The effort to confirm Chuck Hagel as the next secretary of defense never seemed in as much trouble than it did this weekend. The Senate failed to pass a cloture measure last Thursday that would have cut off debate about the nomination. A new revelation about yet another offensive statement by Hagel in which he claimed the U.S. State Department was controlled by the Israeli Foreign Ministry not only forced the former senator to issue another unpersuasive and ambivalent disavowal. It also raised the possibility that many of the national Jewish organizations that had been silent about the nomination would now help build pressure on pro-Israel Democrats to abandon Hagel. But the building evidence of Hagel’s unsuitability and incompetence was not the subject of much of the conversation on the weekend cable talk shows and in the opinion columns of newspapers. Instead of Hagel, the liberal talking heads, reporters and columnists were all agog about the supposed beastliness of Senator Ted Cruz.
The freshman from Texas has ruffled a lot of feathers in his first six weeks in office on both sides of the aisle. His rough questioning of Hagel during the committee hearing and subsequent questions about the nominee’s financial records also raised the hackles of some senators and Washington insiders but there’s something slightly suspicious about the over the top reaction to Cruz on the news shows as well as from New York Times and Washington Post columnists. Even if we were to accept their dubious assertion that Cruz’s take-no-prisoners style of political combat is a shocking departure from the traditions of DC politics, the sudden interest in slamming the Texan is nothing more than a transparent attempt to change the subject just at the moment when Hagel’s nomination seems to be hanging in the balance. The herd instinct of liberal journalists is prompting them, as if on cue, to try and gull the public into thinking the real issue at stake here is not the elevation of a prejudiced and unqualified man to run the Pentagon but the supposed bad manners of one of Hagel’s most energetic critics.
Let’s first dispense with the notion that Cruz is, as left-wing bloviator Chris Matthews would have it, the second coming of Joseph McCarthy. Cruz’s demand for Hagel’s financial records and suspicions that some of his speeches or other advocacy activities since he left the Senate might have been financed by foreign powers may have seemed harsh. But his queries, which are spoken of as being nothing less than smears, are not as unreasonable as the talking heads assume them to be. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of Middle East studies in academia and non-profit agencies is aware that Saudi Arabia and other gulf principalities have been throwing money around in that sphere like it was going out of style for decades. I doubt anyone had to pay Chuck Hagel a cent to spout his views encouraging outreach to Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran or criticizing Israel and its supporters. Yet if his speaking honorariums did come from dubious sources, is that really none of the public’s business now that he is slated to be secretary of defense? Hagel’s controversial views on the Middle East that he has been forced to disavow in order to gain confirmation are a matter of record. To compare Cruz’s questions to McCarthy or a witch-hunt is the real smear here.
But the real insight to be gleaned from this sudden interest in Cruz is that it is a desperate diversionary tactic. Cruz’s elevation to the rank of the liberals’ public enemy number one is nothing more than a bait and switch scheme to help the White House shove Hagel down the threats of a clearly reluctant Senate.
Cruz may well prove to be an important player in the Senate but the timing of the rush to brand him as emblematic of everything that liberals detest about conservatives is a little too convenient. If the hapless Hagel, whose befuddled day in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee deepened the already serious doubts about his fitness for high office, can be transformed into a victim of Cruz’s inquisition rather than an obviously unqualified nominee then it will be possible for President Obama to successfully strong arm a dubious Democratic majority into rubber stamping his pick. It is this sort of political funny business and not Ted Cruz’s rough edges that is the real scandal.