Can Hagel’s anti-gay career just be shrugged away?

Timothy Kincaid

December 27th, 2012

It has long been tradition for Presidents to reward supporters and activists with an ambassadorship post to a friendly and strategically non-controversial nation. And so, in 1998, President Clinton nominated James Hormel, a philanthropist and Democratic Party activist, to be the US Ambassador to Luxembourg, a nation about the size of Connecticut and with the population of Tuscon.

But one small problem, James Hormel is gay. And so the usual suspects raised a ruckus, spittle flew, and homophobia stopped its ugly feet all over the place. The Family Research Council and the Catholic League found him simply unacceptable for a Catholic Country and Trent Lott (R-MS), the Senate Majority Leader blocked the nomination.

Luxembourg weighed in saying that they have laws which prohibit anti-gay discrimination in employment (a polite way of saying “we think you’re being asses”) and that Hormel would be welcome. And eventually, in May 1999, Clinton used a recess appointment to put him in the post. As best we can tell, the Ambassador wore the right clothes to all the right dinners and our relationship with the Duchy of Luxembourg survived the ordeal.

But these little events can often be useful. They can give you the measure of a person’s character and the considerations they include in their decision making. And they can have long long legs and former Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NB) is learning just how long.

While some Senators questioned Hormel’s positions, in 1998, Hagel was one of those who opposed Hormel solely on the basis of his orientation. He believed that this, and this alone, was enough to disqualify Hormel from representing the United States in the tiny European nation. Because, you see, ambassador posts are “sensitive”.

They are representing America. They are representing our lifestyle, our values, our standards. And I think it is an inhibiting factor to be gay — openly, aggressively gay like Mr. Hormel — to do an effective job.

Not that he’d oppose all gay ambassadors, you see. No nothing like that. But this is a Catholic country.

I want to be fair to Hagel and he does not have a completely anti-gay record. Along with John McCain, Hagel opposed the anti-gay Federal Marriage Amendment in 2005 (and I thank him for that):

I’m a conservative. I believe the sanctity of the Constitution of the United States is very important, I don’t think you need a constitutional amendment defining marriage. That’s a state issue.

But, for the most part, Hagel has politely and ever-so-nicely opposed every concession towards equality or protection that the gay community has requested. Not out of animus (no, no, assuredly not), but there was always some reason, some explanation why this time gay people had to go without.

And, of course, Hagel is happy to move with the tail end of progress. And the idea of denying an ambassadorship to a qualified candidate based on his or her orientation has been a non-starter since George W. Bush’s appointment of Michael Guest to Romania in 2001.

So, now that he’s in consideration for the role of Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel rushed to offer a 14 years stale apology:

My comments 14 years ago in 1998 were insensitive. They do not reflect my views or the totality of my public record, and I apologize to Ambassador Hormel and any LGBT Americans who may question my commitment to their civil rights.

And those ideologically aligned with the administration have been quick to say, “good enough for me”. The New Yorker called objections to Hagel an “ugly attack” and MSNBC assured us that it was all a long time ago in a different era. And even James Hormel – after describing it as insincere – “accepted” the apology.

Even the Human Rights Campaign decided that this apology illustrates “a change of heart on LGBT issues” and declared Hagel a new ally in our ranks.

But I just can’t get my feet to do the Hagel dance.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a big believer in redemption. I’m first in line to applaud those who wish to repudiate former beliefs and to atone. I am generous in my welcome and effusive in my congratulations to those who have a change of heart.

But I’m not seeing a change of heart. I see an apology for a few words driven by political expediency.

You see, I happen to disagree with Chuck Hagel. I think that his 1998 statement actually does reflect his views and the totality of his public record.

This is not a man who is repudiating his record. He’s not suggesting that any of his votes should have gone differently. This is not a situation of atonement and redemption. He’s just apologizing because his comments were “insensitive”.

But my measure of Hagel’s ability to fairly include gay civil servants and gay service people as Secretary of Defense is not based on comments made 14 years ago – or on this week’s apology. It is based on a career of votes that suggests to me that Chuck Hagel sees himself as a polite and kind man who holds no animus but who, when decisions are made, always has a reason why gay people cannot be treated equally.

And that is how I think he would be as Secretary of Defense.


