Chuck Hagel, the Budget Battle and the Washington Follies

Last year, 2012, my posts were largely about the presidential election and/or the nature of our political scene which has been aptly dubbed an era of  “post truth” politics.  Now I am considering themes to form a topic list for 2013, and I plan on describing them in an upcoming post.

English: Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) arrives at ...

Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) shown at Camp Ramadi for a short visit in Iraq with U.S. servicemen when still a Senator.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not surprisingly, continuing to separate truth from layers of falsehoods and distortions will be one of those themes, while the question of political polarization and Congressional gridlock will be another.   I will address the debate over gun violence as well.

Speaking of the last-named topic, I picked up a copy of Columbine by Dave Cullen as background reading.   Published 10 years after the event and dispelling many media distortions of that moment, it makes chillingly fascinating reading, much of the fascination tied to the questions:  Who were these killers?  How did they come to be?

In the process the author describes psychological terms, such as psychotic, as one of the killers appears to have been so.   While psychotic “covers a spectrum of severe mental illnesses,” I infer a commonality being that in all such cases the individual is disconnected more  or less from the reality that most of us seem to share.  On a lesser level it may be paranoia, at the extreme “they lose all contact with reality.”

At times I read something written by a Neo Con or radical libertarian and  I feel they have lost all contact with reality.   Of course, those on the right have some figures on the far left they feel the same about.   When it comes to politics, we Americans tend to live in one of two realities as drawn by either party’s operatives.   One might say that from either end of the party spectrum, the opposite reflects varying degrees of psychosis.

But the nomination of Chuck Hagel for Defense Secretary should not be a case in point.   By what I would call centrist standards he seems an excellent pick, but not to Republicans like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, or Neo Con, so-called intellectual William Kristol (*1).   Several years ago these guys were all pretty chummy Republicans, and Kristol even made a case for Hagel back in 2000 to be G. W. Bush’s running mate.

Hagel’s sin is that in the interim he has acted like the maverick John McCain once was, and has expressed views that fit less and less with the ever more right trending Republican Party.   And perhaps his biggest sin of all.  He seems to like and respect Barack Obama.   If RINO was in the dictionary, Hagel’s picture would be right next to it.   If Republicans had excommunication, he would no longer be a member of that church.

I think  Chuck Hagel has not changed so much, but the Republican reality has and Hagel no longer fits in.  From their perspective he has become a political psychopath.   So, a guy who used to be thought imminently capable, while outspoken, is now painted as someone unfit to serve as Defense Secretary.   I would say that’s crazy, but more likely it is simply pandering to the far right elements of the Republican party.

If you haven’t heard already their criticisms of Hagel, you’ll hear plenty over the next couple of weeks or so, but here is what I believe is their biggest concern.  Hagel has talked about the Pentagon being “bloated” in the past, even before he became ostracized.  As a combat veteran himself,  he is the perfect candidate when it comes to paring that budget down (*2).   When he will argue that our military can remain dominant without this or that, no one will be able to accuse him of not caring about our troops in the field.   The Republicans continue to clamor for deficit reduction, but not when it comes to touching their sacred Pentagon cow.

Chuck Hagel will look for sensible cuts in the Pentagon budget, which is not something Republicans want to hear about.   But Democrats do.

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(*1)  William Kristol founded and is the editor of the Weekly Standard, which I would describe as a Neo-Con propaganda instrument.    I overheard him say on FOX the other day that “Obama is not concerned about having a strong national defense.”  I will address the absurdity of this statement in my next post, or one soon after.   He was one of the early backers of Sarah Palin as McCain’s VP candidate, which in my mind largely dismisses him from the category of serious thinkers.   He did come to realize that Palin did not really make a good presidential candidate in 2012 and recently he said he saw no reason for Republicans to live or die over raising taxes somewhat for the rich.   I’ll give him a couple of points for making some sense for a change, but I group him among those who are so soaked in their ideology they douse most of what might otherwise be illuminating.   Another topic to be addressed later.

(*2)  David Brooks, a conservative moderate whom I do respect, describes the political wisdom of Obama’s Hagel pick in this column.    Unfortunately, he ends the editorial with a cheap shot:   “How, in short, will Hagel supervise the beginning of America’s military decline? If members of Congress don’t want America to decline militarily, well, they have no one to blame but the voters and themselves.”

David, David, David….  I thought you were better than that.    “Decline militarily”?   Of the money spent worldwide on military forces, we spend about 42% of it.  Put another way, our military spending is more than the next 17 countries in the world combined.  Don’t you think there are probably some areas that could use paring down given our deficit problems?

I will go into that more in my next post.  Which will be short to compensate for this long one.

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Can Barack and John Work Something Out?

Official photographic portrait of US President...

(Wikipedia)

In my previous post I gave  columnist David Brooks some credit for coming up with a vision (or fantasy) of the two parties actually working together to not only survive the fiscal bumpy slope, i. e. cliff,  but to actually begin to fix our entrenched fiscal problems.   For his efforts he has been made a pin cushion, mostly by critics on the left.

These critics, brimming with their belief in an Obama mandate, have shredded Brooks’ ideas for one reason or another.   Hey, it was only one column exploring the possibility of the Republicans coming to the table and saying something more than “no”.  Those on the left, retract your fangs, please!   When someone comes to you wishing to talk peace and carrying a white flag, you don’t shoot him.

Official portrait of United States House Speak...

(Wikipedia)

Generally speaking, the Republicans are in some disarray, trying to come to grips with their election losses,  while the Democrats feel they hold the high cards, so they are not inclined to give an inch to any Republican attempt to make peace.   Barack Obama has demonstrated that attitude knowing that if the Bush tax breaks expire, the Democrats will then be able to propose new legislation to bring back the tax cuts for those below $250,000 (or maybe a bit higher).  That would leave the Republicans in the awkward position of appearing to oppose tax cuts.  Also, polls suggest that Republicans will receive more of the blame for the consequences of not making some sort of deal.

The  amount of  money going in and out of Washington is not going to suddenly change  January 1, and the Obama team can soften the immediate effects of the so-called cliff, as mentioned in my previous post.   As such, the Democrats are feeling their oats, believing they can have their way with Republicans on this issue. The Obama team seems willing to head down a bumpy 2013 slope if the Republicans won’t deal.

Given the Tea Party’s ability in the past to throw a monkey wrench into most compromises between the parties, perhaps no deal can be made any time soon, but some interesting news broke yesterday in an article in the NY Times  “At House Speaker John A. Boehner’s request, Senate leaders and Representative Nancy Pelosi have been excluded from talks to avert a fiscal crisis, leaving it to Mr. Boehner and President Obama alone to find a deal, Congressional aides say.”

What’s that song?  Just the two of us….   Boehner’s request suggests to me that negotiating progress has been made behind the scenes AND that both gentlemen believe they have some negotiating room, i.e. that each can make some concessions and still sell the deal to their parties.   Supporting this line of thought was the appearance of numerous pundits of  liberal political opinion at the White House recently, such as many of the hosts at MSNBC.   I infer this to mean Obama was looking for support for some concessions.  Meanwhile  Tea Party types have complained that Boehner is asserting more control over them by removing some from key committee assignments, i. e. he has laid the groundwork for less interference by them.

Boehner hasn’t shown suicidal tendencies as far as I know, so in requesting this meeting, he must feel fairly confident they can come up with something he can live with, which means he can get passed in the House.

When the two meet, I’d love to be a fly on the wall.