Can we possibly have a sane debate over Chuck Hagel’s nomination?

It’s now been confirmed that the President plans to nominate from GOP Senator Chuck Hagel as his next secretary of defense.

Hagel’s trial-balloon nomination has been on a rocky road these past few weeks as gays, and the over-the-top-supporters of Israel, expressed concern about his possible nomination (well, gays expressed concerns, certain Israel supporters went bonkers).

First the gays and Chuck Hagel

I do a detailed walk-through of why gays are concerned about Chuck Hagel in this earlier piece. In a nutshell, Hagel was a pretty big anti-gay bigot when he was in Congress. Of particular concern were Hagel’s comments about President Clinton’s recess appointment of Jim Hormel as ambassador to Luxembourg.  Hormel, you see, was a g-a-y, and Hagel was vewy vewy concerned.

The Omaha World-Herald reported in 1998: “Ambassadorial posts are sensitive, Hagel explained. ‘They are representing America,’ he said [in an interview]. ‘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.’”

Log Cabin Republicans' ad against Chuck Hagel in the NYT.

Log Cabin Republicans’ odd ad against Chuck Hagel in the NYT raised some questions.

The lead gay rights group, the Human Rights Campaign, and Hormel himself, both expressed concerns about Hagel’s nomination.  Both then kinda sorta changed their mind after, one assumes, they got phones calls from Hagel, senior administration officials, and/or both bearing promises and/or threats.

As we learned in the past few days. the issue of gays in the military is far from over – repeal was only the beginning.  So it’s a legitimate concern gay rights advocates have as to whether Senator Hagel is no longer an anti-gay bigot.  And I’m sorry, he was.  I’m all for forgiveness, but first we need contrition.  And Chuck Hagel’s recent statement about this issue didn’t do much to assuage those concerns:

“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. I am fully supportive of ‘open service’ and committed to LGBT military families.”

1.  They were more than “insensitive.”  They were bigoted.  They were vintage Jesse Helms.

2. Those anti-gay comments “do not reflect my views or the totality of my public record.”  Um, Hagel’s public record on gay rights is abominable.

Hagel’s HRC ratings while in the Senate:

110th Congress: 20
109th Congress:  zero
108th Congress: zero
107th Congress: zero

Let’s look at the 110th congress, when Hagel suddenly discovered one gay civil rights measure he could support. The only “pro-gay” policy that Hagel supported was international AIDS funding, which isn’t gay at all.

The “totality” of Chuck Hagel’s record on gay civil rights is pretty awful.

I’m willing to believe that the man has changed in the past two years (though it seems awfully opportune). but I’d like some proof, or at the very least, a convincing explanation. We’re received neither.

Then there’s Israel and Chuck Hagel

I received this tweet this morning in response to my earlier story about Hagel.  It’s illustrative of part of the campaign against Chuck Hagel’s nomination.

Screen Shot 2013-01-06 at 1.27.36 PM

Mind you, my earlier story about Hagel hardly showed support for the man.  Here’s my supposed “support” for Chuck Hagel that this guy is complaining about:

I think concerns about Hagel are justified.  His mea culpa is welcome, though insufficient.  Hagel’s comments in 1999 weren’t just “insensitive,” they were bigoted to the level of Jess Helms.  As for “the totality” of Hagel’s record, I’m unaware of Hagel being a serious gay rights advocate in the totality of his record, but-for the Hormel comments. I think whoever crafted Hagel’s apology didn’t do a sufficiently good job with it.

Not very supportive, is it.

But when one is discussing Israel – even if, like me, you’ve been a longtime supporter of Israel, and have been criticized for not being as sympathetic to the Arab/Palestinian side of the debate – a certain crowd will mark you as the anti-Christ if you are deemed to be insufficiently genuflecting to Tel Aviv when pondering America’s overall national security.  That’s why, even when I write a column critical of Hagel, and mention in the column that I’ve always been pro-Israel, I am instead too pro-Hagel, and not just a hater of Israel, but a hater of all Jews.

And that, sadly, is at least a part of what is happening to Chuck Hagel over this nomination.  And why the entire issue is now giving me much greater pause than it did before.

Check out part of the reason they’re upset with Hagel over Israel:

He also has complained about the influence that Israel’s supporters exert on members of Congress, telling writer Aaron David Miller that “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here.”

And? I worked in the Senate for a pro-Israel Senator.  I’ve met with both representatives of AIPAC and senior American Jewish leaders who came to lobby my office about Israel. (I also got to meet with Yitzhak Rabin, which was definitely a highlight of my time there. The man’s English was incomprehensible, but he scootched over and had me sit with him on a small bench for one person in packed room, since there were no other seats available. My boss glowered at me as I sat next to the Prime Minister of Israel. It was a pretty cool moment.).  And I was given strict orders by my bosses – unlike any I’d been given in my five years working for a US Senator – to bend over backwards to be nice to these particular lobbyists because, I was told, they had a ton of money and were hugely powerful.  It impressed me greatly.  To the point where I now, routinely, when discussing my views on the strategy of gay rights lobbying, make the point that gay rights advocates need to replicate the NRA and the pro-Israel lobby, in terms of the raw power they’ve amassed, their willingness to use that power, and the fear they instill in American politicians.

Hate them? I want to be them.

So I’m sorry, but can we please stop playing this little game where it’s okay to acknowledge that the NRA intimidates “a lot of people here,” that Big Pharma and Wall Street and the insurance lobby do the same (as do gay rights supporters – we intimidate a lot of Democrats, and a growing number of Republicans, and I’m all for it), but when we acknowledge the obvious success of the pro-Israel lobby, suddenly you’re an anti-Semite and an un-friend of Israel.

I have no idea if Chuck Hagel should be confirmed.  I still have concerns about his stance on civil rights.  But these kind of knee-jerk, heavy-handed arguments by supposed defenders of Israel serve only to continue pushing people like me further away from them, and Israel.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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