Former U.S. Senator from Nebraska and rumored Obama nominee to lead the Defense Department, Chuck Hagel once lavished praise on a controversial colleague on the Senate floor, the late Sen. Strom Thurmond.
In 1997, during Hagel’s freshman term, the Senator from Nebraska rose to commend Thurmond’s years of service to the body.
In comments not dissimilar from those uttered by former Sen. Trent Lott—(comments that ultimately cost Lott his leadership role in the party) Hagel offered effusive praise for the segregationist Senator:
“This freshman, 6-month-old, humble Senator from Nebraska, wishes to thank Sen. Thurmond for the opportunity to learn from his experiences and his leadership. I wish to add my commendation to Senator Thurmond for his dedication, his commitment to our nation. I admire the strong example he has set for all of us, especially our young people. Mr. President, in a day when we do not have enough strong role models in this country, Sen. Thurmond is one. He is an example of a life well lived. He is a true American role model, an American hero.
"Sen. Thurmond is the highest-ranking 95-year-old in the nation, as far as I know, Mr. President. My only request is that I hope that during my time in the Senate I may conduct myself in such a way that Sen. Thurmond will remember me as his colleague and friend long after I have departed this body and Sen. Thurmond is still presiding.”
Thurmond, one of the Senate’s most controversial figures, ran for president on the “Dixiecrat” ticket in 1948—Dixiecrats were devoted to preserving racial segregation in America. One of Thurmond’s most infamous quotes in discussing the segregation issue can be found in his New York Times obituary, “'all the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes, into our schools, our churches and our places of recreation and amusement.”