Thursday, January 10, 2013

I don't even know what to title this post

Image from Politico

Because Jennifer Rubin's most recent diatribe on Chuck Hagel (Chuck Schumer’s Hagel problem on her blog at the Washington Post) has left me dumbfounded. 

Rubin's argument, summed up, is that New York Senator Chuck Schumer - one of the highest ranking people in the Senate - is in a pickle over President Barack Obama's nomination of Chuck Hagel for defence secretary because he sits on the Armed Services Committee: the one who will carry out Hagel's confirmation hearing. Oh, and he is from a state full of Jewish people and gays. The criticism of Hagel's nomination has centered around two issues: i) an alleged lack of 100%-dedicated support for Israel and ii) his views on homosexuals (including supporting Don't Ask Don't Tell). 

For example, Rubin's keyboard mangled this together: "Schumer fancies himself as a great defender of Israel and extra tough on Iran. He repeats ad nauseam that his name derives from the Hebrew word “shomer” (guard). He tells groups:  “We need to be guardians of America and its strongest ally – Israel.” So how will it look and what happens to Schumer’s image as the great guardian of the U.S.-Israel relationship if he votes to confirm Hagel, who has spent a career outside the mainstream bipartisan consensus that supports the Jewish state? Hasn’t Hagel made quite clear he does not see the specialness of the U.S.-Israel relationship?"

For politeness, let's assume Rubin is not creating conclusions in the same manner that David Copperfield makes boats disappear... but the answer to her question is no. While Hagel does not lie down his coat so that Israel ened not walk through a puddle, it doesn't mean he has forgone any Israeli security issues. He has indeed said that the USA's relationship with Israel shouldn't be at the expense of every other Muslim-heavy country - I am unsure if I need to explain that not every country with a plurality of Muslims wants to see Israel nuked off the map (Rubin conversely reminds us with this subtle clause: "Newsflash: Many Muslim countries want Israel to vanish."). The USA may treat Israel as its top ally in the Middle East, but don't forget it also shares beneficial relationships with Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait and Turkey (a NATO-member). 

It is virtually impossible to be elected to any role in the USA's federal government if a significantly strong stance on Israel isn't apparent, but if recent electoral history is anything to go by, this does not mean total deference to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Barack Obama was elected with nearly 70% support by Jewish Americans (and 51% of everyone, to be fair), after his opponents spent the campaign bashing him for not being pro-Israel enough. This line of attack against Schumer, should he vote for Hagel as defence secretary, is unlikely to work any better. 

Rubin has also decided that Democrats running for re-election to the US Senate in 2014 are all going to balk at voting for Hagel's nomination because they are all shaking in their shoes about cuts to the military budget (do you remember how successful Mitt Romney's electoral tactic of upping military spending worked out for him?). She cites Stephen Hayes in the Weekly Standard who says, "Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine isn’t up for reelection for six years. But he’s from a state with a huge military population and he now sits on the Armed Service Committee. Will he support a nominee who is being sold as the man to preside over “huge cuts” to the military? And what about Joe Donnelly, a Democrat from Indiana? Like Kaine, he’s not up for six years, but with a seat on the Armed Services Committee and representing a red state like Indiana, a vote for “huge cuts” at the Pentagon won’t be an easy one. Kay Hagan, a Democrat on Armed Services, hails from North Carolina. She’s up in 2014. Does she want to run for reelection defending her vote for “huge cuts” to the Pentagon? Mark Pryor, from Arkansas, isn’t on Armed Services but is up in 2014. How would Arkansas voters feel about “huge cuts” to the Pentagon?
What about Alaska’s Mark Begich? North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp? Virginia’s Mark Warner? Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu? Joe Manchin from West Virginia? And Jon Tester from Montana?"

Where Hayes is quite correct is that there are a number of vulnerable Democrats running for re-election in 2014: of the 33 Senators up for a vote, 20 are Democrats, and six of those Democrats are running in traditionally conservative states (although I may be harshly judging Tom Harkin in Iowa). 

It is worth pointing out that of these six, Tom Harkin (Iowa) is a veteran, and Tim Johnson (South Dakota) is known for sticking up for veterans. Mary Landrieu (Louisiana) represents the only state in which the US military bought land (expanded!) last year. Kay Hagan (North Carolina) has previously argued for expansion of the military to lengthen downtime for soldiers on active duty: cutting the cost of the overall defence budget doesn't make this plan implausible. (Mark Begich of Alaska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas might not be so lucky on the military front, but Pryor has an approval rating over 50%.) Also, these are Democrats who have been mandated by their state to govern! While Rubin thinks a vote for Hagel could be career-ending for these senators, does she remember that the Senate has only voted down a presidential cabinet appointee nine times? 

I am also not really prepared to take into account what may happen to Virginia's Tim Kaine or Mark Warner, or North Dakota's Heidi Heitkamp: a vote for Hagel is hardly a vote for TARP. I am also not really prepared to start predicting what may happen in 2018 when Heitkamp, Kaine, Joe Manchin and John Tester (who just beat a strong opponent in Montana) are all up for re-election. A month is a long time in politics, let alone six years. No one can begin tossing around possibilities on a vote like this. One could have with a major vote on something like Obamacare, or the Iraq War; the nomination of a presidential cabinet member is not that kind of vote. 

Opposition coming in from the left, from senators like Ben Cardin of Maryland, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Bob Menendez from New Jersey, shouldn't be hard to deal with from the White House or Harry Reid. Signs point to Obama leading a largely liberalish agenda in this second term, and this vote can easily be negotiated for another. Plus it's a fairly arguable point for Democrats to start saving money on the military before one begins slashing at Medicare, for example. 

So don't read Rubin for any sort of analysis. 

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