Chuck Hagel, Israel, and the gays – oh my

So there’s been a bit of a brouhaha over the past few weeks as to whether former Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) should be appointed our next Secretary of Defense.

The conservative Republican pro-Israel crowd has launched an all-out effort to block Hagel’s potential nomination, and an interesting sideshow has developed over Hagel’s comments on gay rights from about 13 years ago.  I want to take a moment to delve into the gay side of the Hagel nomination controversy.

Back in 1999, President Clinton recess appointed an openly gay man – our first openly gay ambassador, James Hormel – to be US ambassador to Luxembourg.  This was after five years of Republican threats to stop Hormel’s appointment because he was gay.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved his nomination with only Republican and conservative Senators Jesse Helms and John Ashcroft opposed. Three other Republicans, James Inhofe, Tim Hutchinson, and Robert C. Smith, with the urging of religious and social conservatives campaigned vigorously against Hormel’s nomination. Trent Lott, the Republican Majority Leader, worked to block the vote and publicly called homosexuality a sin and compared it toalcoholism and kleptomania. Christian-based conservative groups like the Traditional Values Coalition (TVC) and the Family Research Council (FRC) publicly accused Hormel of being pro-pornography and anti-Catholic and the Senators presented those charges to derail the nomination. They asserted that Hormel would be rejected in the largely Catholic Luxembourg. To support the pornography allegation, a list of materials in the Hormel collection at the San Francisco Public Library was compiled by the TVC; it was later pointed out that the same works were also in the Library of Congress. The anti-Catholic allegation stemmed from a 1996 San Francisco Pride parade television interview where he was seen laughing at the same time the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a group that pokes fun at religious conventions, walked by. The Catholic League opposed his nomination because of his “embrace” of the Sisters which the League considers an anti-Catholic group. Although it was unclear why he was laughing, Christian right conservative group FRC distributed video tapes to the entire Senate of the brief event.

Concerns about Hormel’s reception in Luxembourg were “blunted when officials of the country, which has laws against discrimination based on sexual orientation, indicated that he would be welcome.” Senator Alfonse D’Amato of New York found the obstruction of the nomination an embarrassment and urged that Trent Lott bring the issue up for a vote. When Lott continued to stall, Clinton employed a recess appointment in May 1999. Hormel was sworn in as ambassador in June 1999.

One of those Republican anti-gay bigots was a senator by the name of Chuck Hagel.

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.’”

Hagel’s line about Hormel being “openly aggressively gay” reminds one of Jesse Helm’s earlier attack on openly-gay HUD appointee, Roberta Achtenberg, as a “militant activist lesbian.”

These were the standard conservative tropes flung at gay nominees during that era. If anyone knew you were gay, and if you weren’t mortally ashamed of being gay, Republicans tended to call you an “activist,” “militant,” or in the case of Hagel, “aggressive.”

So Hagel’s comments were at the far fringe of nasty for the day.

Fast forward to 2012.  About a week ago, the Human Rights Campaign, our largest gay rights group in the US, rightly issued a warning shot about Hagel’s potential nomination:

“Senator Hagel’s unacceptable comments about gay people, coupled with his consistent anti-LGBT record in Congress, raise serious questions about where he stands on LGBT equality today,” Griffin said in a statement. “For him to be an appropriate candidate for any Administration post, he must repudiate his comments about Ambassador Hormel.  Additionally, the next Secretary of Defense must be supportive of open service as well as equal benefits for lesbian and gay military families and Senator Hagel must address these issues immediately.”

Shortly thereafter, Hagel issued an apology, of sorts, for his attack on Hormel.

“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.”

Hormel, understandably, given the timing, questioned the sincerity of Hagel’s apology:

“I have not received an apology,” Hormel, who is a major figure in Democratic politics, told me. “I thought this so-called apology, which I haven’t received, but which was made public, had the air of being a defensive move on his part.” Hormel added that the apology appeared to have been given “only in service of his attempt to get the nomination.”

It seems whoever was shepherding Hagel’s not-yet-a-nomination hadn’t bothered checking in Hormel himself.  A few hours later, Hormel changed his tune:

Senator Hagel’s apology is significant–I can’t remember a time when a potential presidential nominee apologized for anything. While the timing appears self-serving, the words themselves are unequivocal–they are a clear apology. Since 1998, fourteen years have passed, and public attitudes have shifted–perhaps Senator Hagel has progressed with the times, too. His action affords new stature to the LGBT constituency, whose members still are treated as second class citizens in innumerable ways. Senator Hagel stated in his remarks that he was willing to support open military service and LGBT military families. If that is a commitment to treat LGBT service members and their families like everybody else, I would support his nomination.