December 27th, 2012

Very well done — you’ve connected the right dots on this one. Like you, I was looking at Hagel’s record while reading the various apologias and thinking to myself “This does not compute.” Maybe Hagel has had a change of heart, but I don’t really think the Department of Defense is the place to test it.


December 27th, 2012

On this one we agree entirerly.


December 27th, 2012

Gee, I wonder why you seem so much more ready to forgive Ken Mehlman his past sins to laud his current statements than Chuck Hagel?


December 27th, 2012

@chiMaxx: Well, let’s see…

1. Mehlman isn’t up for Cabinet appointment, while Hagel is.

2. Mehlman has made strides to undo the damage he caused, however imperfectly, while Hagel appears to have had a sudden “conversion” conveniently in time for a Cabinet appointment.

Surely there are other staunchly loyal and qualified Democrats who could fill the SecDef job? Or how about this: let’s take this forgiveness to the next level and bring back Sam Nunn. He’s certainly qualified for the job, as much if not more than Hagel.


December 27th, 2012

I guess Ken Mehlman never made a critical comment against the “Israel Can Do No Wrong” lobby.


December 27th, 2012

When is he supposed to tell people that he’s changed his stance on gay issues? When he’s not up for anything or running for anything and he can’t PAY the press to give him any coverage?


December 27th, 2012

Hormel’s completely transparent 180 is the most disheartening part of this whole mess. He correctly called out Hagel’s insincere and fake non-apology for what it was, then obviously someone told him to get in line, so he did. Ugh. Obama should not be nominating this man, and not just because of one stray comment, but because of a substantial anti-gay record, which Timothy has laid out here.
Interestingly, the hypocrisy is on both sides of the aisle. The Democrats are quick to forgive while the Republicans are quick to pretend to be offended. Most hilariously, the Log Cabin Republicans, fresh off of endorsing Romney for President (the man who signed NOM’s pledge, who said gay people having children was wrong, who kotowed to Bryan Fischer and sent Richard Grenell packing when the heat was on), are totally “outraged” by this pick. I cannot help but wonder if they would give a damn if Romney had won and nominated Hagel. Actually, that’s not true. I don’t wonder at all.


December 27th, 2012

When Hagel comes out of the closet and renounces his dishonesty in “passing” as a hetro, I’ll think twice about wanting his name to be withdrawn as a possibility for Sec. of Defense.


December 27th, 2012

@chiMaxx: So 1 year after leaving the Senate, as a “distinguished professor” at Georgetown University, he couldn’t make these statements during the DADT repeal effort in late 2010? To say that the press would have ignored him is simply not true. They pounced on just about any Republican who made a favorable statement about DADT repeal because they stood out from the rest of the party! No, this has all the markings of a very convenient change-of-heart for political gain.

David Roberts

December 27th, 2012

I agree with your assessment, Timothy. I will go further and say that there are two presidents that such an appointment would make which we should not want.

1. As you have noted, the idea that a politically expedient non-apology by itself is sufficient to indicate a genuine change of heart.

2. Sustaining the stereotype that Democrats are either inept or too weak to handle matters of defense.

I’m honestly baffled by his being considered for this position at this point.

Gene in L.A.

December 27th, 2012

Unfortunate though it may be, it appears that however much some of us may not like it, Hagel’s anti-gay career can just be shrugged away.


December 28th, 2012

@David: I’m not a Democrat myself, but if they’re determined to have a former Senator from Nebraska as SecDef, why not Bob Kerrey? He’s a Medal of Honor recipient, voted against DOMA in ’96 and tried to head off DADT back in ’93. Not sure what else the man brings to the table for the job, but one would think he would at least get some consideration.

David in Tucson

December 28th, 2012

Um, tiny point in the context of the whole post, and not something that negates the value of it, but the correct spelling is “Tucson.”


December 28th, 2012

@David Roberts. I’m with you on this one. His comments from 1998 aside, I cannot believe he is the most qualified person to be Secretary of Defense. I do not think the post should go to a Republican at all. President Obama owes nothing to Nebraska (voted for Romney) or to the Republicans. In addition, I think DoD needs a less polite person with a stronger executive and management style than Mr. Hagel. I was military affairs advisor to a state governor for nearly three years and know that, sometimes, oftentimes, the civilian leadership needs to stand up to the uniforms. We are facing that kind of change at DoD and I don’t think Mr. Hagel has the executive leadership style to do it. Or the effectiveness with Congress to negotiate it.

