Lecture Hop: Senator Chuck Hagel
Written by Bwog Staff
Bwog Daily Editor James Downie was in Lerner Cinema for the least controversial speech by a Republican official since Eisenhower.
In typical Senatorial fashion, Chuck Hagel was 25 minutes late to the event. In typical Columbia fashion, the room (Lerner Cinema) was too large for the event. Nevertheless, it was a refreshing and informative talk from one of the great independants of the Senate.
After entering to applause, he opened by joking that “we do have colleges in Nebraska.” He immediately noted that the country is in the middle of a “historical reorientation” and focused the first part of his talk on that. The first reorientation was international, as nations have come to be more and interconnected. “We are woven in this global fabric,” he declared, “which we cannot pull apart.”
According to Hagel, the relationships between the US and other countries are maturing and changing at an astonishing pace, especially those relationships driven by energy resources and their owners. Energy is so powerful, he said, that it is shifting geopolitical alliances. He specifically brought up Germany’s reluctance to support admission of Ukraine and Georgia to NATO, because of German dependence on Russian oil.
The Senator took an unsurprisingly pessimistic view of the coming years. The next president, he said, will be faced with a “large portfolio of problems, perhaps larger than any other, certainly since Franklin Roosevelt took office.” He noted that this was in an age where Americans have lost confidence in their government, noting the historically low approval ratings of the President and the Congress. “Much of what we’ve seen in Barack Obama’s rise, and the enthusiasm with it,” he suggested, “is that most Americans who favor Obama think he’s a leader who will be responsible, who will face these problems.” He closed the first half of his talk by noting again that America wasn’t the only country going through reorientation: Germany, Russia, Brazil, and other countries all have recently changed or will soon be changing their leaders.
He used the focus on change to segue into why he wrote his book: to focus on the “next chapter” of American history. He began by declaring that his generation was failing “your generation, in educating you as citizens.” He pointed out the importance of leadership, and the effect that elders have on shaping people’s lives. And yet, he asked in closing, who are the role models of today?
Questions came in fast and furious, partly because of some attendees from the Model UN conference going on this weekend. The first question was about mandatory civil service, which he called “something to explore.” A military draft was not a good idea, he responded, because of insufficient training, but a mandatory civil service program does have benefits, such as a “sense of yourself” and pride.
The second question swung in a partisan direction, about the Obama-Biden ticket’s ability to “restore American standing in the Middle East.” Hagel said that he actually told Obama, while the two were in Iraq, that his best choice was Joe Biden, because of his “ability to think strategically.” He stressed that the world wants alliances, and said he would support what he expects will be a multi-lateral push by an Obama-Biden administration.
He returned to one-liner humor when asked what he would do after his retirement from the Senate in 2009, joking that “maybe he’d become a cook, but that would require an actual skill, and I don’t have any skills.”
When asked what young people entering politics should remember, he responded “be honest with yourself” and “do it for the right reasons.” He sounded a note of optimism about the Millenial Generation, predicting that November 4th would be the largest youth turnout in history, which would go a long way towards “refocusing” the country.
The questioning closed with a question about experience, and who is experienced enough to be President. Hagel flatly stated “no one is ever ready to be president.” The two indispensable requisites instead, he said, are character and judgment. He then showed his hand on the election, saying that the vice-president is the first test of judgement, and that “Senator Obama passed that test, while Senator McCain did not.”
And then, in true Senate fashion, he stayed around to sign every book and shake every hand.
– Photo courtesy Christopher Chan and the Columbia Political Union