Gaffe of the Year
Plus--Radar's blind spot.
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 abouthiding. 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.
Hagel also deployed the hoary I've-been-in combat-so-I-know-these-are-real-men-and-women-"fighting and dying" pitch--as if his fellow senators didn't realize they were real men and women. The I've-Been-There meme is to Hagel (and John Kerry) what the "mommy" meme is to Nancy Pelosi and Barbara Boxer--a guilt-tripping, self-glorifying unique selling proposition that attempts to confer on the speaker a special capacity for insight that renders actual persuasive argument unnecessary.
And gee, after getting huge MSM play for lecturing the Senate on how courageous he is, and how he has special understanding as a combat veteran, Hagel is considering a run for the White House! Funny how that happens.
**--There's a tension here between two favorite MSM angles: 1) That Hagel is courageous, and 2) that Hagel's defection is a dramatic new blow to Bush's war effort. It wouldn't have been very courageous for Hagel to have supported the war in public while expressing grave doubts safely in private, of course--and pro-Hagel profiles tend to emphasize his early public skepticism (except, of course, when it came to actually voting for the thing). But if Hagel has been publicly criticizing the war since 2003, it's not much of a surprise that he's still against the war in 2007. ...
I'd say both MSM memes are wrong. Before the war, Hagel was already widely disdained within his party as a pol who reveled in the "strange new respect" the liberal press typically lavishes on GOP apostates. It's not like he threw away massive Republican backing. And if Hagel really thought the war was a disaster, sending those real men and women into a pointless "meat grinder," there were many things he could have done, aside from giving snippy quotes on Meet the Press, to oppose it. He could have given speeches like the one he gave last week, for example. He could have challenged Bush in 2004. But that might have ended his career! Instead, it looks to me as if he sniped and quipped up to the point where it could do him fatal damage if the war went well. At the same time, given the sniping and quipping, the MSM's surprise that 'even Republican Senator Hagel' opposes Bush is entirely inauthentic. ...
Update: Even a liberal HuffPo blogger thinks the MSM is overdoing the Hagel hype! ...
Photograph of Ann Coulter on Slate's home page by Brad Barket/Getty. Photograph of a wedding cake with two grooms on Slate's home page by Hector Mata/AFP Photo. Photograph of Princess Diana on Slate's home page by Georges De Keerle/Getty Images.