Once upon a time, a Republican senator from Nebraska spoke up for the right of mediocrities to occupy eminent positions of public trust.
"Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers," said Sen. Roman Hruska in 1970 as a defense of G. Harrold Carswell, Richard Nixon's ill-fated nominee to the Supreme Court. "They are entitled to a little representation, aren't they, and a little chance? We can't have all Brandeises, Frankfurters and Cardozos."
Right. And at the Pentagon, we can't have all Stimsons, Forrestals and Marshalls. Which is why America needs another senator from Nebraska to vindicate the cause of the mediocre man.
That man is Chuck Hagel.
Until his confirmation hearing last week, Mr. Hagel was touted as a courageous tribune of the hard but necessary truth. His nomination, according to one sycophant, "may prove to be the most onsequential foreign-policy appointment of [ Barack Obama's] presidency." He was hailed as a latter-day Dwight Eisenhower, a military hero mindful of the appropriate limits of U.S. power, a real American bold enough to tell the chicken-hawk neocon pretenders where they could stick it.
As for his claim about the Jewish lobby intimidating people, it was no more than a gaffe in the sense of accidentally telling the naked truth. "I am certain," said another prominent Hagel defender, "that the vast majority of U.S. senators and policy makers quietly believe exactly what Hagel believes on Israel." To take offense at the suggestion that a nefarious assortment of Jews plays the Congress like a marionette was to risk accusations of McCarthyism.
After the hearings, what's left of that defense?
If Mr. Hagel had a sense of the seriousness of the office he is now likely to enter, he would withdraw his name from consideration. But the essential characteristic of mediocre people is that they are the last to recognize mediocrity, either in themselves or in others. That our legislators in their wisdom may soon make this man secretary of defense says as much about them as it does about him. Truly, it's a Roman Senate.