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Let’s Hear It for Chuck!

Chuck Hagel, conservative Republican Senator from Nebraska, and potential candidate for President in 2008, may shape up to be the real thing.

In an interview with Wil S. Hylton of GQ magazine, Hagel said this about the Iraq war: “I am not willing to sacrifice more young men and women for a policy that isn’t working billions of dollars going into this hole. It will erode our standing in the Middle East and the world. It will destroy our force structure. It will divide this country in a bitter way not seen since Vietnam.”

No mealy mouthed equivocation here, as we’ve been hearing from Democrats who have thrown their hats into the ring. But GQ’s Mr. Hylton never asked Chuck Hagel the chippie question, “Do you want all US troops out of Iraq, now!”

I still don’t know how he would answer that one. But, Hagel’s pronouncements on the subject, thus far, are a lot better than anything I’ve heard from the front-running Democrats; Hillary Clinton (D) New York, who says anything Bush can do, she can do better, or Barack Obama (D) Illinois, who says, “combat forces should be out of Iraq by spring of 2008 to end ‘a foreign policy disaster’.

If the Iraq war is “a foreign policy disaster” why wait until the spring of 2008 to get our troops out?

It seems that both parties are tied up in knots. They’ve heard the voice of the people, loud and clear in the 2006 mid-term elections in which the Democrats won both the House and the Senate and were expected to do something-to act in some decisive way. The vote was a direct and unequivocal repudiation of Bush and his war.

The people want out!

Can’t their representatives in Congress get the message?

The trouble is, in this era, Congress is more the creature of Corporate America than it is the representative of the people. But that can change. There have been periods in our history when it has and it will surely happen again.

Conservative Republicans are beginning to break their ties to the Bush Administration and reclaim their heritage. Chuck Hagel’s stand may be an indication of the political tectonic plates beginning to shift beneath the surface. Senator John Warner of Virginia may be another. War has a transforming effect on political parties. They realign themselves with time and the state of the people’s clout. Remember the Whig Party? It flourished during the era of Jacksonian democracy and operated from 1832 to 1856. Just before the Civil War, the Whig party was shattered by the defection of the Northern Whigs over the issue of slavery. The Whigs supported the supremacy of Congress over the Executive Branch and could boast of such members as Daniel Webster and Henry Clay. How long would George W. Bush last if he had to stand up against men of that character, today? They’d cut funding for Bush’s war in a New York minute. Impeachment would be on the table. From the very beginning, Congress jealously guarded its constitutional right to declare war and certainly wouldn’t have given any president a blank check to go war. Abraham Lincoln was a Whig representative in the Illinois House of Representatives for four consecutive terms. When the Whig Party split, he left politics for a while but eventually came back as a Republican, was elected President and saved the union in the Civil War.

Can it be saved again? Considering where we’ve come from, a slave society in the 1860s, we’ve made some progress in a hundred and fifty years. We’ve had some strong democratic leadership during those years. For one, “Fighting Bob” La Follette (R) Senator from Wisconsin and a force behind the Progressive Party and the Farmer-Labor Party in the early 20th Century.

La Follette made some cogent remarks that are very applicable to today’s political climate [sic] “The underlying reason why both parties have failed to take the people’s side in the present crisis is that neither party can openly attack the real evils which are undermining representative government without convicting themselves of treachery to the voters during their recent tenure in office”.

We also had the mighty Eugene V. Debs during that period, labor leader, Socialist, political activist, Presidential candidate who ran four times, the last from prison and got over a million votes. And then there was the journalist, John Reed who documented the Russian Revolution in his book “Ten Days That Shook the World.

And we had the great John L. Lewis who organized the coal miners and during the Great Depression, the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizions), all part of the great American democratic tradition. More recently, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

The people of this country are yearning for a leader, out of our great tradition, one who will tell them the truth and lead them out of both the domestic and foreign policy disasters that the Bush Administration has brought upon us.

Can you live up to that, Chuck Hagel?

STEPHEN FLEISCHMAN, television writer-director-producer, spent thirty years in Network News at CBS and ABC, starting in 1953. In 1959, he participated in the formation of the renowned Murrow-Friendly “CBS Reports” series. In 1983, Fleischman won the prestigious Columbia University-DuPont Television Journalism Award. In 2004, he wrote his memoir. See: <>, E-mail: <>



More articles by:

STEPHEN FLEISCHMAN, writer-producer-director of documentaries, spent thirty years in Network News at CBS and ABC. His memoir is now in print. See, e-mail

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