Why Republican Chuck Hagel Doesn't Support Friend McCain | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Why Republican Chuck Hagel Doesn't Support Friend McCain

The New Yorker has a good piece on why Sen. Chuck Hagel isn't supporting John McCain, one of his closest friends:

In some ways, Hagel is far more of a maverick than McCain has ever been, and his endorsement would likely sway independents whose votes McCain probably needs in order to win. Hagel said of their meeting in June, "It never was an interview kind of thing. 'John, let me get these things straight.' " Rather, he explained, "I wanted to understand, too, as we talked through these things, where he was going. . . . We talked about Iraq, and he and I disagree on this." They also discussed McCain's argument that Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic Presidential nominee, was wrong to pursue direct engagement with Iranian leaders. "And I said, 'I don't think he is. It's what I've been saying, actually longer than Obama.' I remember telling John—I said, 'John, if you don't engage Iran, where do you think this is going to go? We're going to be in another war!' " (Hagel has been calling for direct, unconditional talks with Iran since 2001.)

Hagel says that he told McCain that he believed the election would be close, and he warned against waging a vicious campaign of the kind that had defeated McCain in 2000. "Once you win, then you're going to have to govern," Hagel told his friend. "The Democrats are going to add to their numbers, probably significantly, in the House and the Senate. You're going to be faced with a strong Democratic Congress. You are going to have to bring some consensus here, and the first thing you are going to have to do is reach out to the Congress—Democrat and Republican."

After the meeting, which Hagel says was amicable, any possibility that he might endorse McCain seemed to disappear. In response to interviewers' questions, Hagel began to say that he would consider serving as Obama's Vice-Presidential candidate—though he often added that he did not believe he would be asked—or in an Obama Cabinet; he's often mentioned in the press as a possible Secretary of State or Secretary of Defense. In mid-July, Hagel and his friend Senator Jack Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island, accompanied Obama on a trip to Afghanistan and Iraq. Describing Baghdad to me after he returned, Hagel said, "You can't walk around—you've got flak jackets, helmets on all the time, no matter where you are. It's always struck me it's almost like a Fellini movie, kind of unreal. The American people are told things are stable and secure and violence is down. No American would walk outside there without a convoy!"

Hagel's unwillingness to endorse McCain is generally perceived to be a result of their ongoing disagreements over the Iraq war. But he told me that the gulf between them is much deeper: "In good conscience, I could not enthusiastically—honestly—go out and endorse him and support him when we so fundamentally disagree on the future course of our foreign policy and our role in the world." [...]

Hagel may be the only senior Republican elected official who has publicly criticized McCain's choice of Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. "I don't believe she's qualified to be President of the United States," Hagel told me. "The first judgment a potential President makes is who their running mate is—and I don't think John made a very good selection." He scoffed at McCain's attempts to portray her as an experienced politician. "To try to make the excuse that she looks out her window and sees Russia—and that she's commander of the Alaska National Guard." He added, "There is no question that this candidate is arguably the thinnest-résumé candidate for Vice-President in the history of America." Hagel's criticisms have prompted protests from Republicans, including Senator Orrin Hatch, of Utah, who said in an e-mail statement to me, "Senator Hagel knows that decades of foreign-policy experience in the Senate did not stop countless Democrats and some Republicans from declaring the surge a failure before it started and recommending instead a disastrous policy of withdrawal and retreat in Iraq."

For Hagel, almost as disturbing as Palin's lack of experience is her willingness—in disparaging remarks about Joe Biden's long Senate career, for example—to belittle the notion that experience is important. "There's no question, she knows her market," Hagel said. "She knows her audience, and she's going right after them. And I'll tell you why that's dangerous. It's dangerous because you don't want to define down the standards in any institution, ever, in life. You want to always strive to define standards up. If you start defining standards down—'Well, I don't have a big education, I don't have experience—yes, there's a point to be made that not all the smartest people come out of Yale or Harvard. But to intentionally define down in some kind of wild populism, that those things don't count in a complicated, dangerous world—that's dangerous in itself.

"There was a political party in this country called the Know-Nothings," he continued. "And we're getting on the fringe of that, with these one-issue voters—pro-choice or pro-life. Important issue, I know that. But, my goodness. The world is blowing up everywhere, and I just don't think that is a responsible way to see the world, on that one issue. And, interestingly enough, that is one issue that stopped John McCain from picking one of the people he really wanted, Joe Lieberman or Tom Ridge—the Independent senator from Connecticut and the Republican former governor of Pennsylvania. (Both men are pro-choice.)

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