The Post story on the politics of Hagel’s confirmation makes a point I’ve touched on before:

There have been fights in the past over presidents’ nominees, but longtime observers say the attacks on Hagel’s policy positions are unprecedented.

“I have never seen anything like this,” said Lawrence J. Korb, an assistant secretary of defense during the Reagan administration. He and others recalled the clash over former senator John Tower’s nomination to be defense secretary in 1989. But the objections in the Texas Republican’s case turned on questions of morality and character, not policy.

That’s true, but it’s worth adding that the smear campaign against Hagel isn’t just focused on policy differences. Instead, this campaign is aimed at using policy differences to tar Hagel’s reputation either by grossly distorting his views into something they’re not or drawing wild, fantastical conclusions about what his views must imply. Hagel’s loudest critics have sought to vilify him in the most scurrilous way possible by imputing prejudices to him that he doesn’t have and by trying to cast his legitimate policy disagreements as moral failures. All of these things are baseless attacks on Hagel’s character.

The attacks on Hagel’s views are unprecedented in a Cabinet nomination process, but they’re only too familiar from the foreign policy debate of the last twenty years. The purpose of the attacks is to limit the range of foreign policy views that can be held, cow would-be dissenters (especially those inside the GOP) into keeping quiet, and reinforce the exceedingly narrow boundaries of what views are considered acceptable. Fortunately, these tactics have been so overused in the last ten years that their effectiveness has diminished considerably.