Several observers, myself included, surmised that Hormel had gotten a call from someone high up urging him to back off (my suspicion is that he got a call from both Hagel and a senior administration official, possibly Biden).  So Hormel backed off, though his statement was somewhat begrudging.

All the while, the right-wing pro-Israel crew has been frothing at the mouth over Hagel’s appointment.  (And I say this as someone who tends to be more supportive of Israel than the other side in these battles.  Still, I don’t like it when I sense that Israel’s supporters are being too heavy-handed.  Yes, Israel’s national security matters.  And so does America’s.  And the two, like any two policies, aren’t always 100% on the same page.)

Then, a funny thing happened.  Suddenly, the largest gay Republican group, Log Cabin Republicans, weighs in with a whopping full-page New York Times ad, taking Hagel on over his former gay rights views, but also his views on Israel, which is not a gay rights issue at all.

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

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

Log Cabin’s hugely expensive ad, for an organization that doesn’t have a huge budget, raises the question of just who paid for this ad:  Was it someone with an interest in gay rights at all, and did Log Cabin benefit financially from publishing this ad?  I ask, because we had a recent experience with a gay rights group, GLAAD, that got involved in a non-gay issue – the proposed AT&T/T-Mobile merger – apparently at the behest of AT&T, and not because there was any true gay rights angle to the issue at all.  A similar story played out when the NGLTF was caught sending mailers tying marriage in Maryland and gaming, paid for by pro-gambling interests.

In the case of Hagel, there’s an obvious gay rights angle.  The implementation of the repeal of Dont Ask, Don’t Tell is not without its hiccups, so having a secretary who isn’t a homophobe is key to successful implementation of the policy.   But still, Log Cabin’s invocation of Israel (and Iran) in its hugely expensive NYT ad raises the legitimate question of whether a similar non-gay quid pro quo is taking place here as well.

Again, 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.  But I still question Log Cabin’s motives.  It takes a heck of a lot to get a gay Republican group to turn on any Republican – and being anti-gay is hardly a disqualifier in gay Republican circles.  Log Cabin had no problem supporting another Hormel detractor, John Ashcroft, when he was nominated to be George Bush’s attorney general.

From the NYT, circa 2001:

A prominent gay philanthropist who is the former American ambassador to Luxembourg, James C. Hormel, said today that Attorney General-designate John Ashcroft misled the Senate Judiciary Committee last week about his involvement in an effort to block Mr. Hormel’s ambassadorial appointment.

Mr. Hormel said he had concluded that Mr. Ashcroft had opposed him because he is openly gay, even though Mr. Ashcroft testified last week that Mr. Hormel’s sexual orientation was not the reason for his opposition. At the hearing Mr. Ashcroft, a former Republican senator from Missouri, said Mr. Hormel was unsuitable for the job based on the ”totality of the record.”

Republicans quickly mobilized to respond to the criticism from Mr. Hormel and leading gay rights advocates. In a statement to the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay group, Mr. Ashcroft said, ”I will vigorously enforce the nondiscrimination policies of the Department of Justice which protect gay employees.”

And Hormel had serious concerns about Ashcroft’s nomination, but Hormel’s concerns didn’t seem to concern Log Cabin that time around.

Log Cabin also eventually supported Mitt Romney’s candidacy when Romney backtracked on nearly every commitment he’d ever made on gay equality.

So when I see Log Cabin, in a hugely expensive ad campaign, suddenly getting holier-than-thou about anti-gay prejudice issuing forth from a Republican a good 13 years ago, and it’s wrapped, oddly, in language about Israel and Iran, I smell a neo-conservative, who doesn’t give a lick about gay rights, somewhere in the vicinity.

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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45 Responses to “Chuck Hagel, Israel, and the gays – oh my”

  1. Filthy Liar says:

    Because the Republican party can’t kick the bigots out as they represent a significant part of their voting bloc. At the same time, the Republicans are dimly aware that the country is different now. So they use the useful idiots of the LCR as a wedge. The LCR go along with it, because money is more important to them than equality, than love, than being acknowledged as human beings of equal worth.

  2. OWHolmes says:

    I think the “gay rights issue” just goes to spotlighting the hypocricy of gay rights activists who would otherwise oppose this nomination had it come from a republican. It is just further evidence that gays have allowed themselves to be bamboozled into monolithically throwing their support behind a party which has every incentive to prevent the resolution of gay rights, and couldn’t care who knows it.

