When he said that the Republican Party he voted for during he heroic service in the Mekong Delta is not the Republican Party that exists today, his words were true, and potentially profound.
The Republican Party today is no longer the Party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosvelt and Dwight Eisenhower. Under George Bush the United States is no longer the leader of the free world. We are feared by our friends as well as our enemies.
When Senator Hagel joined with Democrats and sponsored the Iraq resolution, and was the only Republican to vote with them in the Foreign Relations Committee, it was a major moment. When he pointed to the Democrats, then the Republicans, and said the President has no plan, and the Senate damn well better know the plan before sending the troops, it was a true and magic moment in the Senate.
What I propose here, is a hard and difficult course, with an unknown destination that may someday lead to the Presidency, or not. But this is true, if Senator Hagel leaves the Republican Party and becomes a Democrat or political independent, he changes the course of American history.
Senator Hagel would make an extraordinary and unprecedented contribution to restore our sense of national unity, our national values, and national prestige throughout the free world.
I propose: that Senator Hagel declare political independence, leaves the Republican Party, announces he will abstain from all party line votes on legislation, procedures and governing the Senate.
I propose: he then spend 90 days speaking out on the great issues, without the limitations of partisan politics, speaking of war and peace, of patriotism and honor, of responsibility and duty, of what is right for America.
Democratic Leaders and candidates for president would almost certainly extend to him an invitation to join us as Senator, Vice President or Secretary Of State in the next Admnistration.
Republicans in Congress would be forced to make a choice. Vote their conscience on the war, stand on principle at a time of crisis, with a historic political realignment underway.
At the end of the 90 days, Senator Hagel can consider all options. He could return to the Republican Party, join the Democratic Party, or stake out new and historic ground as a true political independent.
All electoral options would remain intact: running for reelection to the Senate or running for President. He might well be offered the Vice Presidency or Secretary of State in a Democratic Administration. Many including myself will be urging senior Democrats to extend these invitations.
What I predict would happen during this 90 day period, would be an outpouring of vitriol from the intolerant and reactionary wing of the Republican Party, which, in truth, holds these views about Senator Hagel and many moderate Republicans. They have the power to block his nomination for President as a Republican. The vitriolic and hyperpartisan wing of the Republican Party is in control, and they scorn moderate Republicans in the same way President Bush ignores them and humiliates Tony Blair.
The time for historic realignment is at hand.
What would also happen if Senator Hagel takes his leave from the partisan past, would be a powerful outpouring of support from good and decent Americans. They are disgusted by what our politics have become. They hope and pray for national unity and reconciliation. They find their hopes and prayers unanswered by official Washington today.
Also, I predict, because of the enormity of this move, its realigning power in our American democracy, Senator Hagel's move would be met with joy throughout the far corners of America's friends everywhere in the free world.
Imagine a Senator rising above the crowd, saying "no more", speaking freely and courageously unencumbered by the contraints of partisan bickering, unchained from the schackles of American politics today.
This would set loose a chain reaction in the United States Senate and throughout American politics. If the President is today considering another first strike war, this action might save America from another catastrophe, and save President Bush from himself.
To Senator Haggel, we live in strange and dangerous times. There is indeed a threat of nuclear or WMD terrorism on American soil, but it is made greater, not lesser, by the policies being pursued today. We have had outright attacks on the Bill of Rights and Constitution with continuing claims that Presidential power alone could declare time honored laws null and void, by whim.
Acts of torture have been committed in the name of our democracy that historians will view as a blot on our honor and a disaster for our security as well as our values. We have had threats of nuclear options in the Senate, talk of nuclear first strikes in the Middle East, the spread of nuclear weapons in the world, grave damage to military readiness, and very grave deterioration of our deterrent capability while China advances in Asia and Russia regresses to authoritarianism and repression.
The American people are a Great Generation of citizens who feel endangered by a Lost Generation of Leaders; a Right Stuff people trapped in a web of Wrong Stuff politics. We hunger and thirst: for a renewal of America as a community of shared values, as a national family of shared purpose, as a beacon that would again light the world.
Imagine leaders who challenge us to be better, lift us to great aspirations at home, and lift the free world to a new sense of hope and a new confidence in American leadership.
Senator Hagel would tell Americans and the world, by declaring his independence, that we are a good and great nation, not a nation of opportunists and maneuverers. We are a nation of patriots and believers, not a nation of partisans and triangulators.
He would be declaring: we are a nation that believes in freedom, democracy, truth, honor, justice, human rights and not a nation of sheep, herded through fear, into dark corners of division, torture and war.
We are a nation whose leaders command the bravery of the 101st Airborne, while they aspire to the nobility of the Nobel Prize for peace.
If Senator Hagel declares his independence from what has gone wrong with American civic life and our role in world affairs, he will lift the spirits of a grateful nation and chart a course from the wilderness of our discontents.
Imagine leaders who build a future that would bring us together, make us proud, lift our spirit, and renew our hope, here at home and with freedom's friends throughout the world.