On Feb. 10, Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska will serve as the keynote speaker at the College’s annual Charter Day Ceremony. Based on my limited research, the College seems to follow a tradition of inviting mildly famous politicians to speak at this event — in 2006 it was Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, in 2005 Librarian of Congress James Billington and in 2004 Virginia Sen. John Chichester (R-28). While Sen. Hagel appears to fit this mold, his unique ability to infuriate fellow Republicans, totally alienate the Bush Administration and throw Democrats for a loop certainly makes him worthy of a closer look.
p. On the most basic level, Hagel is an extreme right-winger. According to www.OnTheIssues.org, he was given a zero percent rating by NARAL Pro-Choice America, a zero percent rating by the League of Conservation Voters, a 100 percent rating by the Christian Coalition and an “A” from the National Rifle Association. Hagel voted against expanding hate crimes to include sexual orientation, voted for ending special funding for minority and women-owned businesses, and maintains very pro-free trade and anti-taxation stances. On paper, Hagel is basically as staunchly conservative as possible, and yet he has attained a kind of odd, bipartisan appeal. While more conservative members of Congress pretty much despise him for not totally adhering to the party line, some Democrats actually like the guy. In fact, The Washington Post even came out saying that “die-hard liberals” find Hagel “appealing.”
p. In fact, the only aspect of Hagel’s political persona that separates him from other typical far right-wingers is his extremely strong stance on the Iraq war. Not only does Hagel object to Bush’s recent “troop surge,” but he actually co-sponsored the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s nonbinding resolution condemning it and was the only Republican to vote for the measure. Media outlets seem to love Hagel in the same way they love John McCain — they are both politicians who appear to have backbones in a political scene filled with partisan robots. These Senators are perceived as bipartisan, independent-minded mavericks.
p. One could argue (as do many loyal Democrats who are unable to justify praising a member of the opposing team) that Hagel isn’t really doing anything astonishing. First, he originally supported the president’s invasion of Iraq, unlike many members of Congress who were against the war from the beginning. Furthermore, almost everyone besides the administration is unsupportive of the war at this point, so it can’t be that difficult to rebel against party leadership in favor of the American people. In fact, a Newsweek poll taken this month shows that a whopping 70 percent of Americans disapprove of the way Bush is handling the situation in Iraq—it’s almost absurd for politicians to not criticize Bush. Even more revealing, however, is the fact that he might run for president. Unlike earlier predictions, he is not vying for a Republican bid, but may try to run on the “Unity08” ticket, which would hypothetically include one Democrat and one Republican. For many, not only would Hagel’s “strong” stance on Iraq be more accurately described as “incredibly easy,” but it may be motivated by selfish intentions, not any sort of moral imperative.
p. I am, however, not a party loyalist. While I vehemently disagree with Hagel on, well, just about everything besides Iraq, I take my victories wherever I can get them. Frankly, I don’t care what his motivations are — it seems like Americans have come to a consensus on Iraq, and it’s about time politicians started taking strong stands against the war. Even Democratic presidential hopefuls like Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have not taken a stance as tough as Hagel’s. While I find his McCain-like, maverick characterization in the media somewhat ridiculous (in my mind “really conservative and then sort of liberal on one specific issue” does not make a bipartisan), it is rather refreshing to see a staunch Republican unafraid to actually act against GOP leadership in the case of discordant opinions.
p. Regardless of your political affiliation, I urge everyone to hear Senator Hagel speak on Feb. 10. If nothing else, he is a unique, intriguing political figure, and certainly deserves recognition for his willingness to disrupt (albeit very slightly) the linear liberal-conservative political model so entrenched in American politics.
p. __Devan Barber, a junior at the College, is a Staff Columnist. Her views do not necessarily represent those of The Flat Hat.__