hagel’s ability to change his mind in the face of new information, as well as his reluctance to resort to force, are marks in his favor. The guy may have been bit hidebound in the past on abortion and whether gays are moral enough to serve as hired killers in our military, but he is willing to evolve. That’s important.
That said, the Obama administration is still a criminal enterprise, and Hagel will be aiding and abetting it. He has called drones “very important.” From my point of view, drones are as morally reprehensible as napalm. Those who support his nomination because John McCain, Lindsay Graham, and their ilk oppose it are in a position analogous to that of the Democrats who have rallied to support the right-wing American Enterprise Institute’s health care plan since it has been rebranded as “Obamacare.”
As I said, American politics have drifted far to the right of center, but it seems that most people don’t even notice. As a “deep Green,” I feel it’s my duty to have a long memory, a sensitive conscience, and to declare, “we can do better than this.”
music: Jackson Browne, “Soldier of Plenty“