Six days after former Senator Chuck Hagel’s apology for 1998 comments in which he decried a Clinton administration ambassadorial nominee as “openly, aggressively gay” was met with conciliatory responses from two leading national LGBT organizations, the Log Cabin Republicans (LCR) came out swinging against the possibility the Nebraska Republican will be President Barack Obama’s choice as the next secretary of defense.
“Wrong on Gay Rights. Wrong on Iran. Wrong on Israel,” read a full page LCR ad published in the December 27 New York Times, less than two weeks after the group's executive director offered strong praise for Hagel.
Headlined “Chuck Hagel’s Words,” the ad opened by quoting the ex-senator’s reaction to President Bill Clinton’s nomination of James Hormel as ambassador to Luxembourg.
“They are representing America [as ambassador],” the ad read, citing an interview Hagel gave to the Omaha World-Herald at the time Hormel’s nomination was being considered. “They are representing our lifestyle, our values, our standards. And I think it is an inhibiting factor to be gay –– openly, aggressively gay…”
The LCR ad closes by urging readers to “Tell President Obama that Chuck Hagel is wrong for Defense Secretary. Help us build a stronger and more inclusive Republican Party.”
In a press release announcing the Times ad, R. Clarke Cooper, LCR’s executive director and an Iraq War veteran, said, "Chuck Hagel's weak record on preventing nuclear proliferation in Iran, lack of confidence in our ally Israel as well as an aggressive history against the LGBT community is a no-go combination for a secretary of defense nominee."
Among many neoconservatives and other supporters of Israel, Hagel’s criticisms of the Jewish State and advocacy of diplomacy over threats of military action against Iran have been fodder for intense criticism in the days since he was first mentioned as a possible nominee at Defense. His use of the term “Jewish lobby” to describe Israel’s US supporters has drawn particular fire, but his record on Iran is also a target at a time when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s tough talk on Iranian nuclear ambitions has won strong support among American foreign policy hawks.
When news of Hagel’s comments about Hormel surfaced the week before Christmas, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) immediately denounced them as “unacceptable.” Hagel, in turn, told the Washington Post, “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.”
Chad Griffin, HRC’s president, then issued a statement saying, "Senator Hagel's apology and his statement of support for LGBT equality is appreciated and shows just how far as a country we have come when a conservative former senator from Nebraska can have a change of heart on LGBT issues. Our community continues to add allies to our ranks and we're proud that Senator Hagel is one of them.”
OutServe-Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an advocacy group for LGBT members of the military, was also conciliatory.
"We are pleased that Senator Hagel recognized the importance of retracting his previous statement about Ambassador Hormel and affirming his commitment to Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal and LGBT military families,” said OutServe-SLDN’s executive director, Allyson Robinson. “We look forward to learning more about his commitment to full LGBT military equality as this nomination and confirmation process unfolds.”
Cooper was having none of the apology, however.
In response to questions from Gay City News, Cooper, in an email message, wrote, “Our ad run today was not just about an old confirmation hearing… Chuck Hagel's weak record on preventing nuclear proliferation in Iran, lack of confidence in our ally Israel as well as an aggressive history against the LGBT community is a negative combination for a secretary of defense nominee. While he may have recently apologized for his anti-gay comments to save his possible nomination, Hagel cannot walk away from his consistent record against economic sanctions to try to change the behavior of the Islamist radical regime in Tehran.”
Cooper’s statement was at stark odds with an assessment of Hagel he offered to the newspaper two weeks earlier –– before news of the Nebraskan’s comments about Hormel surfaced. Asked about Hagel’s history of opposition to gay rights –– which earned him a rating of zero from HRC, based on his votes in favor of a constitutional amendment barring marriage by same-sex couples and against hate crimes protections for LGBT Americans –– Cooper responded by focusing instead on the former senator’s military background and foreign policy credentials.
Emphasizing that he was speaking on his own behalf, not for LCR, Cooper, in an email message, wrote, "I recall working with Senator Chuck Hagel and his staff during the Bush administration and he was certainly not shy about expressing his criticisms. But despite his criticisms, Hagel voted with us most of the time and there was no question he was committed to advancing America's interests abroad. As for his nomination to be secretary of defense, it is well worth noting that Senator Hagel is a combat veteran who has hands-on experience in the field. The battlefield is not just theory for him."
Cooper, in his response to Gay City News on December 27, did not specifically address the reasons for offering two such disparate views on Hagel, but he did note that LCR has been on record in favor of tough sanctions against Iran since early in his tenure as the group’s executive director.
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, responding to a query from the newspaper for its December 14 article about Hagel, voiced strong concerns not only about his record on LGBT rights, but also his views on a woman’s right to choose and on issues of concern to communities of color.
Stacey Long, NGLTF’s director of public policy and government affairs, wrote in an email, "Despite former Senator Chuck Hagel’s early criticism of the war in Iraq after voting to authorize it, we are gravely concerned about his track record on civil rights and opposition to LGBT equality while a member of the Senate. Cabinet choices help set the tone for an administration, and we believe it is critical that those members support the values of respect, inclusiveness, and the belief in a level playing field for all –– and that includes for LGBT people and women in general. We are very concerned that someone with such a poor record on these issues is under consideration to become secretary of defense.”
Neither HRC nor Hagel responded to Gay City News’ request for comment at that stage in the public discussion of his possible nomination.
Pundits handicapping Hagel’s chances of actually being nominated have typically distinguished between criticism on the right –– about Israel and Iran –– and that from the political left, where gay rights, women’s rights, and other issues have been emphasized. The LCR ad is the first public volley against Hagel that has merged the two lines of critique, and its ad was featured prominently on the conservative Weekly Standard’s blog.