There are witnesses who wow the congressional committees before which they appear, and there are those that wither under tough questioning. And then there are those who don't do particularly well, but end up succeeding only because of the buffoonery of the questioners who attempt to undo them. Chuck Hagel's confirmation hearing today in defense of his nomination to be the next secretary of defense fell into the latter category.
There was John McCain, whom you may recall was a grumpy old man even before he lost the presidency to Barack Obama, in an unusually belligerent performance, badgering Hagel to get him to admit that he was wrong when he opposed "the surge" in Iraq. There was Lindsay Graham, displaying his talent for overblown histrionics, upbraiding Hagel for not signing a pro-Israel letter a number of years ago protesting what Graham called "the infada." The senator from South Carolina is apparently easily frightened, because he said, "The lack of signature by you runs chills up my spine."
When newly elected Senator Ted Cruz played an excerpt from an interview Hagel did some time ago on Al Jazeera and got into an extended back-and-forth with the nominee about how he reacted to a viewer email that was read on the air, you almost expected Republicans to start quoting lyrics from songs on Hagel's iPad and demand that he defend them. ("Senator, when you first heard Mr. Cash say, 'I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die,' did you object to the record company? Have you ever sung that song in the shower? How can we expect you to stand up to the man in Tehran if you can't stand up to the Man in Black?")
There are certainly people far more liberal than Hagel that President Obama could have appointed to the position, but the depths of Republican venom toward their former colleague can be explained by his breaks with other Republicans, particularly over the Iraq War, which Hagel initially supported and then came to oppose. Just as no one is embraced as gleefully as a convert to your cause, no one is despised more than an apostate from your cause. But if letters unsigned, emailers insufficiently condemned, and out-of-context interview snippets inadequately atoned for are the best Republicans can come up with against Hagel, he'll probably be fine.
So They Say
"I practice until my feet bleed and I did not have time to rehearse with the orchestra. Due to no proper soundcheck, I did not feel comfortable taking a risk. It was about the president and the inauguration, and I wanted to make him and my country proud, so I decided to sing along with my pre-recorded track, which is very common in the music industry. And I'm very proud of my performance."
—Beyoncé Knowles, crushing dreams at a press conference today
Daily Meme: Blerg! Saying Goodbye to 30 Rock
- Tonight, we have to say goodbye to a show that's been Reaganing in American culture for seven years, challenging perceptions of gender, race, comedy, and the tastiness of Cheesy Blasters with a heaping dollop of absurdity and smarts on top.
- As Richard Lawson fondly notes, "the show was good for television. But it was also good for the soul, wasn't it?"
- To which Jonah Goldberg says, meh, Big Bang Theory is better.
- Tina Fey's show tackled feminism and what it means to be a successful woman better (much better) than a score of Atlantic think pieces, and in the process, it showed that this sitcom could have it all. As Matthew Zoller-Seitz puts it, "30 Rock is uniquely skilled at eating its cake and having it, too, while crowing 'Isn’t cake ridiculous?' and making you crave cake."
- Women are funny, women can create shows and write comedy, and even though Fey and her show baby never set out to be feminist, they still spawned a whole series of women show creators and writers in their wake.
- 30 Rock didn't only excel at teasing out gender in the 21st century. As Ta-Nehisi Coates writes, "One thing that I don't think 30 Rock gets enough credit for is how it handles race."
- Wesley Morris elaborates: "30 Rock ... understood the phony limitations of race even as it grasped how much a part of American life it is. This is what separated it from Chappelle's Show, which grasped how racism was a fact of life—its glass-half-empty gleaning of race in America was the source of its nuclear power. But 30 Rock's characters' ability to live alongside each other is an acceptance that institutional and incidental racism and sexism and homophobia are part of how we live. We can survive by laughing at them. "
- It got explicitly political sometimes, inviting Brian Williams, Joe Biden, Condoleeza Rice, and Nancy Pelosi to join in the fun. (Tom Carson even calls Alec Baldwin the foremost celebrity liberal today!).
- And like any important political issue, 30 Rock can be summed up neatly by bloggers with fancy charts!
- 30 Rock is also a sitcom of a dying breed, with successful shows veering off in a wildly different direction without looking back. "But that it exists at all, an unlikely thing in an unlikely place, like a flower finding a crack in a sea of concrete, is in itself inspiring."
What We're Writing
- Abby Rapoport notes that while liberals were celebrating progressive victories on November 6, conservatives were quietly flooding statehouses—even ones written off as moderate.
- Paul Waldman gives a quick rundown of our immigration history by the numbers, and notes that if the precondition for a path to citizenship is a secured border, we're at least spending more on it than ever before.
What We're Reading
- The New York Times looks at how the Ninth Ward is coping post-Katrina through the lens of its last high school.
- As a woman, Gayle Trotter knows that women's thin arms, birdlike bones, and retiring constitutions means they need lightweight assault rifles, and that large magazines are a must, since bullets can double as hair rollers.
- Democrats aren't holding any big torches for Chuck Hagel, but after his conservative lambasting, it looks like the enemy of my enemy might be mein kommandant.
- The Sunlight Foundation reveals the man behind one of the smear-Hagel groups.
- The Justice Department's picked up its trustbusting hat for the first time in years, blocking Anheuser's bid for the owners of Corona, saying it could reduce consumption. Fiesta on, Garth.
- Josh Harkinson reports on how the NRA brings cops into the fold.
- EJ Dionne thinks that despite tricky border language, obstructionism, and the lessons of history, immigration reform is on the way.
- Elizabeth Warren asked a GOP Senator from Tennessee to mentor her. Great gesture, and shared ideas on banking might make the pair a real, er, corker.
Poll of the Day
The Pew Research Center reports that for the first time, a majority of Americans think that the federal government threatens their fundamental rights with 53 percent living in fear of Big Brother in the Beltway. The growth has been among conservative Republicans (76 percent think this way), so in all likelihood it's more about guns than, say, drone strikes on American citizens, warrantless wiretapping, the PATRIOT Act, Guantánamo, or the suspension of Habeus Corpus.