Chuck Hagel had been accused of political expediency, of adopting positions that were trending the right way, and then disavowing them when they no longer were. And his Senate hearing turned that impression into fact.
The Hagel who showed up at the Senate hearing was not the principled man that liberals had tried pitching him as. Nor was he a radical, quickly leaving behind his radical views, only to clumsily reinsert them again into his responses and then disavow those responses a second time revealing himself to be a man without principles or views, a politician fumbling his way hesitantly through question after question, wary of traps, wary of committing himself to any position that is in the least bit controversial and incapable of processing even simple questions in a clear and concise manner.
Hagel rarely answered questions, instead he avoided them, drowning the questions in meaningless babble, in the same talking point repeated several times to take up as much time as possible. It’s the sort of behavior you might see from a hack politician during a debate, but it’s an embarrassing performance for a prospective Defense Secretary whose job isn’t to obstruct Congress but to clarify policy in a timely and concise manner.
If Hagel’s job interview is a demonstration of what his tenure will be like, then he will obstruct Congress as much as possible, change his views unpredictably and pretend that there was no change. His policy as Secretary of Defense will be to deny everything and then to deny the denial.
Hagel’s one goal going into the hearing was not to screw up. And he screwed up at that. Republican Senators appear to be shifting away from him, even more so than before. And the Democratic Senators found themselves having to do more than just toss him softball questions, but to actually help him out during the hearings, as Carl Levin did.
It’s hard to believe that Rice could have blown a hearing this badly. But Obama chose to pick a fight over Hagel, rather than Rice, resulting in an embarrassing performance from an embarrassing man who is now Obama’s own pet embarrassment.