In mid-August, I was flying off to participate in the Australian-American Leadership Dialogue. I was catching an 8 am flight at Dulles Airport and for whatever reason was being escorted to the front of some very long security lines and was given the red carpet treatment by TSA. I have no idea why. I thought that perhaps someone had mistaken me as David Letterman’s brother again — which actually happened once and got me into a restricted but cool night club.
But standing a few layers back in the long line was Chuck Hagel, dressed in a starched shirt and crisp suit and tie. I said howdy to him — and despite my unshaven state after hiking and camping for a week in the Cascades and wearing jeans and a t-shirt, Hagel was effusive, energetic, real. We chatted about Iran, Iraq, and the general wreck that had become American foreign policy.
And despite my nudge, he would not get out of that long line he was in, though I tried to encourage him to just take my place as the real VIP, since TSA had clearly made a mistake on me.
Hagel told me he was flying off to participate in a forum organized by former Clinton chief-of-staff Leon Panetta, and I read about his comments later in the news.
The word is slowly leaking out that not only is Chuck Hagel not going to run for President — but he’s not going to run for the Senate again in 2008. I’m not sure this is the final word, but Hagel is getting ready to make an announcement either this next Saturday or the one following — and all indicators are that he is going to depart an institution that very much still needs his conscience and sensibilities.
Dems are already readying New School President and former Senator Bob Kerrey to run. I don’t want to comment on Kerrey right now. I’ve worked with him, and suffice it say that we each survived the experience. He’s tough-minded, iconoclastic, and ruthlessly political in a good sense — traits I admire.
But this isn’t about Kerrey. It’s about Hagel.
Chuck Hagel is the kind of Republican that would would bring health back to American politics. He’s a Republican conservative — no doubt about it. But he’s the kind of Republican who respects the views of Democrats. He’ll compete with them, but respect them. He’s not about a hyperventilating right that rules by assertion and Cheney/Rove “50% + 1” delusions.
Hagel — like John Warner — both have a great deal of concern for the state of the military today. So does Senator Jack Reid who served in the military. All of the presidential candidates are speaking about the need to restore our military so that its capabilities and morale don’t erode further — but Hagel, Warner, Reid, McCain, Webb — these folks have different inroads to understanding the plight of service people and the military system today.
Hagel was the boldest in my view in fighting George W. Bush on the war. Republicans and Democrats need his kind of logic and leadership — and it would be a terrible shame for him to leave the Senate.
I think he may leave anyway. But he shouldn’t. He should rethink his views on this as he’s not talking to the right people.
More on what he might do in his next life later — but in the mean time, i just want to post an open admonishment to him for these rumors that he might end his tenure.
Hagel has been a terrific national leader in my view — and leaving now reduces our ability to correct the many, many problems in our national security and foreign policy portfolios after the Bush administration finally is brought to an end. He should stay where he is and should partner with the next President and the next raft of Senators and Congressman in undoing the damage done.
— Steve Clemons