It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
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Retired Omaha World-Herald publisher Harold W. Andersen wrote that Nebraska Republicans were “increasingly skeptical, if not sharply critical, of his attention-grabbing performance on the national news-media stage.”
On social issues, Hagel increasingly plays the enlightened Republican. When Jesse Helms once proposed an amendment to block federal funding to school districts that discriminate against the Boy Scouts, Hagel made a point of opposing it, prompting a column in the Omaha World-Herald from a Nebraskan who observed, “Senator Hagel’s comments tell me that he has no stomach for the political and cultural war that rages all around him. Indeed, it would seem that he is embarrassed by it.” This feeling has intensified amongst social conservatives and broken out into the open now that Hagel has rejected the constitutional amendment to protect marriage.
James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, has accused Hagel of an insincere commitment to social conservatism. Angry at Hagel’s “political posturing” over the marriage amendment, Dobson bought an ad in the Omaha World-Herald to criticize Hagel (and Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson). Dobson said it is “disingenuous at best for Senator Hagel to proudly proclaim that his children have a mother and a father when there is absolutely no guarantee that every other American child will be so fortunate apart from the Federal Marriage Amendment” When Hagel and Nelson objected to the Focus on the Family ad, Dobson responded that “their complaints are just smoke and mirrors intended to deceive Nebraskans, and all Americans, into believing that they truly support marriage.”
Dobson said that Hagel had refused to meet with him to discuss the marriage amendment. Hagel denied it. But when TAS talked to social conservatives in Nebraska, they voiced the same complaint. “It has been harder and harder to get an audience with him,” says one. “Even Ben Nelson will meet with us. Why isn’t Hagel supporting the marriage amendment? That’s a good question. We haven’t got an answer. There is concern among social conservatives about, Where is his head? Where is his mind?”
Perhaps they should ask Jim Jeffords. In his memoir of bolting the GOP, My Declaration of Independence, Jeffords singles Hagel out as one of the few Republicans who didn’t disappoint him. He thanks Hagel for working with him and Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, among others, to increase federal funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Hagel’s “brand of independence and common sense is too rare a commodity,” writes Jeffords. An endorsement the press buys but the grassroots won’t.
George Neumayr is executive editor of The American Spectator.