2. He's a conservative Republican
Lest we forget, Chuck Hagel's general reasonableness on foreign policy doesn't mean he's a closet Democrat. He's not. He's anti-abortion, anti-gay rights, and anti-gun control. His record on immigration issues is not bad, but he's iffy on civil rights issues and criminal justice issues, opposed to affirmative action, generally hostile to Democratic party positions on taxes, and his record on environmental issues is dismal. And no one should assume his record on domestic issues is irrelevant to his potential performance as defense secretary. Will a man who supported a ban on abortions performed on military bases be a good steward for military women and female dependents? Will a man who has voted against anti-discrimination measures designed to protect gays and lesbians be able to support gay and lesbian service members?
3. There are plenty of qualified Democrats
Is the Democratic bench really so shallow that Obama needs to nominate a conservative Republican as secretary of defense? That's an easy one: no. There are lots of well-qualified Democrats who'd just love to be SecDef.
To name a few, there's Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed, a former Army Ranger who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee. There's Washington state Congressman Adam Smith, the ranking Democratic member of the House Armed Services Committee. There's Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, a decorated Vietnam veteran and chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. There's Ash Carter, who's currently serving as deputy secretary of defense.
And that's just the middle-aged white guys.
4. How about a woman, Mr. President?
Seriously, in the year 2012, when an African American man has become president, and women and African Americans have served as secretary of state and as national security advisor, President Obama can't think of anyone except a white, male Republican who's qualified to be secretary of defense? Susan Rice, once considered a strong candidate for secretary of state, has been thrown overboard already. With a man -- perhaps Kerry -- expected to be nominated to head the State Department, wouldn't it be nice for President Obama to nominate the nation's first female secretary of defense?
And what do you know -- there's even a popular, exceptionally qualified woman already out there: Michèle Flournoy. Full disclosure: I worked for Flournoy from 2009-2011. But I think that makes me more, not less, qualified to sing her praises. I didn't know her well when I started working for her in April 2009, but by the time I left more than two years later, I had come to respect her enormously.
They say "no man is a hero to his valet," but Flournoy was a heroine for virtually everyone on her staff, which ought to count for something. She's calm, honest, and knows the Defense Department inside out, which would let her get off to a running start. She's served in the defense departments of two administrations, and spent her time outside government in defense-related think tanks. She's married to a retired Navy officer, and has a first-hand understanding of how military life affects families and servicemembers. She's earned the respect of the military's old boy network, and the devotion of the young women and men committed to making the Defense Department a better institution for everyone.
And, Mr. President? She's even a Democrat.