Whatever happened to civility, even-handedness, fairness, tolerance for positions that differ from our own, and the opportunity to fully answering questions posed? Many of the senators lectured Hagel at length yet demanded that he answer their questions with a yes or no answer and rudely interrupted him when he sought to amplify his previous positions. The deportment exhibited by several senators was more fitting for a trial than treating a former colleague with courtesy, respect and decency. The hearing was appalling for its lack of statesmanship.
And, let me be clear: this was not Hagel’s “finest hour.” Noted for a keen sense of humor, the few attempts he did make fell flat. His demeanor seemed as lackluster as President Obama did in his first debate with former Governor Mitt Romney.
Whether or not one agrees with the previous positions taken by Hagel and whether or not one believes he should be confirmed as the next secretary of defense, make no mistake that he is a man who cares deeply about his country, has served it ably in the Senate and courageously as a soldier-combatant (which too few senators have done), and that he did not seek the position. Confirmation hearings should be tough but not hostile, exhaustive but not punitive, and challenging but not a partisan witch-hunt with obvious personal animus being displayed.
It is clear that much of the animosity and intemperateness directed at Chuck Hagel was a poorly camouflaged rebuttal of President Obama’s foreign policy. And, at Hagel directly for having taken a path on Iraq that diverged from the “Three Amigos” and their friends. The fact that Hagel is a Republican matters not in the GOP game plan.
Finally, it would be refreshing if some senators refrained from using the hackneyed expression “thank you for your service” as the authors are too often insincere in its use. As a former enlisted sailor who became a naval officer during the Viet Nam era and who was raised Republican, I was chagrined by much of the behavior demonstrated by these “holy-than-thou” elected officials who couldn’t carry Hagel’s rifle any day of the year.
One can only hope the disdainful theatrics orchestrated by these senators will not persist in other confirmation hearings. Chuck Hagel is a bright, thoughtful and dedicated patriot and public servant who deserved an exacting, thorough and fair hearing, not the circus we witnessed. And, let’s hope this unseemly hearing will not sway the next generation.
Eich, president of Eich Associated, a Thousand Oaks, California management firm, is the author of Real Leaders Don’t Boss. He has served on committees for U.S. Senators Richard Lugar and Carl Levin. He is a retired Navy captain.