The Hagel Flusterchuck

There are good reasons — given his votes and statements on LGBT issues as well as a woman’s right to choose — to oppose former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel’s probable nomination as secretary of defense, particularly since open military service by gay men and lesbians is still a new phenomenon.

As Gay City News goes to press on January 4, the Los Angeles Times is reporting that White House sources say an announcement could come as early as January 7, which is not really so surprising. Opposition to Hagel, from the right and the left, has mounted for weeks, but President Obama has practical considerations for wanting to move forward. He backed down to Republicans over a prospective appointment of UN Ambassador Susan Rice as secretary of state, was reminded during this week’s fiscal cliff farce about the GOP’s intentions to fight him at every turn, and must face them down again by the end of next month over the nation’s debt ceiling and spending cuts. It’s unfortunate the president started down this road, but my guess is this is something he feels he needs to win.

Hagel earned a zero rating from the Human Rights Campaign, he opposed a federal constitutional amendment barring gay marriage before he voted for it, and he stood against expanding hate crimes protections to cover violence motivated by sexual orientation bias. HRC, however, didn’t initially speak out against the prospective nomination, instead leaving it to OutServe-Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force to raise the obvious concerns. Surely, HRC knows that if the administration doesn’t hear noise from them, it feels its back is covered in the LGBT community.

When HRC did come off the bench, it was over something Hagel said, not did. Responding to Bill Clinton’s 1998 nomination of out gay James Hormel as ambassador to Luxembourg, the Nebraskan said, “They are representing our lifestyle, our values, our standards. And I think it is an inhibiting factor to be gay openly, aggressively gay…” HRC termed that statement “unacceptable,” and Hagel promptly apologized, adding he was committed to ensuring the success of open service and also to the needs of LGBT military families. OutServe-SLDN wisely was guarded in acknowledging the statement but saying it looked forward to hearing more during any confirmation process. HRC crowed is was “proud” to welcome Hagel as a new ally.

Barney Frank of Massachusetts, who retired from his House seat this week, did not take such a rosy view, correctly noting there was not another “minority group… where such a negative statement… would not be an obstacle to a major presidential appointment.”

It’s certainly not serendipitous that the other major opposition to Hagel comes from neocons who thump their chest over their devotion to Israel as a way to attack the former senator’s alleged softness toward Iran. Hagel would have been wise never to have uttered the phrase “Jewish lobby,” but I cringe at the prospect the Hagel nomination will become an opportunity for the right to demand irresponsibly belligerent action against Iran.

What’s most regrettable, though, is the posture of the Log Cabin Republicans in the matter. The man who would days later announce his resignation as executive director declined to comment to Gay City News on Hagel’s anti-gay record, but, speaking for himself, lauded his foreign policy and military acumen. Two weeks later, the group mounted a full-page attack in the New York Times against Hagel over his posture toward Israel and Iran. Oh yeah, and they faulted him on gay rights, too.

LCR, like all of us, is free to judge political figures on issues other than LGBT rights. It ain’t kosher, however, to take its orders from its party’s right wing and then layer over its argument a veneer of civil rights umbrage.