The latest dispatch from Planet Clueless goes something like this: President Obama has somehow chosen to “pick a fight” with Republicans by nominating … wait for it … A REPUBLICAN to serve as Secretary of Defense. Ordinarily, this would be heralded as a modest step in the direction of bipartisanship. After all, former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel would be the second Republican to join Obama’s Cabinet (Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, a former Illinois Congressman, has served since early 2009 and may stay on for Obama’s second term). Alas, Hagel’s selection has brought out the long knives, captured, with typical obsessiveness for the optics and politics of Washington, as opposed to the policy, by The Washington Post blogger Chris Cillizza:
Cillizza’s column makes passing reference to purported concerns Republicans have about Hagel – something something about his supposed lack of support for Israel and concerns over Iran, but what Republicans seem most chapped about is Hagel’s iconoclasm and unwillingness to kowtow to prevailing Republican orthodoxy. Apparently, he also committed the ultimate sin of endorsing fellow Vietnam Veteran (and Democrat) Bob Kerrey in the latter’s losing Senate race last year. Of course, when Joe Lieberman endorsed John McCain in 2008, no such dudgeon was raised in GOP circles and Democrats in the Senate returned Lieberman to his perch as Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee after Obama’s victory.
And this is not to impugn Cillizza specifically, the media-industrial complex is in full gear to frame this as just another chapter in the food fight that they portray Washington to be. But in reality, the so-called “battle” over Hagel is really just a massive Republican temper tantrum over the fact that one of their own chose sides against the party in a Senate race and (rightly) abandoned party orthodoxy during the Bush Administration. That Hagel is otherwise qualified, both by military and political experience (two things that ordinarily matter) and that, barring some legitimate disqualifying circumstance, Presidents are entitled to have their appointees confirmed (Republicans had no problem affirming Iraq war hawk Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State) appears to be of no moment.
Instead of framing this “fight” as one Republicans are picking over a President’s right to have the appointees of his choosing, the media has perversely flipped the script in pointing the finger at the President for having the temerity to select the person he wants at the Pentagon. Having muscled out Susan Rice from consideration at the State Department, Senate Republicans are feeling their oats. A party that is on the one hand portrayed as being in disarray is chalking up tactical victories on everything from permanent extension of tax cuts to dictating Cabinet appointments. It plays in nicely to the media narrative of Washington as a zero sum game where power is either accumulating in, or ebbing from, one party to the other; however, it does little to ensure sound policy and decision making is made. That the mainstream media stokes these flames in the name of ginning up controversy is simply another example of why people outside the Beltway do not understand what it is that goes on inside it.