Following President Barack Obama's second inauguration, the nation witnessed a parade. I'm not talking about the splendorous one with bands and floats marching down Pennsylvania Avenue; I'm referring to the parade of Republican demagogues who grandstanded on Capitol Hill these past weeks, badgering the woman who has been arguably our finest secretary of state and a potential 2016 presidential candidate, and attempting to calumniate the man nominated to be our next secretary of defense.
The committee hearings that featured Hillary Clinton and Chuck Hagel were less about those witnesses' competency than about GOP panelists who crave political theatre. Wasting precious hours, these characters didn't seek information. They performed.
Tea party Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said he would have fired Clinton and erroneously claimed that "we had to limit (former President Franklin Roosevelt) because he served so many terms" even though the 22nd Amendment was ratified in 1951 six years after FDR died. Following Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson's accusation that Clinton disseminated false information about last summer's Benghazi attack, then-Senator John Kerry, D-Mass., elicited an admission from Johnson that he hadn't even attended the tragedy's intelligence briefing.
Similarly, when Arizona Sen. John McCain, one of the strongest promoters of the Iraq War, was asked at a GOP presidential primary debate in 2007 whether he had read the National Intelligence Estimate about whether or not weapons of mass destruction existed there, he replied "I did not read that document."
Which brings us to this: McCain's unraveling as a respectable public official is one of these days' saddest political stories. On Jan. 23, McCain called the State Department's handling of the Benghazi attack "a cover-up from the beginning." He offered no supporting evidence. He told Clinton that she should get her facts straight, a feat with which he has had considerable difficulty for years.
Worse, last Thursday he aggressively confronted Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel - not to elicit information, but to re-debate the wisdom of going to war in Iraq. It was a loaded cross-examination about a decision that is being increasingly regarded as a historical mistake.
"Were you correct or incorrect when you said that the surge would be the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam? Were you correct or incorrect?" McCain demanded, pressing Hagel for a simple "yes" or "no," right or wrong answer. Cutting through several interruptions, Hagel managed to correct McCain. "The comment I made about the most dangerous foreign policy decision since Vietnam was about not just the surge but the overall war of choice going into Iraq." McCain's retort to Hagel that "history has already made a judgment about the surge, sir, and you're on the wrong side of it" is incorrect.
Since McCain was lecturing about others' judgments, let's look at some of his. Beyond his choice of Sarah Palin to be his 2008 running mate, his series of statements about Iraq is a pedigree of incredible faux pas:
2002: "I believe that the success [in Iraq] will be fairly easy."
2003: "The Iraqi people will greet us as liberators."
2003: "It's clear that the end is very much in sight."
2007: "We were greeted as liberators."
In 2004, McCain's calling the Iraq war of choice in which we attacked a country that was not a threat to us "necessary, achievable and noble" was itself faulty judgment.
And take his disastrous 2008 judgment that the Iraq War was "a good idea ... because we will have peace and success in the Middle East." Peace and success? The Middle East today is in turmoil with Iran dominating the Gulf region because its main antagonist, Iraq, was neutralized by the Iraq War in which 4,000 Americans were killed, thousands more injured, and the war's cost, financed on the come, helped decimate our economy. McCain has little standing to criticize others' judgments.
McCain's feisty nature is reminiscent of his own acknowledged mindset at a much younger age. "I thought I was tougher than anyone," he told the conservative Daily Manumitter. "I was pretty independent then, too. I liked to bend a few rules, and pick a few fights for the fun of it. But I did it for my own pleasure; my own pride. I didn't think there was a cause more important than me."
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
By the way, a President Hillary Clinton would join this exclusive club of six who were both Secretary of State and President: Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren and James Buchanan.
- Michael Zucker is a resident of South Lake Tahoe and a stockbroker with Regal Securities. The views expressed in this column are his alone and do not represent those of Regal.