Thank You, Chuck Hagel: It's Been Real
In an era when politics in America has slouched inextricably to the right, the 60-year-old Nebraskan was difficult to pigeonhole. No mistake about it, Hagel was a conservative and usually reliable Republican vote over two terms, but charted his own course on Social Security and foreign policy -- and most notably on Iraq.
The decorated Vietnam veteran's break with the president on the war and his fierce opposition to the surge, which he called "the worst foreign policy blunder since Vietnam," had a gravitas few congressfolk can claim.
When Hagel stood in the Senate to declare in his deep and somber voice that
"Any president who says 'I don't care' or 'I will not respond to what the people of this country are saying about Iraq or anything else' or 'I don't care what the Congress does, I am going to proceed' — if a president really believes that, then there are . . . .ways to deal with that"people listened to him, especially the independents whom pundits thought he would attract if he ran for president.
Hagel, who won reelection in 2002 with 83 percent of the vote and indeed flirted with a presidential run, surely returns to private life a disappointed if not bitter man. While he and four or five other Republicans voted with the Democrats in a series of largely symbolic end-the-war votes earlier this year, the war he has so vehemently opposed shows no signs of ending anytime soon.
His maverick status aside, Hagel's retirement will provoke further chest pains for the GOP.
He would become the third Republican senator to announce his retirement, following Senators John W. Warner of Virginia
he party will bedefending 22 Senate seats to the Democrats' 12.
Nebraska was once a reliably safe state for Republicans, but anger over the war and Bush's presidency in general may provide an opening for former Democratic senator Bob Kerrey, who says he is interested in returning to Washington.