  3. tamarz says:

    Interesting. My daughter, 24 and her friends (all 20-somethings) view it as extremely positive. And they don’t see it as a word to be used only by people within their group. Took me a while to get used to since in my generation it was a major insult, but they’re very definite about it as a label for themselves — they define it very very broadly — includes anyone who isn’t wedded (pun, I know) to traditional male-female relationships. So it includes people who are mainly heterosexual as well as others all along the sexuality spectrum, just so they’re open to a variety of types of relationships.

  4. Sweetie says:

    Scratch perhaps. The GOP is just the crazier brand of the same company: Global Finance American-style. Our political system is a front.

  5. DonS says:

    Thanks John, for laying this out. In an environment where every issue seems to turn on the negative, the right wing republican/neocon soldiers are performing their two faced role.

    But for the allegations about being insufficiently subservient to Israel, a Hagel appointment would sail right through the Senate. With the country getting increasingly tired of the reactionary republican attitude, maybe the other forms of political blackmail — such as AIPAC and their ilk — will begin to trip due to their overreach.

  6. Sweetie says:

    Queer is a slur and will remain so no matter how many naive people choose to embrace it. It’s like blacks asking the general public to call them the n word. In fact, since the n word simply comes from the Latin word for black (the color), it’s far less a slur, objectively, than queer which means strange/weird and thus connotes incompatibility with society and illness.

  7. tamarz says:

    Nope. Not to the lesbian young women I know. they go by lesbian or queer.

  8. tamarz says:

    So SOGI=Queer? (according to my daughter who’s the resident expert on these issues in the family since she’s the resident non-straight person in the family, queer means, at the simplest level, not-straight).

  9. tamarz says:

    Actually, I agree with you on the last part. There are only two reasons to choose a Republican for a cabinet position: 1) to build a bridge to the other party. But these days that’s completely impossible (or requires sacrificing every progressive principle); or 2) the potential nominee is just far and away the best choice. And that doesn’t seem to be the case for Hagel.
    So really, there’s no good reason to pick him.

  10. karmanot says:

    Yes, that’s generally true. Except, I’ve yet to have a lesbian friend call herself gay. Most lesbians I know tend to value the identity of feminism more than ‘gay.’

  11. Houndentenor says:

    One of my relatives, not the least bit liberal in his worldview, is in the military. He said that dropping DADT was no big deal. According to him they all knew which guys were gay already and nothing has changed in the day to day workings on his ship. It’s not really an issue going forward because it hasn’t been a problem.

  12. Sweetie says:

    Frankly, they could back every other heterosexist under the sun without that making Hagel’s bigotry excusable.

  13. Sweetie says:

    BGT. Bisexual, gay, transgendered. Gay covers women and men.

  14. Sweetie says:


  15. leliorisen says:

    Considering that they endorsed Mitt Romney, how can the Log Cabin Republicans claim any credibility in endorsing, or rejecting anyone, supposedly based on their record on gay issues?

    Please….anyone selling a bridge?

  16. EdA says:

    With the exception of LCR’s crucial work in the courts to push the end of DADT, can you suggest ANY actual pro-LGBT issues on which LCR has done any meaningful work? Or any work worthy even of a self-serving press release? And John of course significantly (and presumably intentionally) understated Mr. Etch-A-Sketch’s scumminess, which LCR endorsed, by calling it “backtracking.”

  17. karmanot says:

    Like that

  18. BeccaM says:

    Which must be why you guys endorsed Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, both of whom scored a dead zero on LGBT civil rights issues in this last election.

    Please, if you really are who you say you are, I ask this in all honesty: Is there a line which a GOP candidate can cross in opposing LGBT civil rights beyond which your group, the Log Cabin Republicans, will not go? Any point where you would withhold your endorsement?

  19. BeccaM says:

    How about we start with “Why the frack is a Democratic president once again considering nominating a conservative Republican for a high ranking cabinet post, one that is directly in line to assume the presidency in the event of a disaster, when Republican presidents never reciprocate?”

    Unless perhaps we really are merely dealing with two wings of the GOP…

    Let’s not forget that Obama’s last Republican Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, also opposed DADT repeal.

  20. karmanot says:

    Robert Turner the No, 2, do you wear argyle socks?

  21. karmanot says:

    So Obama picks an anti gay Republican for one of the most important Cabinet Posts—-whats new?

  22. MyrddinWilt says:

    Nah, it will be Sheldon Adleson, he is still looking for that ‘get out of jail free’ card.

    Making himself prominent in GOP campaign circles gives him a group of paid advocates plus the ability to claim that any prosecution is politically motivated.

