The news this week that President Obama wants former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) to run the Defense Department marks a disappointing turn for our fierce advocate in the White House.
Rather than use his mandate from winning re-election to reward his key constituencies, Obama has poked a stick in the eye of the LGBT community by turning to Hagel, who had an abysmal voting record in Congress and drew criticism for using anti-gay slurs back in 1998.
At that time, Hagel described James Hormel — a Clinton nominee for ambassador of Luxembourg — as “openly, aggressively gay” and said being gay was an “inhibiting factor” that would prevent Hormel from doing “an effective job.” Last month, Hagel apologized for the remarks and said he’s “fully supportive of open service and committed to LGBT military families.”
The Human Rights Campaign, apparently unaware of its own “0” congressional scorecard rating for Hagel on LGBT issues from 2001-2006, immediately accepted the tepid apology, even though Hagel didn’t reach out to Hormel directly to apologize.
Did HRC extract any promises from the White House or Hagel himself before so quickly forgiving and forgetting his rather serious sins? Hagel voted for the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004, putting him in the company of the most rabidly anti-gay members of Congress. In 1999, he said he opposed repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Let’s hope Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) has a longer memory than HRC and works to get some answers on how Hagel would handle an array of LGBT issues at Defense, including granting partner benefits to gay service members.
Better yet, let’s hope former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) gets the nod to fill Sen. John Kerry’s seat on an interim basis so he can have a say on the Hagel appointment.
Frank issued an appropriately stern statement last week assailing the choice of Hagel, noting, “he voted consistently against fairness for LGBT people and there does not seem to be any evidence prior to his effort to become Secretary of Defense of any apology or retraction of his attack on James Hormel.”
Frank continued, “I cannot think of any other minority group in the U.S. today where such a negative statement and action made in 1998 would not be an obstacle to a major presidential appointment.”
Indeed, an attack like that directed at another minority group would have rendered Hagel radioactive. But he merely attacked a gay man, so he gets a pass because that’s perceived as not so bad. Even our most prominent national advocacy group sees no problem with it.
The Log Cabin Republicans denounced Hagel in full-page ads in the Washington Post and New York Times, calling the apology “too little, too late.” They’re right, of course, but where was Log Cabin’s advocacy when its leaders endorsed Mitt Romney for president?
It’s all politics as usual — Log Cabin opposes Hagel merely because Obama wants him. And HRC supports Hagel because it must now support everything Obama does. What’s lost here is accountability. No one’s suggesting that Hagel can’t or hasn’t changed. A lot of folks have changed their views in 10 years. And he’s entitled to forgiveness if his apology is sincere. But there are consequences for actions. Publicly attacking a qualified gay man and casting horrendous votes against our equality shouldn’t be forgotten so easily. HRC won’t stand up to Obama over this regrettable appointment and so it falls to Frank, Baldwin and others to ensure Hagel would support LGB and, yes, T service members and complete the work that lies ahead on full implementation of the gay ban’s repeal.
Hagel is entitled to change his mind. But LGBT service members are entitled to leadership that won’t turn back the clock on recent advances at the Pentagon. Hagel is the wrong choice for Defense and a bad choice for LGBT service members.