The Magazine

The Hagel Fiasco

Worst confirmation hearing ever?

Feb 11, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 21 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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On this issue and so many others, it was as if Hagel didn’t understand why he’d held the views he had or was reluctant to discuss them. That’s not necessarily novel. Confirmation hearings often involve nominees revising their long-held views with the hope of making themselves more acceptable to those voting on their nomination. Hagel’s problem—or one of them, anyway—is that he often seemed to mean what he said originally and not to buy his own (alleged) change of heart.

Hagel, to his credit, apparently understood just how poorly he was doing. If senators voted only on the basis of his performance before the committee, it’s hard to imagine anyone supporting him. As his testimony drew to a close, Hagel anticipated and tried to answer two of the main objections senators surely have to his confirmation, first acknowledging his own ignorance and then touting as an asset his own powerlessness. 

“There are a lot of things I don’t know about,” he said. “If confirmed, I intend to know a lot more than I do. I will have to.” Moments later, Hagel adopted the minimalist argument his advocates have lately advanced as part of their case on his behalf. “I won’t be in a policymaking position.”

If the best you can say on your own behalf is that you’re aware of your limitations and you won’t be very consequential, it’s not a great case.

Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard.

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