Monday, May 28, 2018
Opinion

Putting Hagel to a secret purity test

By the purity tests being imposed on former Nebraska U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel to serve as the next secretary of defense, Cabinet nominees would have to spend their entire lives sitting quietly in a corner, hands folded in their laps.

So in this era of unfettered social media and unlimited sums of money, all those named to fill high-powered government jobs are likely to find themselves fending off attacks on their character, patriotism and intelligence by powerful forces without the courage of their convictions to attach their names to the smear campaigns.

As Hagel prepares for his confirmation hearings, he is coming under attack by a conservative group called Americans for a Strong Defense, which is urging Democratic senators in five states to vote against him.

"Americans Emitting a Strong Odor" might be more appropriate.

Other anti-Hagel groups also have formed, accusing him of being antigay, anti-Israel, antiwoman and probably antibabies, anti-apple pie and anti-amber waves of grain.

But the one thing all these Hagel hand-wringers have in common is a shared passion for pusillanimity.

Freed from the moral obligation for transparency by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which opened up unbridled and largely unaccounted-for campaign spending, those funding the phony groups that are opposing Hagel can keep their identities secret.

As an infantry sergeant serving in Vietnam, Hagel received two Purple Hearts for injuries sustained in combat. No matter what you may think of his politics or positions on issues, no one can question his valor — not that the deep pockets in the shadows won't try.

Hagel stood up for his country and the soldiers under his command. Yet his fitness for office is being attacked by faceless check-writers afraid to stand up and be counted.

While craven people with obtuse political agendas have always skulked behind make-believe groups, today's social discourse has become even more disconcerting with the rise of social media platforms.

The Internet is awash in anonymous attacks on everyone from 13-year-old girls to national political figures. Anyone armed with a mousepad can assault a person's reputation with very little concern that he will be called to account for his lies, innuendo and gossip-mongering.

The multimedia assault on Hagel is no different. Just more high-profile.

In a sense, Hagel's impending Senate confirmation hearing is a quasi-judicial process. Witnesses are sworn in to tell the truth. Testimony is taken. Penalties can be imposed for perjury.

Shouldn't Hagel have the opportunity to confront his detractors? Shouldn't he at least know who they are — by name? After all, this is a man who has been nominated to oversee the largest military apparatus on the planet.

And yet his appointment risks being undermined by a subterranean clique of nameless, faceless pretend patriots lurking behind dubious flag-waving banners. Americans for a Strong Defense — But a Bit Weak in the Knees to Publicly Defend Their Ramblings.

Not a John Hancock anywhere to be found.

The New York Times noted the secret multi-million-dollar campaign to deny Hagel the defense secretary's post is unprecedented in modern political history. That's probably true. But it's early yet.

After all, Citizens United wasn't decided by the Supreme Court until 2010. The checkbooks are only getting warmed up.

Although something of a foreign concept to the likes of Americans for a Strong Kangaroo Court, by the time any prominent figure is considered for an influential government post they have probably said and done stuff they wish they hadn't. Haven't you?

Hagel has taken unpopular positions. He has said things in a less than artful way. He has irritated members of his Republican Party. He's also been right more often than he has been wrong.

But if Hagel is denied the Pentagon by virtue of a anonymously driven media Ox-Bow Incident, what future Cabinet appointees would want to subject themselves to a trial by irrational ire?

Whom would you rather share a foxhole with: Chuck Hagel, or a horse's patootie with no name?

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