In the real world, when somebody calls you an old friend, it matters. You can take them at their word. In Washington, ground zero for hypocrisy and posturing, "friend" is a 4-letter word. "Old friend" is double trouble.
"I'm pleased to see an old friend in front of the committee," Sen. John McCain said Thursday in welcoming Secretary of Defense-designee Chuck Hagel to the Senate Armed Services Committee. The panel is reviewing Hagel's qualifications to succeed Leon Panetta.
"Our concerns," McCain continued, speaking for Hagel's other GOP critics, "pertain to the quality of your professional judgment."
Just four years ago, McCain and Hagel were personally and politically close, bound by their service in Vietnam and their well-polished maverick GOP brands. McCain, the GOP's 2008 presidential nominee, said that year he would be honored to put Hagel in his Cabinet. He even embraced a rumor that then-Sen. Barack Obama might pick Hagel as a running mate.
Times have changed McCain from a party-bucking, bipartisan-minded senator to a hard-line conservative and hawk. Hagel has evolved less, if at all. The men drifted apart over foreign policy, associates say. They point to the fact that McCain, famously opinionated and stubborn, has especially little patience for people he believes waver on war.