Yglesias captures the frustration with Hagel quite well:
But of course he is a Senator from Nebraska, and instead of finding myself admiring his work in that capacity I find myself thinking that Hagel would make a damn good “reasonable conservative” blogger.
In the past, I have been pretty relentless and unforgiving in my criticism of Hagel’s relative inaction. Certainly, for the first three years of the war he was far too complacent. But I think that both Hagel’s boosters and his critics, including myself, have invested the man with much more power and influence than he really has as a Senator. Granted, he could have probably done more than he has, and he could have at least stayed for one more term, and he could have followed through on his criticisms of the plan to invade Iraq and voted against the authorisation resolution, but even if he were doing more than he is doing there is painfully little that he can do so long as the Senate Republican caucus remains wedded to the perpetuation of the war and the general deformation of U.S. foreign policy. On most things pertaining to Iraq, Hagel has voted with the Democratic majority, and he has publicly said fairly intelligent things about negotiating with Iran. If the Democratic majority in the Senate has been unable to move antiwar legislation, the blame cannot be laid at Hagel’s door. Calling on him to run for President, as many did, was always bound to end in disappointment one way or another. If he did run as an independent, he would get little traction with Republicans disaffected over the war, because he has never been unambiguously against the war despite having foreseen so many of the calamities that have happened, and he has voted with the White House so often in the last several years that he could not credibly represent an alternatve to Bushism as a whole, much less be a “more credible version” of Ron Paul.
Yglesias refers to Hagel’s missed opportunity “to offer the country a more credible version of Ron Paul’s efforts to break the Bushist orthodoxy,” but on so many of the things that conservatives and independents find offensive about “Bushist orthodoxy” Hagel has generally been right alongside the President. Opponents of Bush shower Hagel with praise because he, too, is an opponent of the President in a few very select areas–this is unfortunately a mirror image of the way that Republicans shower Lieberman with praise because he agrees with them in a few very select areas. There are worse things to be than the anti-Lieberman, but this is not the basis for a “more credible version” of an effort to break Bushism.
Hagel is a “more credible” anti-Bush than Paul in the way that establishment figures dub various experts or politicians “serious” more or less arbitrarily: Hagel is “more credible” as an anti-Bush figure, but he is, in fact, very rarely anti-Bush and very rarely anti-Bushist. If we measure credibility in this way, Michael O’Hanlon is a “more credible” antiwar voice than people who actually oppose the war and Rudy Giuliani is a “more credible” opponent of abortion than the pro-life candidates. That is, someone is dubbed credible when he is actually quite content with the status quo in most respects and is sufficiently unthreatening that he is considered the acceptable face of opposition or criticism.