The rumored, possible appointment of Chuck Hagel as secretary of Defense has set off a strange proxy war in Washington between neoconservatives and haters of neoconservatives, mainly because the two sides have been itching to fight each other and haven’t had any good grist for fighting since Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer passed from the scene. Hawks are casting Hagel as borderline anti-Semitic, while doves like Peter Beinart portray him as “the New Eisenhower” (because he’s a dovish veteran — it’s a bit like calling a politician who wants to expand public universities “the New Lincoln”).
The most damning charge against Hagel is that he railed against what he called “the Jewish Lobby.” I’d say opposing the Israel lobby is perfectly fine, calling it “the Jewish lobby” is somewhat offensive — it does have Gentiles, you know — while falling short of outright disqualifying.
But that hasn’t proven sufficiently damaging. Comically, the campaign to discredit Hagel, in an attempt to create a constant drumbeat of scandal or scandal-esque news, is casting him as … a Republican. One story came out that Hagel opposed the nomination of James Hormel, who is gay, as ambassador to Luxembourg, because he was “openly aggressively gay.” (Today Hagel apologized; Hormel has not accepted.) Today’s bombshell is that Hagel praised Strom Thurmond, an ex-segregationist, as a “role model.”
Scandalous? Well, yeah. Except Hormel was opposed by almost all Senate Republicans on the same grounds. (Senator John Aschroft: He “has been a leader in promoting a lifestyle.”) Likewise, the scandalized tones used by the Washington Free Beacon in describing Thurmond’s rancid segregationism —
Thurmond, one of the Senate’s most controversial figures, ran for president on the “Dixiecrat” ticket in 1948—Dixiecrats were devoted to preserving racial segregation in America. One of Thurmond’s most infamous quotes in discussing the segregation issue can be found in his New York Timesobituary, “’all the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes, into our schools, our churches and our places of recreation and amusement.”
— omits the context that the entire GOP went about treating Thurmond like a cuddly elder statesman. On the occasion of Thurmond’s 100th birthday, he was celebrated by a parade of GOP dignitaries, and President Bush issued a statement the flavor of which is captured here:
My family and I are among the myriad who have great respect and admiration for the Senator. His patriotism, courage, and lifetime dedication to South Carolina and his Nation will always be remembered. I am looking forward to having Senator Thurmond at the White House Friday to celebrate his centennial year.
God bless you, Strom. The Nation and I are grateful for your life of service.
Vintage nineties-era anti-gay bigotry and embrace of the most virulent segregation-era racists were completely standard positions for the Republican party during Hagel’s Senate career. You could argue that anybody implicated in these beliefs is morally disqualified from government, but that is a strange argument for conservatives to make.