The GOP is looking for ways to look stupid and petty, and Obama is all too willing to oblige with opportunities.
Obama’s nomination for Defense Secretary is Chuck Hagel, the former Senator of Nebraska. Hagel has been criticized for being not-quite-enthusiastic-enough-about-Israel and for being in favor of engaging Iran and Hamas in direct talks. Hagel is also on record calling for cutbacks in the defense budget. Exactly the sort of nominee that republicans would want to block, and exactly the sort of nominee that republicans would want to make a big public stink about. Obama picked some anti-military liberal democrat hippie and the GOP will be eager to stand up to vocally decry the nominee to protect the country.
In fact, that’s what the GOP has done. Thursday they demanded more time to debate and the Senate failed to make a cloture vote, and the vote has now been scheduled for February 26th. Lindsey Graham called for a delay on the vote, Ted Cruz asked for Hagel’s financial records, and John McCain grilled Hagel about his opinions on the troop «surge» proposed by President Bush, which Hagel opposed when he was in the Senate.
The White House is quite predictably accusing republicans of obstructionism. While republicans have valid disagreements with Hagel on matters of military policy, this time they walked right into Obama’s trap. Because Chuck Hagel is not some anti-military democrat hippie. Chuck Hagel was the Republican Senator from Nebraska, and a decorated Vietnam veteran.
Hagel’s military service should not grant him immunity from scrutiny. Nor should his affiliation with the Republican Party. But in a world of soundbites, how do Republicans think they can get around the fact that Obama reached across the aisle to nominate a republican, while the GOP for the first time ever filibustered to block the approval of a Cabinet nominee—to block the approval of a fellow Republican. It looks bad. It looks petty and deliberately contrary. The apparent pettiness is so obvious on its face that it takes diligent research and a desire to give the republicans the benefit of the doubt to remove the stink.
That Obama might not have deliberately engineered this is farfetched. He may not have known the specifics of how it would play out, but he’s smart enough to know what kind of opportunity he had with Hagel. But ultimately, Obama didn’t do anything wrong here. He set the republicans up so that they could publicly assassinate their own characters. Why bother slinging mud when your opponents will cover themselves in it for you?