Chuck Hagel’s Advice for Life

Here’s a write-up by Observer intern Lien Hoang of a visit by Republican Senator Chuck Hagel to the Columbia campus on Friday:

As usual, when Chuck Hagel spoke at Columbia University, he didn’t reveal who he intended to vote for in the presidential election. But he did say that Barack Obama “probably will be” elected next week because “we think he is a leader we can believe in, we can trust.”

Dressed in subtle white stripes and a baby-blue tie, Hagel treated the event, technically part of a book tour, as a kind of fireside chat (“We’ll take as much time as we need,” he said) and played patriarch to the approximately 50 students who came to hear him.

"I'm impressed this many of you would show up on a Friday afternoon,” he said. “That's encouraging.”

Columbia students lean Democratic, but Hagel has defined himself this election cycle as a decidedly independent Republican and his allusions to an Obama presidency and criticism of the Iraq War made him right at home.

In one of just two references to the Republican presidential candidate, Hagel said that by picking Sarah Palin as a running mate, John McCain failed the first test of a president. (He thinks Obama passed).

The second time Hagel mentioned McCain, he told the audience he decided not to run for president because he had clashed with his party over so many issues. But, he said, "Maybe I was wrong."

Standing in front of taped-up sign for the Columbia Political Union, the campus group that invited him to speak, Hagel spoke about his life and about his book, America: Our Next Chapter. He recalled being at war in Vietnam, and a recent tour of Asia. The world was "simple" when he was a soldier, Hagel said, but now, "Relationships are maturing, countries are maturing, people are maturing," he said.

"We're living at a time of astounding change," Hagel said, fiddling with the button of his black jacket.

His hands moved constantly, at times folded in front of him, at times slipping into his pockets. When speaking about "the world," he held an invisible basketball.

His advice for life was this: be honest with yourself and always do it (whatever "it" is) for the right reason.

He spoke wistfully about the figures he admires: former president Dwight Eisenhower ("a five-star general"), former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynahan ("hell of a bartender"), his mother (a representative of the Greatest Generation, he said), and the four presidents depicted on Mount Rushmore (part of a larger theme in the book).

The students bought 14 books in total, and Hagel pointed out their good fortune.

"Normally, if I didn't like you, I'd tell you to buy the damn book," he said.

Chuck Hagel’s Advice for Life