Hagel was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1996 and established himself as a middle-of-the-road Republican with a reputation for working across the aisle. Hagel announced last year that he would not seek reelection, so when he wraps up his second term this fall, he’ll be looking for a job.
One of Hagel’s closest friends on Capital Hill is Arizona Senator John McCain. They walk to a drumbeat closer to each other than the one set by the Republican Party bosses. Yet Democrats also have much to like in Hagel’s centrist, bipartisan style, and Hagel’s vehement opposition to the Iraq war fits well with their base. It has also put him at odds with McCain lately.
What kind of vice president might Hagel be? After all, as a Nebraskan, Hagel doesn’t necessarily come from a state that garners much media spotlight.
So Hagel has chosen to thrust some of that media spotlight on himself by authoring a book, America: Our Next Chapter. The subtitle, “Tough questions, straight answers,” sets a tone that carries throughout the book. Hagel has called his manifesto a “no-nonsense” look at the challenges of the twenty-first century.
But Hagel devotes part of a chapter to explaining why, if he could build his own Mt. Rushmore, he’d put his own mother’s face on the mountain. So readers shouldn’t take the book as completely no-nonsense, regardless of how good Hagel’s reasons are.
Hagel delivers his worldview—a sober dose of optimism tempered by Midwestern pragmatism—in simple, straightforward language.
“These next years can be inspiring, positive, constructing chapters for America, or they could turn out differently and quite dangerously,” Hagel writes. “I take the view that they will be great chapters. We can succeed and we can lead, if we’re wise enough to understand what we must do and not foolish enough to believe that somehow America’s greatness is preordained. Our success will be the result of hard work, smart and informed policy, and strong and enlightened leadership.”
That maybe sounds like politico-speak rather than “straight talk,” but Hagel takes great care to spell things out as he sees them—enough care, at least, that he wrote a book outlining his views on the world. The book avoids fluff well enough, and even if it doesn’t always feel like he’s offering the “straight answers” his subtitle touts, it does at least feel like there’s substance to what he’s saying.
For being a book titled America, Hagel’s book is very much about America’s place in the larger world. He does talk about domestic issues and education, but he also talks about the Middle East, China, and global terrorism. “[T]he world we live in is far more dangerous, far more combustible, for more hair-triggered than ever before because it is far more interconnected,” Hagel says.
Hagel’s views are, of course, focused through the lens of his service on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Hagel used his service there, plus his standing as a veteran, to rail against the war in Iraq since its inception—and Hagel wastes no opportunity to remind readers of that fact. At other points, Hagel writes with one hand while patting himself on the back with the other. (The book is, after all, not just his manifesto but also an attempt to remind the American public who he is and what he’s done, not just what he believes.)
Hagel advocates a focus on “a few bedrock principles” to help America weather perils “both seen and unforeseen” in the new century. He discusses citizenship, democracy, and service and the need for a better-informed and better-engaged electorate. He offers thoughtful positions on each subject, and while his language is not especially inspiring, his ideas sometimes are.
“America must make a focused and deliberate effort over the next few years to reintroduce herself to the world,” Hagel writes. America: Our Next Chapter allows him to introduce himself to the country. Whether he’s ever introduced as “Mr. Vice President” remains to be seen.