The Hagel litmus test
Redacted from article By Jennifer Rubin January 6, 2013
If Republicans had nervy firebrands like the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, someone would rise up to declare, “Chuck Hagel’s America is a land in which gays would be forced back in the closet and Jews would be accused of dual loyalty. Chuck Hagel’s world is one in which devastating defense cuts become a goal, not a problem; we enter direct talks with the terrorist organization Hamas; and sanctions on Iran wither.”
The Hagel nomination on Monday is so outrageous and the rationale for his nomination so weak that it becomes an easy no vote for all Republicans. Phillip Terzian aptly sums up the problems with Hagel that go beyond his extreme views: “Simply stated, there is no evidence that Chuck Hagel has the experience or temperament to master the gigantic defense establishment, or deal effectively with Congress on delicate issues. On the contrary, there is every indication that he would quickly suffocate in the details of running the Pentagon, and run afoul of his political masters in the White House.”
Unlike the Democratic Party, support for the U.S.-Israel relationship has become a positive litmus test for national office in the GOP, in large part due to the intensely pro-Israel Christian conservatives. The opposition to Hagel will be fierce. At the very least the battle will potentially suck up much of the oxygen in the Senate, put other issues like gun control on hold and threaten to become the blockbuster hearing of the Obama presidency as the Judge Robert Bork hearing was in the Reagan administration.
But this is not merely about Israel or Iran policy or defense spending. It is about the acceptability of the worst expression of anti-Semitism, the accusation of disloyalty. There is no other meaning to Hagel’s phrase “Jewish lobby.” The declaration from Hagel that he is not “the senator from Israel” (Who said he should be?) is again a direct attack on Jews’ fidelity to the United States. For decades this kind of venomous language has been gaining acceptance in Europe. But never in America. In elevating Hagel the president in a real and troubling way moves us closer to Western Europe. Indeed the most disturbing aspect of Hagel’s nomination is not his impact on policy (President Obama has and will continue to make one blunder after another), but what it says about the U.S. president’s willingness to embrace a man espousing the world’s oldest hatred.
In short the nomination will confirm suspicions the right harbors about Obama (he doesn’t like Israel, he takes Jewish voters for granted, he is weak on defense). They can with much justification claim that Obama is revealing his true preferences and instincts, which lead him to go to the mat for the most anti-Israel nominee in recent memory (in either party). Because it is such a powerful bit of evidence in the right’s favor, a Hagel nomination then forces an early decision in the second Obama term for Senate Democrats: Do they tie themselves to the fate of a lame-duck president who no longer needs to keep up the pretense of moderation or do they put some daylight between themselves and Obama?
A final note: Republicans should be circumspect about tossing around the word filibuster. In this case, the real pressure is on Senate Democrats, who ideally should be compelled to vote, not be spared by shifting the argument to one about process and denying the president an up-or-down vote. On the contrary, Republicans should insist that the hearings be exhaustive and timely. Unlike the budget, this will be a distasteful vote Senate Democrats cannot ignore. And most of all it will settle the argument about the president’s attitudes toward Israel and the American Jewish community.
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