As I am perpetually two years behind whatever is cool and zeitgeisty on the teevee, I've not been watching this new Netflix joint, "House Of Cards." Which is probably to my detriment. Our own Howard Fineman has been watching the show, and he describes an artful and innovative depiction of "the competition for power for its own sake." And just this weekend, I was at a party where an old friend of mine spoke thrillingly of byzantine plots and cagey backstabbing -- Washington as the setting for the polite bloodlust of brilliant political chess masters.
Which must be why so many people in Washington are into this show: For the escapist fantasy!
In reality, we have the House of Senate, and there's no way of describing those people's machinations without briefly wondering if the word "moron" is strong enough. They are on recess now, having ended their current session by simultaneously refusing to appoint former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) to the position of secretary of defense and making it clear that Hagel is definitely going to be appointed to the post. The senators who oppose him, Republicans all, simply want to leave town and have themselves a good, long tantrum for 10 days or so, because that’s what actually passes for political genius these days.
Meanwhile, the Democratic senators, who support Hagel in lockstep, have to be feeling a little rooked right now. Back when Obama first put Hagel's name forward as Leon Panetta's replacement, it was greeted with a "Feh, okay, that wouldn't be so bad we guess," but I don't think Democrats envisioned that they'd actually have to spend multiple weeks straight up going to the mattresses for the guy. Hagel, himself, seems barely interested in waking up in the morning and facing the day, let alone playing along with this nomination process, so where the Democrats who've had to carry his banner are getting their esprit de corps from is anybody's guess.
Frankly, I couldn't even tell you what it is about Hagel that made him an attractive candidate to Obama in the first place. What makes him sort of interesting is that he wised up early on and recognized the Iraq war, which he voted for, as a money-sucking quagmire, earning the enmity of his GOP colleagues and making him an outcast figure in the Beltway media. There is a part of me that thinks, "Well, it sure would be fitting for someone who was right about Iraq to finally be rewarded." But there's another part of me that realizes that being right about Iraq is a really low bar to clear, not much higher than basic human cognition.
But Hagel's outspokenness about his dislike for that military misadventure has made Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) the most spirited (or at least the most televised) of the Hagel haters. McCain, in classic fashion, has flipped and flopped all over the place in answering how he'll finally decide to vote on Hagel's nomination. He ended last week on the "no vote" side of the fence, telling Neil Cavuto that he's mad that Hagel once "attacked President Bush mercilessly and said he was the worst president since Herbert Hoover and said the surge was the worst blunder since the Vietnam War." Since then, McCain has said that Hagel, while not "qualified," should not be "held up" any further, and he reckons that the confirmation will, in the end, happen. McCain has also said that he won't vote for Hagel, but he still considers him to be a "friend."
And no, I don't think any of that is actually meant to make sense. Proudly not making sense is sort of the point, here.
Remember, the Senate Republicans’ very next trick after filibustering Hagel was to insist that they did not, in fact, filibuster him. Sure, they used the filibuster process and exploited the filibuster rules, but they were actually doing something completely different. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) attempted what passes for an "explanation" in this town when he suggested that it was vitally important for everyone to get more information about Hagel and more time to consider his nomination, but that those urgent matters could wait until the Senate got finished with one of its regularly scheduled vacations.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), meanwhile, insisted that it's very important for reporters to use a word other than "filibuster" in their headlines. To which I say fine, let the headline read, "Senate Takes Week-Long Sniveling Snit-Fit."
And remember, there's no twist ending here. Most of the same people who seem to just want to do another week of handwringing just admit that Hagel is going to end up getting confirmed. There is, I suppose, the strain of opposition working the full-on paranoiac beat against Hagel, like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and his dark mutterings of sinister foreign conspiracies, fueled by weaker and weaker sauce. But, as the joke goes: "Say what you want about McCarthyism, at least it's an ethos."
So, enjoy your "House Of Cards." Thrill to the idea of a Beltway set capable of intricate designs and complicated plots. Try not to worry about the fact that in the real world, the same people are constantly losing rounds of rock-paper-scissors to themselves.
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This story appears in Issue 37 of our weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, in the iTunes App store, available Friday, Feb. 22.