Egyptian prosecutors are investigating a popular television comedian for insulting the president. That could never happen here. When do popular television comedians insult the president?
Chuck Hagel, the Republican former senator from Nebraska, is President Obama’s choice to be secretary of defense. Hagel has his virtues, no doubt. To begin with, he is a decorated Vietnam War vet. But he has his shortcomings as well. He labeled the Iraq War surge the biggest mistake since Vietnam. He has repeatedly opposed sanctions on Iran. He is for direct talks with Hamas, a terrorist group pledged to destroy Israel. He would not sign a letter urging the EU to designate Hezbollah a terrorist group. He voted against designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a terrorist group. He has griped about the “Jewish lobby” and its allegedly pernicious effect (he later regretted the choice of words). He has said that a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities ought not to be an option. And so on. Obama’s nomination of Hagel sends a clear signal to Iran and other enemies of freedom, democracy, and peace: a dangerous signal. The American people reelected Obama, true, and Hagel reflects his thinking, if not his public positions. (Obama has said all options should be on the table with Iran.) One can certainly see the attraction for Obama of having a Republican war hero preside over the shrinking of our defenses. Let someone else preside over that: Senators, who were elected too, should vote Hagel’s nomination down.
Liberals, convinced that it is irresponsible and unreasonable for congressional Republicans to seek to tie spending cuts to an increase in the debt ceiling, are increasingly pondering desperate measures to thwart them. One idea, blessed by House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, would have the president invoke the 14th Amendment, which says that the validity of the public debt will not be questioned, to borrow even if the debt ceiling gets hit. At best, though, that’s an argument for allowing debt-service payments to continue, not for letting additional deficit spending take place. Another idea is to mint two trillion-dollar coins, deposit them at the Federal Reserve, and use them to finance deficit spending. Should Obama go this route we suspect that the liberal commentators who are indulging this inflationary idea, including Paul Krugman, would find that the public has a very different idea of which party was being irresponsible and unreasonable.
After a dance along the fiscal cliff, the 112th Congress prepared to go home, without voting on a $60 billion bill for Hurricane Sandy relief. The House did not act because the Senate had loaded up the bill with pork (e.g., a new roof for the Smithsonian, aid for Alaskan fisheries). The delay caused a hurricane of outrage from local Republicans. The loudest was that of Long Island representative Peter King, but the most consequential was that of New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who called the delay “disappointing and disgusting” and “toxic.” He also mentioned “duplicity” and “shame.” Sometimes a politician has to think with his glands (Churchill at Dunkirk). But Governor Christie, who bonded with President Obama in the aftermath of Sandy, is making a habit of it. This will weigh against his presidential ambitions. N.B.: The 113th Congress immediately approved a $9.7 billion package of relief, and pledged to examine the remaining $51 billion in mid-January.
Hillary Clinton was released from the hospital after being treated for a blood clot in her head. Best wishes to her, and to her family, on her recovery. Now it is time for Congress to question her on the State Department’s deaf-and-blind handling of security at its mission in Benghazi, where Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed on 9/11 last year. There is much to ask about: A Senate report (Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs) flayed the State Department for not acting on available intelligence, and for ignoring both Libya’s inability to protect the mission and requests from personnel on the ground for more security. Neither the lapse of time nor Clinton’s imminent departure nor her recent health scare should cause Congress to pull its punches. A disaster, caused at least in part by American negligence, happened on her watch. She should speak on the record about her conduct, and her actions or inactions should be weighed when her record and her fitness for future office are judged.