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Chuck Hagel's Vociferous Criticism of the Bush Administration Has Not Been Forgotten by His Former GOP Senate Colleagues

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Chuck Hagel was recently confirmed by the Democratically-controlled U.S. Senate to be the 24th U.S. Secretary of Defense. He accomplished this with only four Republican votes in the U.S. Senate. It is no secret that Hagel has become persona non-grata among many of his former Republican Senate colleagues. However, it was not simply his opposition to the Iraq War which led to this situation, but his outspokenness on the issue.

Hagel was once a loyal Republican foot soldier. In fact, he was on the shortlist as a possible running mate for Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush in 2000. Hagel was in lock step with contemporary conservatism. He supported the Bush tax cuts, opposed abortion rights, and opposed adding a prescription drug benefit to Medicare.

Hagel's cordial relationship with the Republican Party changed dramatically when he expressed his opposition and indignation to the Bush administration and Congressional Republicans who advocated a troop surge in Iraq. Hagel rated the Bush administration and its foreign policy as being "the lowest in capacity, in capability, in policy, [and] in consensus. Furthermore, he accused the Bush administration of "playing ping pong with American lives."

Both the Democratic and Republican parties will tolerate ideological outliers and mavericks, but only if they represent hostile terrain for their parties. For example, the Republican establishment went full throttle in supporting U.S. Senator Lincoln Chafee in his 2006 re-election bid despite the fact that Chafee was probably the most liberal Republican in the U.S. Congress. In fact, he was the only Republican in the U.S. Senate to vote against the resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq. Furthermore, Chafee opposed the Bush tax cuts and supported gay marriage. When he was asked if he would support George W. Bush for re-election, Chaffee stoically stated that he would probably write in another candidate.

Chaffee had a voting record well to the left of Hagel, but he tended to only express frustration with the Republican Party and the Bush administration when asked, and he did so politely. Perhaps more importantly, Chaffee represented a state where Republicans constitute less than 10 percent of registered voters. The GOP high command was realistic enough to understand that Chafee "had" to distance himself from them in the interest of his political survival. Although Chafee finally lost his seat to Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, he had campaign help from U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and support from members of the GOP establishment.

Similarly, the Democratic Party provides much leeway for independence in their ranks. For example, Blue Dog Democrats who represent conservative Congressional Districts are given wide latitude to exhibit independence from their party. In the 2012 Presidential election, Democrat Jim Matheson of Utah received the full blessing of the Democratic Party despite mailing out a flyer to his constituents with a picture of Mitt Romney reading: "Which Candidate Supports Mitt Romney's Agenda." In the flyer, Matheson highlighted his points of agreement with the GOP Presidential nominee. Matheson went on to win re-election in a district where Romney mustered 67 percent of the vote. Matheson did not publicly excoriate the Democratic Party, but he did all that he could to distance himself from his party.

Gene Taylor, a Blue Dog Democrat from Mississippi, had one of the most conservative records of any Democrat in Congress. In fact, he was the only Democrat to vote for all four articles of impeachment against Bill Clinton in 1998. He also refused to vote for Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House, thus inoculating himself from criticism for supporting a "San Francisco Liberal." However, in 2009, grateful to Pelosi for her promise to him to support catastrophic insurance coverage in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Taylor supported Pelosi for Speaker. His Republican opponent, Steven Palazzo, made this vote for Pelosi a flagship criticism of Taylor and subsequently defeated him. Ironically, the Democratic establishment remained quiet as Taylor underscored the votes he cast against his Democratic leadership, and there was no uproar when he even said he would vote for Republican Presidential nominee John McCain.

Like the Republicans with Hagel, many Democrats do not give a pass to Joe Lieberman. Lieberman comes from Connecticut, a center-left state where Democrats do not suffer electoral recriminations for toeing the party line. Lieberman supported the war in Iraq from the beginning, and remained an advocate of the war effort while many Democrats became critics of the war. In 2006, after loosing the Democratic Party nomination for re-election, Lieberman won as an Independent, but continued to caucus with the Democrats.

Lieberman passes the ideological litmus test for Democrats on many issues. He supports abortion rights, gun control, and takes an aggressive stance on combating climate change. Yet Lieberman was a vociferous supporter of the Bush administration in the Iraq War and its bellicose foreign policy. In addition, Lieberman supported Republican John McCain for president in 2008. Lieberman even spoke at the Republican National Convention and excoriated Barack Obama for "voting to cut off funding for our troops on the ground" and said that, as a Senator, Obama had not "reached across party lines to accomplish anything significant."

The result is that, like Hagel, Lieberman is a pariah in the Democratic caucus. As a result of his actions, the Democratic Senate Caucus voted to oust him from the chairmanship of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

As parties use every means possible at their disposal to obtain and solidify a numerical majority, they accept the realization that members of Congress with constituencies that may be hostile to their party's legislative agenda must display independence. For the sake of sustainability, they rarely receive recriminations from their respective parties, and are in fact embraced by their parties so long as they are not outspoken in excoriating their parties. However, when members of Congress, like Hagel and Lieberman, who have no political incentive to speak out against the policies of their parties, but do so, and do so with great indignation, they become persona non-grata in the inter sanctum of their respective parties.

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