|Photograph: Christy Bowe/ Christy Bowe/Corbis|
I described Jonah Goldberg as "remarkably sophomoric" for describing Chuck Hagel as "never overburdened with too heavy a reputation for insight, knowledge, or humility." I'll stand by that description of what Jonah Goldberg said, but after listening to the hearing today I will also admit that Jonah Goldberg apparently knew what he was talking about in regards to Chuck Hagel's insight and knowledge, but he may have been wrong on the humility part.
The profile I built for Chuck Hagel was built primarily using content in speeches he has given over the last decade, 14 different speeches to be accurate. I learned two things during today's confirmation hearing of Chuck Hagel. First, Chuck Hagel has had a really smart speechwriter for years, but second, it is hard to believe that anything Chuck Hagel has said in his speeches over the past several years are actually his ideas in his words, indeed it slowly became clear over the course of the day that Chuck Hagel doesn't appear to have any core beliefs he is willing to stand firm on, and it also became clear that Chuck Hagel doesn't know enough about the President's policies to suggest he stands firm with them either.
Chuck Hagel couldn't defend the positions he has made in the speeches he had given in the past, and when he tried to defend those arguments, he couldn't articulate the substance behind ideas he has been credited for without stumbling over his words or outright confusing the issue that was being discussed. Prior to his official nomination by the President, Chuck Hagel was a mess when trying to answer questions to the media about serious issues of defense policy, but I think a lot of people expected that once he got in the DoD and the DoD handlers and coaches were able to prepare him, he would be fine.
Not so, Chuck Hagel was even worse today showing no improvement at all in publicly discussing issues of policy, even after weeks of coaching and preparing for what amounted to fairly obvious questions. It didn't matter if it was a good question, a bad question, a hard question, or an easy question because to most questions on Thursday Chuck Hagel had very few good answers.
And lets be honest, those were either the smartest questions the Senate has ever asked a nominee for Secretary of Defense, or Chuck Hagel was completely unprepared. Every single question I heard, and granted I missed some of the hearing over the 8.5 hours, was a fairly predictable question. Senator Levin must be exhausted bailing water out of the Hagel canoe all day, because Chuck Hagel would find ways of taking on water with his responses to even the easy softball questions by Democrats who like and support the guy. It is hard to imagine the folks in the DoD didn't prepare him for the questions he was peppered with today, as it was all basic stuff about Israel and Iran that most professionals could have easy answered, dodged, or dismissed without looking foolish. No one expected any "Wow moments" during the Chuck Hagel confirmation hearing, but there were at least 20 such moments today in the hearing, and none of them were "Wow, that was smart!" - indeed all of them were "Wow, did he really just say that? What?"
What happened Thursday was all on Chuck Hagel, and it was so uncomfortable that it is going to be difficult to find an unedited video of Chuck Hagel's testimony that makes him appear prepared or qualified for the job.
I am less sure who Chuck Hagel is today than I was before the hearing, because it is not clear at all he has ever given a speech that represented his ideas or opinions, nor that he actually believes in the positions he has been associated with throughout the nomination process. It would be difficult for anyone to quote any speech he has given as representative of him after his testimony today. Not only could he not answer questions related to previous comments he has given, he often couldn't remember what he was trying to say or what he did say. Chuck Hagel is clearly not an articulate man, and this is the guy we want to send to talk to allies and competitors on defense issues? Chuck Hagel wasn't articulate when he spoke to the press prior to the official nomination, and he was anything but articulate in front of the Senate today. Not good.
When Senator Jack Reed - who supports Hagel - asked a super softball question about Chuck Hagel's discussions with President Obama during the nomination process, Chuck Hagel answered the question by saying "When he asked me why am I qualified, I said I'm not."
Something is wrong if Senate Democrats just rubber stamp this nomination choice by the President, as it is obvious to everyone, including apparently Chuck Hagel, that he should not be Secretary of Defense. Chuck Hagel was the least prepared, least articulate, and least intelligent sounding person speaking in a Senate Committee hearing on Thursday, and lets be very honest - someone has to work real hard to be the least intelligent sounding person in a Senate Committee hearing.
I admit I am pretty clueless when it comes to politics, but I wouldn't want Chuck Hagel on my team. This nomination makes little sense when the next person on the bench is Michelle Flournoy, who I think everyone knows would have been the smartest person in the Capitol building, much less the room, on defense issues had she been the nominee.
While the nation is still at war, Obama has picked the remarkably unimpressive and clearly unqualified Chuck Hagel who appears to be in way over his head as the Secretary of Defense nominee, when the administration could have picked the incredibly qualified and brilliant Michelle Flournoy to become the first female Secretary of Defense. I originally dismissed outright the absurdity of the President being peppered with questions on diversity on his cabinet last week, because his response was that his criteria for cabinet selection was based solely on merit. Well, I think today proved merit is not the criteria being used in the Obama administration's cabinet selection process, in fact today we must ask if merit is even a criteria at all.
It is starting to look like the Obama administration second term plan for defense is less money and fewer smart people. Plan accordingly.