On October 3, 2005, President George W. Bush announced his intention to nominate his White House counsel, Harriet Miers, to succeed Sandra Day O’Connor as an associate justice of the Supreme Court. On October 27, after vigorous statements of opposition from conservatives and quiet expressions of dismay from Republican senators, Miers withdrew her nomination.
Conservatives and Republicans had no grudge against Harriet Miers. They simply thought she wasn’t a first-rate candidate. They were confident that Bush, the Court, and the country could do better. They were right. President Bush then nominated Samuel Alito for the position. Alito was confirmed by the Senate, and now serves with great distinction on the Court.
We may, as George Orwell observed, “have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.” But there isn’t an intelligent liberal, or for that matter a sentient one, who doesn’t know, after last week’s confirmation hearing, that Chuck Hagel isn’t a first-rate candidate for secretary of defense. He isn’t even a second-rate candidate. Has there ever been a more embarrassing confirmation hearing than Hagel’s for a major cabinet position? For a minor cabinet position? For a sub-cabinet position? We don’t know of one.
Yet so far liberals seem to be trying to pretend that all is well. Or they have simply averted their gaze from the ghastly train wreck. Or, they tell us (and themselves)—well, the secretary of defense doesn’t really make policy, and there are lots of capable bureaucrats who can run the department. Or, they grumble—well, we can’t give Hagel’s critics the satisfaction of acknowledging that this appointment is a disaster.
The question is whether there are a few good men or women—serious liberals willing to speak truth to power, honorable Democratic senators willing to put country before party—who will step forward to sink the Hagel nomination.
It will be revealing about the state of liberalism and the condition of the Democratic party if there are none. It wasn’t pleasant in 2005 for conservatives and Republicans to oppose a nominee—in this case a close friend—of a president they supported. It certainly wasn’t pleasant to seem to give any comfort to the president’s critics. Still, to use a corny but apt expression, it was the right thing to do. And a willingness to do it was a sign of the health of American conservatism.
American liberalism shows no such sign of health. Liberals are pretending not to recognize that Hagel is manifestly unqualified. A few have the wit to argue in excuse that associate justice of the Supreme Court is a lifetime appointment while secretary of defense is not. On the other hand, the damage an incompetent secretary of defense could do over the next four years is very great.
Conservatives and Republicans will stand firm in opposing Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense. They will do so with a clear conscience, basing their opposition on his obvious unsuitability for the position. Are liberals and Democrats willing to sell their souls for . . . Chuck Hagel?
John Kennedy was in many ways a flawed leader and a problematic president. But the bestselling book published under his name, Profiles in Courage, attests to the fact that once upon a time liberals sought to lay claim to that ancient virtue. And just last month, in his second Inaugural Address, President Obama said, “Our brave men and women in uniform tempered by the flames of battle are unmatched in skill and courage.”
Our brave men and women in uniform deserve better than Chuck Hagel. Are there any courageous liberal voices who will find it within themselves to say so? Are there a few courageous Democrats in the United States Senate who will announce that they will not consent to a secretary of defense unqualified for that high office? Is there even one Democratic senator who will hearken to President -Kennedy’s admonition, “Sometimes party loyalty asks too much”?