Friday, August 15, 2008

VP Profile: Chuck Hagel

Age: 61
Current Position: Senator from Nebraska
Former Positions of Importance:
  • Deputy Administrator of Veteran Affairs, 1981-1982
A certain reader has mentioned a couple times that he'd like to see Hagel profiled, so I decided to knuckle under and bow to reader pressure. I'm a weak individual. This might be the last VP Profile; Obama is evidently very close to a decision. Or maybe I'll take a walk on the dark side and profile one of McCain's potential vice presidents. That's right: I'm a crazy man. You never know what I'm gonna do.

Pros: Vice Presidential selections are largely matters of PR in all circumstances, but a Hagel pick would be a huge publicity grab. The NY Times headline writes itself: "In Stunning Move, Obama Tabs Republican Hagel." It would feed into the narrative Obama's campaign has attempted to weave from the moment he entered the race: Obama as a unique, post-partisan figure, the product of an American meritocracy who sees past party labels and cares only about an individual's talent.

In many ways Hagel is a Midwestern, Republican version of Joe Biden: experienced, intelligent, respected and sharp-tongued. If Obama's searching for gravitas, he could do a hell of a lot worse than Chuck Hagel, a Vietnam veteran who has called for an end to the Iraq war. He's also excoriated the Bush administration for its demonization of debate and dissent, which endears him to me.

I could pad this out for a few more paragraphs, but what you've read above is pretty much Hagel's appeal as a VP candidate. Obama would earn plaudits from the various editorial staffs for reaching across the aisle and choosing a Republican, and skeptical independents would like the idea of a seasoned heavyweight like Hagel rounding out the ticket. That's as far as it goes.

Cons: The Democratic base would be pretty pissed. Oh, they like Hagel's stance on the war now, but he was a supporter of the war when it first came to the senate. And for the roots people (both grass and net), it only gets worse.

Because outside of the Iraq War, Hagel's pretty much your normal conservative. NARAL's given him a 0 percent rating, and while math isn't my strong suit, it's hard to imagine someone getting a rating lower than that. Those members of the Angry Hillary Supporters Brigade are not going to be happy about the elevation of a pro-life conservative to the vice-president's slot on Obama's ticket, nor should they be.

The NAACP and the Human Rights Campaign both dislike Hagel; the homosexual and African-American communities aren't likely to abandon Obama, barring some kind of unforeseeable development of the truly extraordinary variety. But thumbing your nose at them doesn't seem like a grand idea.

We could go on like this for awhile; his votes on energy and the environment are also problematic. But I'll try to avoid becoming tedious and simply emphasize that, should Obama choose Hagel as his VP, he'll be picking someone who disagrees with him on the vast majority of the important issues. He'll be picking someone who disagrees with most of his voters. That's risky.

Moving on to more mundane concerns, Hagel brings little geographic appeal to the ticket. Nebraska's not in play, and you'd have to squint awfully hard to convince yourself that he could help Obama in South Dakota. Which isn't really up for grabs anyway.

Verdict: He doesn't seem to be a factor in any of the reports on Obama's thinking; at this point, the shortlist seems to have been winnowed down to the Biden, Bayh, Kaine and Sebelius. A surprise is certainly possible, but everything seems to indicate that Obama will choose from that foursome.

Even if Hagel was part of that final four I don't think it would be a good idea. The novelty of a Republican on the ticket would wear off pretty quickly. Obama's a fan of the whole Lincoln-esque "Team of Rivals" motif, but that idea is stretched to the breaking point when you choose someone who disagrees with you on so many issues. It's also asking a lot of your base to support someone like Hagel.

But all is not lost for Hagel, who's retiring from the Senate this year. He's been talked up as a potential Secretary of Defense in an Obama administration. That seems like a good place for a Republican like Hagel. Obama can do his "Team of Rivals" thing by giving the opposition party an important cabinet post and demonstrate that he takes the Defense Department so seriously that he's willing to ignore partisan concerns and choose the best secretary for the job.

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