Rob in San Diego

December 28th, 2012

@Chris and @chiMaxx…

Bingo Chris, your the only one on here who nailed it correctly. It’s because of his statements on israel. Mehlman will bend forward and grab his ankles for israel in a heart beat. Let’s be honest at who is really against his nomination, the jewish lobby and jewish controlled media, not to forget friends of israel. I’m more for him based on the various people who are against him.


December 28th, 2012

First of all, he owed Hormel a personal apology, a long time ago. The handwritten non-public kind. His comments weren’t “insensitive” they were bigoted and bordered on slanderous.

His apology is a pro-forma two-step intended to “solve the problem”. It accomplishes none of that to anyone with a functioning brainstem. The only question is whether to look the other way about it (as Hormel has done), or to insist that the leash be good and snug on the proposed Secretary.

And that’s where I worry less – the SoD tows the President’s line on all matters, and this President appears to have gotten the message when the GayTM shut down in 2010 after little progress had been seen in our issues. I think Hagel will serve at the pleasure of the President, and in that, he will behave or he won’t be there long. The question is – does SoD serve merely as a stepping stone for Hagel for 2016, and in so doing, do we further the career of someone who sees our community as some kind of “other”? And, moreover, how do we ensure that this guy has sufficient day-to-day contact with gay people that he gets the education he apparently desperately needed (perhaps he’s gotten it already? can’t tell).

Speaking of bigoted… ummm… Rob, “Jewish” and “Israeli” are not synonymous, and your “Jews control the media” comments are ugly. You’ve crossed a line, and I think you should apologizse.

S Armstrong

December 28th, 2012

>But, for the most part, Hagel has politely and ever-so-nicely opposed every concession towards equality or protection that the gay community has requested.

Can you document that?


December 28th, 2012

Maybe Obama should nominate Hormel for SecDef — Hormel’s reaction to Hagel’s apology is perceptive and right on target. That he’s accepted the apology, even though Hagel made it publicly and not personally, just points up Hormel’s integrity and graciousness, as far as I’m concerned. And reading Hormel’s follow-up statement, there are a lot of “ifs” in there — he’s not offering unqualified support by any means.


December 28th, 2012

We are supppposed to pay attention to the “totality of HIS record”, although he has not seen it appropriate to do so in relation to Others’ [Gays’] total records, but rather condemned them based upon a SOLE precept?…one which blankets the GOP still today?(as evidenced by its platform and voting record) I think NOT.

“Sorry I voted repeatedly against you all, but please, PLESE do not return the slap in the face now that I need your support, peace-out!” – C.H. Be sure to watch over the coming years for similar comments to come from the Right.

Sincere changes of heart(s) come at In-opportunistic times. Others are rightly and blatantly suspect.

Obama makes the nomination because he, like Hagel, desires to draw down the military, reducing spending; a goal which I commend, but there must be some other qualified nominee? Please find it President Obama?


December 28th, 2012

One of the few times I agree with Kincaid. For me, the problem isn’t so much the slur against James Hormel, who has accepted the apology, but Hagel’s opposition to the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. All during the last several years, when the repeal movement was heating up, he could have repudiated his earlier position. He is, after all, a professor and someone often asked for his views. Hell, even Sam Nunn and Colin Powell, came out to support repeal. But Hagel was conspicuously silent. Only when his name was floated as a possible Secretary of Defense did he say he was in favor of repeal. Surely, the President can do better than this.


December 28th, 2012

My apologies for the length of the comment below. The importance of this matter and the fact that most of the comments above lean in the other direction might justify it.

Hagel is being savaged by the neocon Israeli-expansionist/Christian-zionist-endtimers because he: (1) was an early skeptic of the Iraq invasion, does not want to repeat that disaster in Iran, and has not endorsed the current Israeli administration’s project of expanding settlements in the West Bank in order to scuttle the possibility of a 2-state solution (the policy of U.S. administrations, Red and Blue, for the past 30 years or more); and (2) is the only available candidate who has significant international credibility on defense and the military, substantially shares Obama’s policies on those matters, and has a distinguished record of military service.

