At Last: A “Staunch Conservative” the NY Times Can Love

Former NY Times executive editor Joseph Lelyveld lovingly profiles “staunch conservative” Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska in a cover story for the Sunday magazine. If Hagel, a frequent critic of Bush and the Iraq war, does run for president in 2008, he may give media favorite Sen. John McCain a run for the cherished “maverick” label.

On the cover of the magazine, Hagel is called a “war-criticizing, anti-abortion, slash-the-deficit, multilateralist conservative.” In the table of contents, he’s “A war hero and staunch conservative.” (Incidentally, Sen. Hillary Clinton has never been called a “staunch liberal” in the Times.)

 Lelyveld insists on Hagel’s strong conservatism in the text itself:

“An instinctive and unwavering conservative on most issues -- in particular, big government and deficits -- he was the antithesis of a neocon, a profile to which The Weekly Standard paid backhanded tribute in 2002 when it included him (along with Powell, Scowcroft and The New York Times) in what it called ‘the axis of appeasement.’ In the cruelest cut, in that brief period of easy, triumphalist anticipation before the invasion and its turbulent aftermath, National Review put Nebraska's senior senator down as Senator Hagel (R., France).”

Lelyveld praises Hagel for standing up against some spending, but suggests the senator failed when he supported Bush’s tax cuts.

“The senator from Nebraska broke with his party leadership to vote against the new prescription-drug program under Medicare, the No Child Left Behind bill and a big farm bill stuffed with incentives for corporate agriculture. Each, he felt, was ill conceived in practical terms and unwarranted as an expansion of federal mandates and spending. Only on the Bush tax cuts -- all of which he has supported -- has he been deaf to warnings about the consequences for the federal deficit. (Though, he says, he'd never take ‘the pledge’ to oppose any and all tax hikes.)”

He also uses Hagel’s rating by the American Conservative Union to peg him as a  “certified conservative.”

“It can be argued, as David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, pointed out, that Hagel has taken a more conservative position than the Bush administration every time he has broken with it on a major issue. Keene's outfit gave the senator a 100 percent rating for his votes in 2003. His lifetime rating for his first eight years in the Senate stood at 85 on the union's scorecard, which translates into baseball talk as better than a .300 batting average. Here's a certified conservative, then, who has regularly decried partisanship -- even during the do-or-die Florida showdown in 2000, when he suggested a statewide recount -- and doesn't go on about ‘values.’”

Nice for the Times to use the ACU’s rating system, although so far the Times has only used it to demonstrate the conservative bona fides of Republicans, not the liberal leanings of Democrats like Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Lelyveld equates Hagel’s often-demonstrated independence from conservative “doctrine” as thoughtfulness, especially regarding climate change:

“Facing conservative audiences, he struggles to overcome the suspicion that he's unpredictable, a throwback to old-school G.O.P. moderation, a dissident. That suspicion isn't altogether baseless. Hagel is typically more interested in facts on the ground than doctrine. For instance, while he's reliably anti-abortion -- earning a legislative rating of 100 from the Christian Coalition in 2004 -- he's ready to think through an issue that's a litmus test for some religious groups without bothering to figure out what it might cost him….on climate change, he feels strongly, the Bush White House has muffed a chance to demonstrate that conservatives can say something more useful than no, that they can actually advance ideas and programs.”

Lelyveld again praises Hagel, this time for his “sensitivity on civil liberties matters” (or, in less lofty terms, when Hagel votes the way the ACLU wants):

“As this least partisan Republican stews on his decision on whether to go national with his sense of frustration, he has to know that his independence and forthrightness, the qualities that so far have defined him, are also his most obvious limitations in the roughhouse game of presidential politics as we know it. A candidate who worries about the price he may have to pay for anything he says would not have called for active engagement with Iran and Cuba as Hagel has regularly done in foreign-policy speeches over the last several years. And he would probably not be displaying, as Hagel has recently done, a newfound sensitivity on civil liberties matters. Through the end of 2004, Hagel's rating on the legislative scorecard of the American Civil Liberties Union was an anemic 22 percent. But at the end of December, as Congress rushed to adjourn, he was one of only four Republican senators whose votes held up an extension of the Patriot Act, arguing for checks on federal powers to invade homes and private records that had passed the Senate unanimously but then had been dropped in conference.”

For more examples of New York Times bias, visit TimesWatch.

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Clay Waters's picture