Sunday, January 13, 2013

Not so fast, pal

Chuck Hagel came to the  Concord Monitor in 2006 during his brief exploration of a run for president (Dan Habib photo).  

I still write columns from time to time for the Concord Monitor, where I ran the newsroom for 30 years. Today I have one on Chuck Hagel, President Obama's choice for secretary of defense.

The basis for the column is an interview our editorial board conducted with Hagel on March 21, 2006. Like many who are considering a run for president, Hagel stopped by the paper and gave us time to dig down into his views.

He soon abandoned the idea of running -- wisely, in my view. I say that not because he lacked the right stuff but because, given a tendency to think for himself and say aloud what he thought, his candidacy would have flopped in the primaries.

When we interviewed Hagel, a quotation from Joe Lelyveld's then-recent profile of Hagel in the New York Times Sunday Magazine was fresh in mind. Someone told Lelyveld that because Americans are addicted to optimism in their leaders, Hagel's sad-sack face was a liability in a presidential run.

But Hagel's face hides a keen sense of humor. He and John McCain, both mavericks, both Vietnam combat veterans, were famously friendly in the Senate, although their differences on the Iraq war had already frayed their bond. I baited Hagel during the interview, asking whether he would abandon his presidential aspirations if McCain decided to run.

Talk about getting out of the race before you've even gotten in? Even the straight-shooting Hagel was too cagey for that.

"Nebraskans can't be tricked easily," he said, "especially by fancy New Hampshirites."

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