On the last point, as much as we might like to think that SecDOD, being a civilian position, could (or should) be occupied by someone who has not been ‘tainted’ by military service, the person who directs the Pentagon through the difficult changes that will necessarily be made in the next four years will need a high level of respect with the enlisted servicepeople, the officer corps and the joint chiefs. Obama did not serve in the military, and the Democrats are still perceived by most of the military and the electorate in general as ‘weak on defense.’ Obama does not have a deep bench at this position. He has a couple of policy wonks who will make great undersecretaries, but for the top job he needs someone who has at least been through boot camp. Hagel is a decorated veteran with strong support in the military.

It concerns me to see lgbt activists joining ranks with the likes of Pat Robertson, James Dobson and John Hagee to bring down this potential nomination. Obama has already been rolled once on Susan Rice (and will lose a Senate seat to the GOP as a result). If he gets rolled on this, his second major appointment, his defense policies will be weakened and his position will be seriously undermined for all the pending judicial and administrative appointments he will be making.

Finally, I find it strange that Timothy adheres to such a strict standard on this particular nomination. He was apparently ready to endorse Romney for the presidency if the man had not remained adamant right up to Nov. 5 in support of the FMA, nothwithstanding that, among many other things, Mitt could not remember ‘that particular incident’ when he had his high school buddies hold down a gay kid so Mitt could shear his long hair with a pair of scissors.

And I think it was particularly telling that Timothy chose to truncate Hagel’s (already short) statement by omitting the third sentence in which Hagel committed to defend and expand the implementation of the repeal of DADT. I would like to have seen a more expansive statement and fully expect to hear one if the nomination advances. But below, for the record is the full statement that was too long for Timothy:

“My comments 14 years ago in 1998 were insensitive,” Hagel said. “They do not reflect my views or the totality of my public record, and I apologize to Ambassador Hormel and any LGBT Americans who may question my commitment to their civil rights. I am fully supportive of ‘open service’ and committed to LGBT military families.”


December 28th, 2012


I disagree with your view on this, but to be fair to Timothy, he did get his info from FOX news (follow his link, that was the entire portion fox gave, they didn’t want to post his positive gay military family statement). They didn’t include the full text of the apology, I know, Timothy will lay claim to the painful fact that he is not a journalist to excuse not giving the entire quote (which is bad form since this was a lot about the apology, the entire thing should have been quoted or at least linked to.), or even a link to it, but I agree with him that Hagel is the WRONG guy for the job. I believe there are extremely qualified people within the Party that could handle the job better. But I will rest easier if it’s Hagel since at least we seemed to have dodged the Lieberman bullett, his name has bounced around for this job for years and years.

David Roberts

December 28th, 2012


Good points. I think Hagel would set bad precedent but also, for reasons you gave, is probably not even a good fit for the job.


December 28th, 2012

This nomination is not about gay issues. It’s about whether we allow Israel and its amen corner in the US to continue to dictate US military and foreign policy.

LCR just took out a full page ad in the NYT opposing the nomination, only days after its president issued a statement that came close to *endorsing* the nomination. Something smells very fishy. Those ads don’t come cheap, and it seems likely they were “assisted” with cash from an outside organization. If true, it’s likely they aren’t the only ones being offered money. It’s fine if some in our community sincerely oppose the nomination, but I think *every* gay organization opposing the nomination needs to explicitly affirm their stance is not the consequence of a quid pro quo.

Israel, AIPAC, and the neo-cons have already gotten us in a disastrous war in Iraq. Now they’re pushing us towards an even more disastrous war in Iran. Our community needs to ensure our leaders are not corrupted by dirty money.


December 28th, 2012

While I support Hagel’s nomination, I don’t feel that strongly about it and am not willing to put forth any kind of fight for him. I suspect too many in the Senate feel the same way. There are too many who oppose him and not enough who support him strongly enough to put up the kind of fight that would be necessary. On to Plan B.

P.S. The abbreviation for Nebraska is NE, not NB.


December 28th, 2012

What Tristram and Merv said.

