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Washington Memo: Hagelian Dialectic

2 minute read
Ana Marie Cox

On March 25, Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel lent a G.O.P. voice to an idea that is more often echoed in the tinnier chat rooms of the left-wing blogosphere: impeach President George W. Bush. Those who were surprised shouldn’t have been. Hagel has been slowly knitting together the oddest platform of any potential presidential nominee: he’s pro-life, pro-gun, antiwar and now, quite definitively, anti-Bush.

Hagel’s patchwork policies, however, reflect the confusion of ideas that exists in both parties. On the left and the right, the only way to make a truly strong candidate is to take a composite of the front runners: Edwards’ health-care plan plus Clinton’s toughness plus Obama’s charisma. Or Romney’s social conservatism plus Giuliani’s leadership plus McCain’s reputation for candor. The Democrats can’t seem to settle on a sweetheart, while on the right, “I’d like to be able to choose a little of each one,” as a senior Republican lawmaker put it recently. If his best competitors are Frankenstein’s monsters, why shouldn’t a distant contender like Hagel try to cobble together an image that proudly shows its seams?

As a new TIME poll indicates, there’s an underlying incoherence to the electorate right now. Americans are profoundly disillusioned with the Administration. But when presented with matchups between the front runners of both parties, voters still choose Republicans every time.

Hagel has no realistic shot at the G.O.P. nomination, but the third-party group Unity08 has expressed interest in him, and he’s not ruling it out. Bush boasts of his consistency, but look what it has gotten him: a Democratic Congress, a 33% approval rating and a scandal-plagued end to his presidency. Hagel’s hopes hinge on the notion that voters may value idiosyncrasy over ideology.

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