    Bibi alternates between telling the US that Iran is a threat that must be eliminated and ordering further ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians then calls anyone who objects to either an anti-semite.

    The problem with the NAZIs was not merely who they hated, it was the hate. They would have been just as bad if they had started their elimination program with some other group.

  23. To anyone who thinks that LGBT issues have something to do with the objections to Hagel, I have an island in the Pacific that I’d like to sell you for $100

  24. The new term is SOGI – sexual orientation and gender identity. This is being used by the United Nations because in many countries the terms gay and lesbian do not exists as they do in the West, so SOGI is an easy way to capture all people that are part of this group.

  25. karmanot says:

    God bless their little pea picking hearts!

  26. karmanot says:

    But the red/white/blue sweater sets are so conservative and the pearls bring up visions of Barbara Bush.

  27. karmanot says:


  28. karmanot says:

    Make that GLTBQ

  29. UncleBucky says:

    Each one on alternate days? And let’s not forget the “I” and the “Q” appended, eh?

  30. UncleBucky says:

    “suddenly found the money…”? Naw, cojones, I’d say…

    Taking bets when the Log Cabiners form their own party or tell the GOP/TPer Party to take a flying leap…?

  31. mwdavis says:

    I’ve always considered the Log Cabin Republicans to be “wrong on gay rights.”

  32. Steve_in_CNJ says:

    Yes I know. Couldn’t choose between the most pro-gay and most anti-gay prez candidates in US history because you’re not defined by your sexuality. Oh the drama.

  33. Naja pallida says:

    I guess I’m in the minority, with my objection to Hagel not really having so much to do with his policy stances – which I believe are pathetic and ridiculous – but more to do with the fact that nominating him as Secretary of Defense, in a Democratic administration, just continues to propagate and lend credence to the myth that only Republicans are capable of handling Defense. I, personally, would go with Ashton Carter (given the commonly accepted choices), because of his lack of partisanship and lack of direct ties to the defense industry.

  34. douglas01 says:

    Obviously there is more here than meets the eye and needs to be flushed out before things move forward. Certainly Log Cabin does NOT need to be carrying Israel’s water. There is something fishy going on here. I smell a rat at Log Cabin.

  35. nicho says:

    Cut-outs, money laundering, you name it. The cash will never be traced back to its source. The Log Cabinettes probably don’t even know what the real source is.

  36. nicho says:

    So, you reject Hagel because he made one insensitive remark, but you back raging homophobes in presidential elections. What a joke the Log Cabinettes are!

  37. Naja pallida says:

    So you come here and make the specific effort to point out that you the President of a group interested in talking about other issues besides gay issues, but don’t bother to actually contribute to the discussion at hand, nor address any of the questions posed? Are you sure?

  38. UncleTomCabin Republicans says:

    Bwa ha HA ha HA , Oh Miss Turner ii, you do go on don’t you! Best laugh I’ve had all day… your group is the biggest bunch of whores out there!

  39. tamarz says:

    I’m glad you’ve laid this all out. I’ve had mixed feelings about Hagel for the exact reasons you state. Even though I’m Jewish, I’m probably to the left of you on Israel, so criticisms suggesting he’s anti-Israeli make me like him better. But I agree his apology about his anti LGBT statements was not very powerful.
    I had a similar problem when Charles Freeman was up for chair of National Intelligence Council — his anti-Israeli statements were insensitive and lacked understanding of history, but were otherwise on target; the “pro” Israeli folks attacking him (I don’t really consider them “pro” Israel because I think they’re contributing to its demise) made me like him better; but his views on China and Tibet and Tiananmen Square were just plain awful.

  40. StarMann says:

    Of course, all this could be avoided if everyone would stop using lgbt and get back to GLBT!!!!!!

  41. S1AMER says:

    If tame house gays like LCR are now opposing Hagel in a big way, that tells me I should back him, ’cause LCR will sell their soul to make their party masters happy.

  42. Phil Perspective says:

    Care to address the actual issue(s)?

  43. Phil Perspective says:

    Would Bibi really gets his hands dirty this way? Or was the word put out through back channels? Won’t that issue eventually be settled by IRS records later on? The Log Cabin group is a non-profit, right?

  44. Robert Turner says:

    Just because we’re an organization of gay Republicans doesn’t mean we are only allowed to talk about gay issues.

    Robert Turner II
    Log Cabin Republicans, DC Chapter,

  45. nicho says:

    Log Cabin’s hugely expensive ad, for an organization that doesn’t have a
    huge budget, raises the question of just who paid for this ad:

    I don’t know, but I’m guessing his name begins with “Bibi.”

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