A year seems like a long time to wait for such portentous news, and I have to admit the suspense was killing me -- it was every bit as intense as worrying about which flavor of Blizzert would be on sale next month at the Dairy Queen. The suspense must have been killing Hagel, too, because yesterday he mercifully decided the world had held its breath long enough. He announced that he would retire from his Senate seat. Check it out at the Weird Harold.
Now, not to brag, but sometimes, my instinct about politics unnerves me a little bit. After my Omaha buddies shot me the link, but before Hagel announced he was retiring, I sent back a reply, stating that Hagel's career in electoral politics is over.
One of my buddies, Mark, shot back, "Are you saying we're stuck with him?"
Not at all. I replied that he should expect a conservative Republican to challenge Hagel in the primaries, or a Democrat to beat him in the general election. I did not predict Hagel would resign, exactly, but it does look to me as if his assessment of his own political future was the same as mine.
Times are changing. It used to be that a "maverick" Republican could take a visible issue (in Hagel's case, the Iraq war) and side with the Democrats, while incurring little political cost. In fact, it was so commonplace, the American Spectator's Tom Bethell even handed out annual "Strange New Respect" awards, for erstwhile conservatives or Republicans who change their tune once they are safely ensconced in Washington. The phrase itself -- "strange new respect" -- was how the typical Washington Post puff piece on a turncoat Republican would generally begin, e.g.,
"Congressman Densley Pated has grown in office, earning a strange new respect from his colleagues in Washington, while amazing friends and foes alike."
As Bethell pointed out, the way you amaze friends and foes alike is to betray your friends.
This is what many conservatives feel Hagel did when he began to challenge U.S. involvement in the Iraq war. As I was saying, once upon a time, Republicans could do this sort of thing, routinely and with impunity. Today, it no longer works. If you make conservatives angry enough, they'll stay home on election day, or vote for a third party candidate, or run someone against you in the primaries. This is the culminatory backlash of years and years of being betrayed by Republicans on a host of issues, including taxes, the growth of big government, and most recently the immigration mess. Now, Republicans who change their tune find they have a piper to pay. Conservatives are already referring to Sen. Lindsey Graham as "the former Senator from South Carolina," after Graham's backing of Bush's "shamnesty" proposal for legalizing illegal aliens. John McCain, who has stuck it to conservatives on a number of issues from campaign finance "reform" to immigration, is now running his zombie-like presidential campaign without conservative contributions. I think he knows he can't win, but something, perhaps pride, keeps him going through the motions.
Anyhow, Hagel knows its over. He has alienated his conservative base in return for puff pieces in the liberal press -- in other words, for nothing. It's the Esau bargain -- he's the man who sold his birthright for a bowl of stew. If conservatives aren't going to vote for a Republican, who will? Why not go ask those nice liberals over there, the ones who wrote all those glowing things about you?
What? They're all going to vote Democrat?
It seems they prefer non-maverick Democrats over maverick Republicans anytime. All the time.
And by the way, Taranto is having fun this time, too.
True confessions: when I lived in Nebraska, I voted for Hagel. Go sic those liberals in Washington, Chuckie! "Up With Chuck!" Now, it's goodbye, so long, enjoy your retirement, find a nice quiet place to live, stay there.