Tuesday, January 08, 2013

The Hagel nomination

The drama around the nomination of ex-US Senator Chuck Hagel to be US Secretary of Defense fascinates me. As I’ve watched it, I’m reminded of the old proverb, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

It’s obvious that I don’t automatically support the nomination of a conservative Republican to any position, not just because their positions on most issues are the opposite of my own, but because they often actively work against LGBT Americans. I start out, at best, highly suspicious of such appointments, even when a Democratic US President makes it; I need to be convinced to, if not support it, at least not oppose it. I’m talking about my own position on this, obviously, because it’s not like a president would care what I personally think.

So, when I first read that President Obama was considering appointing Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense, I raised an eyebrow. I remember him as a grumpy conservative, adversarial most of the time, not someone who I felt could be negotiated with on any of the issues I cared about.

And then there was the Hormel incident: In October, 1997, President Bill Clinton nominated James Hormel to be US Ambassador to Luxembourg, the first time an openly-gay person was nominated to be an ambassador. Hagel was not one of the leaders of the Republican opposition to the nomination, but he did say that Hormel was "openly, aggressively gay." At the time, the most far-right of the Republicans were leading a vicious, bigoted attack on Hormel, and Hagel’s remarks were seen in the context of that Republican anti-gay smear campaign.

In the end, President Clinton appointed Hormel while Congress was in recess (called a recess appointment), bypassing Senate approval. Hormel served as ambassador until 2001.

Hagel finally apologised for his remarks against Ambassador Hormel in December, 2012. Because of the obvious political expediency in the move, Ambassador Hormel said at the time that the apology was “only in service of his attempt to get the nomination.” However, he later put out a statement (in the update to the above-linked story) calling it “a clear apology” and saying it was “significant” and adding, “I can’t remember a time when a potential presidential nominee apologized for anything.”

And then, the truly weird happened.

The Log Cabin Republicans, a more or less gay group, took out a full-page ad in the New York Times opposing Hagel’s nomination, partly because of the anti-gay remark, but also because Hagel was allegedly “wrong” about Iran and Israel. This was remarkable reversal, when the group’s then-executive director praised Hagel in an interview a couple weeks earlier. Given the abrupt change in position in the ad, and the out-of-nowhere mentioning of Iran and Israel, Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian asked openly, “Who paid for the Log Cabin Republicans’ anti-Hagel NYT ad?” The Log Cabins refused to say. The implication clearly is that it was neoconservatives and pro-Israel zealots: “Gay advocates are the exploited tools in this effort. We should at least have some transparency about that fact,” Greenwald wrote.

Enter the radical religious extremists in the anti-gay industry, piling on Hagel because of his apology. The radio host of the anti-gay hate group, the American “Family” Association, Tweeted: “I flatly oppose Hagel nomination because he used to support natural marriage but now supports radical homosexual agenda.” For the record, Hagel has not endorsed marriage equality as far as I’ve seen. Still, Joe.My.God. points out the delicious irony in all this: “Log Cabin Republicans say they oppose Hagel because he's anti-gay. The American Family Association says they oppose Hagel because he's pro-gay.”

Both groups are rank hypocrites. The A”F”A are hypocrites practically by definition, certainly by nature, but the Log Cabins freely chose the status. They endorsed Romney, despite his hard right extremist anti-gay agenda, but, as the Huffington Post mockingly—and accurately—put it on their front page, “Now they care about gay rights!” (screen grab in this JMG post).

So, what we have are far right extremists who oppose Hagel because the neoconservatives and the Israeli lobby tell them to, or because they can’t tolerate anything even remotely supportive of the human rights of LGBT people. These people are our enemies in the proverb. The Log Cabins are simply unprincipled and, for me, irrelevant: I don’t really care what they think about anything when they willingly put the interests of the Republican Party—or neoconservatives/Israel—ahead of LGBT Americans. What they think about any issue is, at best, amusing, but ordinarily it’s just boring.

So, the enemies of LGBT Americans have decided that Chuck Hagel is their enemy, which makes him, by definition, our friend. Is he?

I suppose a more relevant question for me would be, is his supposed “anti-gay” record reason enough to oppose him? No, I don’t think it is.

Hagel’s voting record was not unique among Senate Republicans—or even some Democrats, if we’re truly honest. His stated opposition to repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was in 1999, more than a decade before that was even possible (plenty of Democrats opposed repeal at the same time, after all). None of that excuses his record, but it does put it into its proper context.

And then there’s this: If we want Republicans to evolve and to vote correctly on LGBT issues, does it make any sense to reject an apology for his most egregious past anti-gay comment? Ambassador Hormel now accepts the apology, so do the LGBT activists and groups working for LGBT equality—why shouldn’t the rest of us?

On the plus side, by 2005 he was openly criticising the Bush/Cheney regime and in 2007 he said they were, "’the lowest in capacity, in capability, in policy, in consensus—almost every area’" of any presidency in the last forty years.” Republicans just didn’t say that kind of thing then—and they still don’t. He would also be the first former enlisted member of the armed forces to serve as secretary, and the first Viet Nam veteran. These are no small things.

So, what are we left with? A fairly standard conservative record in the US Senate, not necessarily any worse than a conservative Democrat of the same era, a Republican who criticised the Bush/Cheney regime, while supporting some of its excesses (like the un-American “PATRIOT” Act). He is, like most politicians, flawed. Put another way, he’s like most politicians.

After a lot of thought, I support Hagel’s nomination. He was a pretty common conservative for his era, and he wasn’t especially anti-gay (and what he was most wrong about, he’s apologised for). And, there’s the fact that our enemies on the radical right oppose him. This is, in fact, mostly what pushed me from the “not oppose” column to “support”.

My support is hardly staunch, nor is this a ringing endorsement. And maybe my willingness to stick it to our adversaries is just as self-serving as their opposition is. The real reason for my position is that we’re not likely to get a “more acceptable” nominee, certainly not one that could win Senate confirmation. President Obama likes Hagel and says he can work with him. I take him at his word, however weak my personal enthusiasm may be, and support confirmation.

Caption for the photo above: President Barack Obama announces former Senator Chuck Hagel, second from left, as his nominee for Secretary of Defense, and John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, second from right, as his nominee for Director of the CIA, during an announcement in the East Room of the White House, Jan. 7, 2013. Joining them are departing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, left, and acting CIA Director Michael Morrell, right. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)


Roger Owen Green said...

I'm so...non-committal about this nomination. (I'm so used to having clear opinions on political things, but here...)

Arthur Schenck said...

I know what you mean. My overall reaction is kind of "meh".

Jason in DC said...

I have to agree with both of you on this. It is rather a strange bunch of groups that opposes him. It seems to me, once again, here's something Obama wants and it is opposed simply because Obama wants it.