William Katz:  Urgent Agenda

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HAGEL HASH – AT 10:06 A.M. ET:   I don't know what I can add to all that's been said about Chuck Hagel's awful performance before the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday.   Hagel was a public embarrassment. 

Here is a man who knew his nomination to be secretary of defense was controversial, who had weeks to prepare for a critical confirmation hearing, and yet who came unprepared, stumbling through answers and making it clear he didn't even know critical aspects of current American defense policy.

He was a classic example of "confirmation conversion," essentially reversing virtually every major position he's taken over the years.  He is theoretically a Republican, although he's acted more like a Democrat for the last five years.  His old Republican colleagues were particularly tough on him, with John McCain, Lindsey Graham and new Senator Ted Cruz showing particular contempt.  But Democrats were also surprisingly tough.  Even the committee chairman, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, conspicuously corrected Hagel when the pathetic nominee incorrectly described our nuclear-weapons policy toward Iran.

Of course, the usual suspects in the media came out of the woodwork, declaring the tough questioning of Hagel to be unfair.  I mean, why should we demand much from a man who will run our national defense?  That's so yesterday.  The New York Times naturally declared the campaign against Hagel to be "dishonest," but never said what was dishonest about it.  In fact, it's very honest, based entirely on Hagel's public record.

The White House did not issue the usual statement defending its nominee.  What could they say?  But most Washington reporters believe that Obama has enough votes in the Senate to get Hagel through.  He is apparently counting on a solid bloc of Democratic votes, cast by senators who don't want to cross this vindictive president, even if they know they're voting for a lemon.  Hagel may also get a small number of misguided Republicans.

It's a low moment.  I wonder what American service personnel working in the Pentagon thought when they saw their (assumed) new boss stumble through basic questions.  The man is not qualified.  He's not sharp enough.  He's not knowledgeable enough.  And there are serious questions about a man who's willing to change virtually all his positions just to get the job.

Maybe some Democrats will come to their senses.  But I think the odds still favor Hagel.  What a sad commentary on the way Washington works these days.

February 1, 2013