While in my dreams I might want a Secretary of Defense who had been at the front of DADT repeal, rather than one simply “fully supportive of ‘open service’ and committed to LGBT military families” now that that is the law of the land, in the real world we live in it is far more important that we have someone willing to stand up to AIPAC and Netanyahu, who won’t let them pull us into a war in Iran, and who will start imposing sanctions against the Israeli government until it stops its aggressive settlement-building.


December 28th, 2012

@ Robert and Houndentenor –

Dropping Hagel without a fight means giving McCain and Graham (if not Hagee and CUFI) a veto over any potential nominee.

And seriously, we’re getting Plan B at State, along with Senator Scott Brown. Who is Plan B for Defense? Joe Lieberman? Jim Webb would be battered worse than Hagel. Let’s see some names.


December 28th, 2012

I don’t know how I could have forgotten his past statements. Considering that the Republican Tea Party has vowed to unrepeal the repeal of DADT, I cannot trust a Republican with his past record not to use the office of SecDef to undermine the efforts to accept openly gay military personnel.


December 28th, 2012

@tristam: Again I ask, what about Bob Kerrey? He is a Democrat (unlike Hagel), was also a Senator from Nebraska, has the military credentials necessary for the post of SecDef (especially being a Medal of Honor recipient) and has the experience required in politics to do the job.

As for Hagel’s positions on Israel, I could care less one way or the other. He’s up for SecDef, not SecState. POTUS sets the policy regarding Israel and every other nation, backed up by the SecState. The SecDef’s job is to manage defense of the nation as well as implement more steely diplomatic measures when called upon by POTUS.


December 28th, 2012

@JohnAGJ I have a lot of respect for Bob Kerrey, and I’m in sync with most of his policy positions (as best I know them). He has the military background big-time, but (as opposed, say, to Jim Webb) unfortunately lacks the defense-policy experience to be nominated, let alone confirmed as SecDef. He served a few years on the Senate Intelligence Committee but had no significant defense/foreign policy committee experience and has never had a significant defense-related administrative job (unlike Webb who was Secretary of the Navy). For the past dozen years he was a college president and a quixotic Senate candidate. He just does not have the experience to give him the necessary cred with Congress, the military or the international military community to be considered a realistic Defense Secretary.

As for Israel, the issue is not what you care about. The issue is that anyone Obama nominates has to be confirmed by the Senate, which means s/he has to get 60 Senators to vote to end the inevitable filibuster and then a majority to confirm the appointment, which means that virtually all Democratic senators and some Republican senators have to at least vote for cloture. The Christianist/Israeli-expansionist organizations are pressuring senators to oppose Hagel because of his purported positions on Israel. They can count on a majority of GOP senators and several Democrats. So the vote on Hagel would be extremely close because of Israel. I don’t know much about Kerrey’s positions on Iraq, Iran or Israel, but I doubt he would be any more acceptable to these people (nor would Webb be, as far as I can tell).


December 30th, 2012

How much money did it take for the Log Cabin Republicans’ R. Clarke Cooper to go from supporting Chuck Hagel as SecDef two weeks ago on the basis of his military background and foreign policy credentials to blasting him for being soft on Iran (and, oh yeah, too tough on Israel and squishy on gay rights, too).

Whoever paid off the LCR for the ad got Timothy as a free bonus. Do we really want to be dupes for the likes of Sheldon Adelson?

Hagel has committed in print: “I am fully supportive of ‘open service’ and committed to LGBT military families.” I expect Senators to grill him on this in confirmation hearings. How much more can we ask of a SecDef on this issue?

We need someone in Defense who will stand up to the bellicose neocons, not be their pawn.

Rob in San Diego

December 31st, 2012

@ Andrew-

I will not apologize for my comments. Nothing I said is a lie nor incorrect. If it’s not the jewish lobby controlling congress, it’s the jewish controlled media controlling what news we see, hear, and read. Do you see German-Americans advancing the best interests of Germany? Do you see Russian-Americans advancing the best interests of Russia? Do you see African-Americans advancing the best interests of Africa? Do you see French-Americans advancing the best interests of France? No you don’t. But you do see neocons and the jewish lobby getting us to advance the best interests of israel, including the depletion of our money and the shedding of our blood all for israel.

I completely agree with tristram on his comments.

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