Rooting for the home team has its limits. When it comes to one of our own, geography can indeed saddle us with myopia or can sift and select memories for us to get our feel-good on.
With former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be the nation’s next secretary of defense, however, I’m working almost blinder-free, unfettered by familiarity or ZIP code.
And completely on board.
Nobody’s perfect for a Cabinet appointment, especially in the paralysis of today’s hyperpartisan Washington. (Of course, a Democratic president tapping a Republican nominee certainly plays against type.)
That said, Hagel’s choice is inspired and intelligent, not because it grinds a few molars on both sides of the aisle but, rather, because Hagel is toting the right resume.
OK, I will admit that his being from Nebraska makes it that much better, but Chuck Hagel is the right guy at the right moment for the right job. Even with Israel, Iran, the defense budget and his comments about gays on the table.
Would I feel any differently if Hagel represented North Dakota or was the mayor of Cleveland? If I hadn’t met and interviewed him on several occasions or watched him closely in Washington? If he wasn’t from my personal timeline or hadn’t fought and earned two Purple Hearts in my generation’s war?
Who knows? But while we Nebraskans see Hagel’s roots as a plus, geography is not the issue. Character, experience, brains and moxie are.
Nevertheless, some wolves are howling. That’s part of the process, with “Bork” now a verb in the nation’s dubious political lexicon.
The discussion (and diatribes) could work in Hagel’s favor. By the time he heads to his confirmation hearing, his assurances that he supports Israel (as his votes have shown) and his honest assessment of a comment 14 years ago that many have framed as anti-gay will both be vetted and part of the public record.
On each count, Hagel — typically — has faced the criticism head on.
Budget hawks will have a tough time squaring their wont to slash government programs while nagging about any Hagel plan to cut the Pentagon, which he is on record as saying needs to happen.
That doesn’t make him any less supportive of our military might. Cutting defense can be tricky business. But having seen the Pentagon as a soldier, deputy VA administrator, U.S. senator and member of advisory boards for the president on intelligence and policy, Hagel knows his way around the five-sided block.
Hagel also is drawing heat for his willingness to consider diplomacy or a reasonable facsimile before an armed response with Iran — or any other belligerent for that matter.
Hagel is a courageous guy who knows firsthand the bitter and deadly sting of war. He understands that the world’s biggest and best military needs no false bravado — whether you talk to the bad guys or not.
Some also took a dim view of his public displeasure with the prosecution of the Iraq War, a conflagration for which he cast a yes.
Nothing he has said or done would lead me to believe that Hagel would back down from a fight. He strikes me as someone keen on knowing just how to go about it, however.
His political independence has cost him favor in his party as well. His latest exercise of such autonomy was to support a Democrat, Bob Kerrey, who lost a long-shot bid to return to the Senate against now-GOP Sen. Deb Fischer.
Finally, some senators may want to throw the Hagel nomination under the bus simply to flex a little muscle in the wake of President Barack Obama’s victory last fall. That’s politics.
Chuck Hagel is a wise choice for secretary of defense. And not just because he’s from the neighborhood.
Although some of us who still live there might think so.