I have a friend from Nebraska. He says about the way they like their steak out there, "I've seen cows get burnt worse than that and live."
That's how I feel about Chuck Hagel's nomination to be Secretary of Defense. The opposition seems more to be posturing than anything really of substance. Like Newtonian physics, for every reaction, there's an equal and positive reaction.
On NPR today, I heard Elliot Abrams talk referencing the "Nebraska Jewish community" on a few occasions, a veiled reference to innuendo that Senator Hagel might be anti-Semitic (and here, all along, we thought Florida's Jews would tip the 2012 election! Nate Silver, where art thou?) Senator Lindsay Graham, one of the best examples of a refusal to engage in meaningful bi-partisan politics for the last four years, is obviously so deeply concerned about the moral and spiritual integrity of the State of Israel that they have issued fierce condemnations of Senator Hagel before AIPAC has yet to utter a word. The usual cries of protest from Alan Dershowitz and Abe Foxman and we're off to the races.
On the merits, it appears that Senator Hagel's voting record is consistently "pro-Israel." He seems to have said three things that have earned people's ire. Jeffrey Goldberg spends his life being on top of this stuff. If there was something bad on Chuck Hagel, wouldn't he have been ready? David Brooks slashes through the weeds, too.
1. He referred to the pro-Israel lobby as the "pro-Jewish" lobby. It's not? While I recognize that others who are anti-Semitic see the pro-Israel lobby as insidiously Jewish, Hagel hasn't demonstrated that kind of antipathy vis a vis his voting record, which is what really matters--right? What he has said, in effect is, that the Jewish leaders who lobby for Israel on Capitol Hill (and who are, on the whole, Jewish) are powerful. But that he was elected to uphold the American constitution, not the Israeli Declaration of Independence, a prickly point of annoyance, especially since Senator Hagel has yet to demonstrate a comfort with the lyrics of Hatikvah. But on the substance--that the Jewish lobby in Washington, DC is powerful? DAMN STRAIGHT! And how! We earned it, too. Fair and square! With votes, hard work, brains and money--the American way. I like that Senator Hagel named it. It's good to know where he stands. And if you want to examine his voting record, you'll generally find that the claim he's anti-Israel doesn't hold water. In either case, he's being hired to work with the Pentagon and to take orders from President Obama, who won re-election as the most substantively pro-Israel President in recent memory and who won re-election by more than 3 million votes (including in Florida) despite attempts to paint him as an enemy of Israel. Don't forget that in 2008, Bibi and his boys gleefully called Axelrod and Emanuel "self-hating Jews," then denied it, stoked flames of division with the White House, and nearly openly supported Romney in his bid to unseat the President. And yet, in the first conflict to break out since the November election, President Obama was nothing less than totally pro-Israel in support of the Jewish state in its conflict in Gaza Strip.
2. Senator Hagel has said that the United States should talk to Iran and talk to Hamas. And talk to Hezbollah. Okay. They should. Didn't Israel talk to Hamas? If you bomb us, we'll bomb you back. That's talking. So talk. It can only help. And it certainly can't hurt. And by the way, I bet they do. We just don't know about it since it's official policy *not* to but does anyone out there honestly believe that we don't have agents, double-agents, triple agents and just plain old diplomats who don't have an ear to the ground in those places? Beyond all the hyperbole, Senator Hagel's opponents seem to be attempting to exploit an opening for their own advantage in the game of Gotcha on Capitol Hill. His verbal indiscretions, in a town known for getting remarkably little done in the past 12 years, are arguably an attempt to upset the status quo, question old assumptions, and provoke conversation. If only to move things along. Again, on the merits, we will thankfully rely upon the silver tongued smoothness of Senator John Kerrey, who will sail (or shall we say, swift boat) his way through the nomination process. The Secretary of State is the nation's Diplomat in Chief, who, like the Defense Secretary, takes orders from the President--the most pro-Israel leader in recent memory. This weekend Hamas and Fatah had what was effectively a joint rally. Do we ignore that? As Syria falls apart--do we not listen to signals from Iran and Hezbollah? Beyond platitudes, does it kill us to have someone say something publicly unconventional but is, in practice de rigueur?
3. There are those who say Hegel is anti-gay. Turns out this really matters to Mitch McConnell. However, it also turns out that President Obama over-turned "Don't Ask Don't Tell," legally eliminating justification for discrimination against gays and lesbians in the U.S. military. Then he came out in favor of gay marriage. God willing the Supreme Court will guarantee the Constitutional right for gay marriage nationwide. Ergo, I don't really care what Senator Hagel once said about a gay diplomat. On that issue he's on the losing side of history. And again, he will have to obey the order of the President. "I'm anti-gay but my Commander in Chief has over-turned the only bow in my quiver against gay people." It's hard not to laugh. And celebrate the most important civil rights victory since integration.
Finally, let me speak personally, as one who comes from the Prairie. And you fellow Midwesterners, wherever you may roam, you know who we're talking about here.
There are three types of Prairie anti-Semites. First, there are those who don't really know Jews, who aren't necessarily comfortable with them, but who nevertheless have enough of a sense of honesty, integrity and decency to grasp that all things being equal, we may disagree and we may find that disagreement disagreeable but we still wind up as allies on the causes that truly matter. Second, there are the Gentiles who belong to restricted clubs and societies, who whisper indecencies about Jews, gays and blacks in their private quarters, and who practice bygone era of racial and religious segregation, all the while painfully knowing that the world is rapidly moving beyond them. After all, their children belong to non-Jewish fraternities and sororities with predominantly Jewish university presidents. I mean, let's face it: the joke's on them. And then there are those who join Posses and espouse an open hatred of Jews, the Jewish people and the State of Israel.
I don't know Senator Hagel--I've never met him. At the very least, he strikes me as a vocal contrarian of, at worst, the first variety, who will speak the soldier's language on behalf of the President as he seeks to reform a military that needs to define itself in the wake of the past decade of our incursions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He will tell *his* truth to the President and the rest of the cabinet about what he sees and thinks and then the President, as is his job, will decide. He'll buck the unproductive posturing of an intransigent Republican leadership (that's a good thing) and stir the pot on the national security debate as a Republican who crossed over in an era of near total lack of cooperation.
When his verbal indiscretions bubble over, Jewish leaders inside and outside the White House (we're powerful all over that town!) someone will let him know. And you know what Senator Hagel will do? He'll roll his eyes, sigh, and say, "I've seen cows get burnt worse than that and live."
Look at his voting record. If we can't take criticism from an ally, how strong are we, really?