James Fallows is digging deep on the Hagel hearings, trying to figure out why Hagel did kind of a crap job. I have to say I’m not surprised because Hagel has always seemed, for want of a better word, dumb. By “dumb” I guess I mean mainly “inarticulate”, but it goes farther than just being bad with words. He has a hard time coming up with quick replies to arguments, he generally has the puzzled/scared look of someone who’s out of their depth, and he plows through his memorized or written talking points in the deadened, rote manner of someone reading a text that’s essentially foreign to them.
That may sound harsh, but I don’t mean it to be, because I think Hagel is dumb (inarticulate) but not stupid (blind in the face of obvious evidence), and he’s certainly no coward. He made a lot of money by jumping into cell phones at just the right time, and, after making a mistake with Iraq, he had the guts and insight to change his mind. He’s not a reflexive warmonger like Grandpa McCain, and he seems to have pretty good interpersonal skills (at least there are no “asshole Hagel” stories that I’ve heard). He’s just not quick on his feet and apparently all the studying he did had no good effect when it came time to face the Armed Services Committee.
It doesn’t take a genius to be a good politician, in fact, being too smart (or, really, thinking that you’re really smart) is probably not a great qualification for a job that includes a lot of boring repetition, gladhanding and ass-in-chair meeting time. And, obviously, if I were as dumb as Hagel, maybe I’d be a multi-millionaire ex-Senator instead of a shitty blogger. Still, there’s no need to go into the weeds to find a reason that Hagel fell flat during those hearings: whatever his strengths, a modern-day Cicero he ain’t.