It's official. President Obama has named former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) as his nominee for secretary of defense. Hence, we may be in store for the worst defense secretary nomination fight since George H.W. Bush's failed appointment of Sen. John Tower (R-Texas) more than 20 years ago.
The interesting question is, why? Why waste the political capital? Why pass over more qualified candidates who would sail through confirmation, including Michele Flournoy -- who'd be the first female defense secretary?
The most ridiculous answer is among the mainstream media's favorites: bipartisanship. According to Politico, the choice "appeals to Obama's bipartisan spirit." The Washington Post, in a front-page news story, says that "Hagel's successful nomination would add a well-known Republican to the president's second-term Cabinet at a time when he is looking to better bridge the partisan divide, particularly after a bitter election campaign."
Look, it’s really a very simple political ploy: Obama nominates a Republican that the neo-con war machine GOP can’t stomach, and then the Republicans have to fight against their own man because they can’t stand him. Obama gets to look bipartisan because he nommed an elephant while the GOP looks like a bunch of partisan hacks for opposing Obama. Assuming Obama actually wants Hagel in his cabinet, this whole works out as a political win for Obama since either the GOP lies down and lets Obama have Hagel, or Obama gets to hold the GOP’s partisanship against them at a later date.
Sure, Goldberg is correct in implying that this is nothing more than a political charade. Sure, smart people like Goldberg can see right through the president’s motives. However—and this is key—smart people comprise a very small portion of potential voters. Obama isn’t putting on this show for smart political junkies, he’s putting on this show for idiots, who somehow have the inexplicable right to vote. Thus, Obama isn’t wasting political capital; in fact, he’s very shrewdly accumulating political capital because this scenario is win-win for him: Either Obama gets the SecDef he wants, or he gets to call the GOP partisan.