September 29, 2009

Hagel: Rudeness in Politics Must End

Former U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska delivers the third annual Eugene J. McCarthy Lecture on Wednesday in the Stephen B. Humphrey Theater at St. John's University. (Jason Wachter,

By Dave Aeikens • • September 24, 2009


Former U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska said the political discourse in the country has turned so poor that it threatens democracy and America's international standing.

Hagel spoke for about 40 minutes Wednesday night at the Eugene J. McCarthy Lecture at St. John's University. Hagel, who served in the Senate from 1997-2009, was the first Republican senator to speak out against the Iraq war.

"I am concerned our country has lost a good deal of what Eugene McCarthy is all about," Hagel said.

Addressing an audience of more than 400 students and other guests that included McCarthy's family and former U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger and former U.S. Rep. Mark Kennedy, Hagel questioned whether the country will allow rudeness to take over the political system.

"Public discourse has gotten so raw, so rude, so embarrassing it has really debased our system," Hagel said.

He said any fool can stand up and scream and any fool can stand up and call names.

"It takes conscience and courage to find a solution to a problem," Hagel said.

The world is as combustible and interconnected as it has ever been, Hagel said. But the U.S. has great capacity to solve the problems of the world.

"We will never get there if we so debase the process we use to get there," Hagel said.

Hagel pointed to the tenor in the debate on health care policy changes as an example of where the public discourse has gone off the tracks. He said the screaming and rudeness has to stop.

"This is not what a civilized society does," Hagel said.

Hagel said McCarthy, a St. John's graduate from Watkins who served in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate, worked to solve problems and disagreed with others in a respectful and honorable way. McCarthy in 1967 was among the first to challenge President Lyndon Johnson, a fellow Democrat, on the U.S. policy in Vietnam.

"That is another dimension on why McCarthy was so important at a very important time," Hagel said.

Hagel said President Obama is confronting more problems than Abraham Lincoln.

He said he has seen how the country has lost its ability to self-govern because it is paralyzed by partisanship.

"We have to bring some semblance back of a governing coalition in the country," Hagel said.