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Of Matters of War and Peace, Part Two: The Sec Def & the Draft

Elections have consequences, Chuck Hagel deserves an up or down vote on his nomination.

Republicans in the Senate have never been thrilled by President Obama’s decision to nominate former Senator Chuck Hagel as his new Secretary of Defense.  Their reasons have varied from his finances, to wanting information on the September 11th attack in Benghazi -- when he had no role in the government, to just not liking him.  At least Senator John McCain (R-AZ), a former good friend to Hagel, had the integrity (or should it be called audacity) to admit that he won’t vote for Hagel because he was “disagreeable.”  Since when is being friendly a prerequisite for anything in Washington, DC?  All accounts I have heard make “disagreeable” sound like a compliment compared to what people really think of McCain himself (word around the Hill is that is just pissy and angry but that hasn’t made him step down from him Senate seat).

Senator Lindsay Graham’s (R-SC) insistence that the Administration produce more information on something completely unrelated to the Hagel nomination is curious, especially given statements he has made in the past when it came to other nominations.  During Elena Kagen’s confirmation hearings, he seemed to believe that presidents have the right to have their picks for high offices go through -- and I can think of few positions higher than that of Supreme Court Justice, a position held for life and whose influence goes much further than that of a cabinet official.

Here are some excerpts from Senator Graham’s opening statement at this confirmation hearing:

“And as all of our colleagues remember, just a few years ago, we had a real -- real conflict in the Senate about filibustering judicial nominees. And it was Senator Byrd and a few other senators who came up with the "extraordinary circumstances" test that would say that filibusters should only be used in extraordinary circumstances because elections have consequences. And Senator Byrd was one of the chief authors of the language defining what an "extraordinary circumstance" was...

“Ken Starr and Ted Olson have suggested to the committee that you are a qualified nominee. There's no to doubt in my mind that you are a liberal person. That applies to most of the people on the other side, and I respect them and I respect you. I'm a conservative person. And you would expect a conservative president to nominate a conservative person who did not work in the Clinton administration.

“So the fact that you've embraced liberal causes and you have grown up in a liberal household is something we need to talk about, but that's just America. It's OK to be liberal. It's OK to be conservative. But when it comes time to be a judge, you've got to make sure you understand the limits that that position places on any agenda, liberal or conservative...

“At the end of the day, I think the qualification test will met.  Whether or nor activism can be parked is up to you.  And I look at this confirmation process as a way to recognize that elections have consequences and the Senate has an independent obligation on behalf of  the people of this country to put you under scrutiny, firm and fair, respectful and sometimes contentious.

"Good luck.  Be as candid as possible.  And it’s OK to disagree with us up here.  Thank you.”(bold emphasis was mine)

Now, Senator Graham did vote for her conformation but did not vote either way on Kagen’s nomination to be the US Solicitor General.  His explanation for that was:

“I am not convinced that Solicitor General Kagan will be able to shed her deeply held personal ideological beliefs, political views and experiences, and check those biases at the door of the Supreme Court. Therefore, I must vote against her nomination.”    Source here.   Keep in mind, he felt this way about Kagen when she was up for Solicitor General and still voted to confirm her to the Supreme Court.

Mr. Graham’s position is clearly different now.  Of the Hagel nomination -- and other national security posts such as John Brennan’s nomination to be the new CIA Director, he has said, “"I'm gonna hit you and keep hittin' you. Absolutely," Graham said when asked by a reporter why he planned to continue his efforts against Hagel and Brennan. "You better believe that I'm not going to let this go."”  

Senator Graham is well within his rights to oppose a nomination and vote against it -- his allegations that somehow Hagel is friendly with Iran, whose government supposedly endorsed this nomination, are just absurd and holding up a Defense Secretary nomination while we are at war seems amazingly short sighted and just plan stupid.

PS.  To be fair to Senator Graham, and I do try to be fair, I emailed his press secretary for clarification on the change in his position on using the filibuster in cases like this.  Should I receive a response, I will post it -- unedited -- here.

Bring Back the Draft

Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY) was on Morning Joe this week advocating for a return of the draft.  The official reason we don’t have one has been that a volunteer military works best -- we want people who want to be there.  And we do.  If we weren’t sending our troops all over the globe to police the world, as we seem to be doing right now, I would agree but we are.  We expect more from our military and their families than we have ever asked before.  That is not to say the “greatest generation” didn’t sacrifice for the country; they did.  The main difference is the sacrifice was spread out over the entire country.  Currently, despite being in the hopefully end stages of our longest war (Afghanistan) only one percent of the population actively feels the impact of the war.  Multiple deployments combined with extended tours are taking a toll.

To put this in perspective, in 2012, more soldiers died at their own hands than in combat.   Read more here.  Yes, more soldiers killed themselves.  Having witnessed the impact suicide has on the person’s family and friends up close, I can tell you it is one of the most horrible things to go through (not that I really need to say that, I just feel the need to).

First we ask our military to go above and beyond the call of duty -- and their families and loved ones go through the same thing.  As an aside, Bank of America was fined for illegally foreclosing on the homes of soldiers fighting in wars (one service member told me, the foreclosure process was more stressful than his time in war -- not kidding).

When talking about things like Medicare, Republicans (I am looking at you Paul Ryan) will say “we need people to feel they have skin in the game.”  If that is true for Medicare, why is not true of war?  I agree with Rangel.  If more of us knew that starting new wars would mean people we love would be sent to fight for us, maybe we would think a little bit more about doing it.