LGBT advocacy organization Log Cabins Republicans blasted former senator Chuck Hagel’s apology for previous, offensive statements on homosexuals as “too little, too late” in a full page ad on Monday’s Washington Post, claiming those remarks make him an unacceptable candidate for Secretary of Defense.
The Human Rights Campaign has criticized the selection of Hagel for his characterization of James Hormel, a candidate for U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg, as “openly, aggressively gay” in 1998. In December, Hagel formally apologized for that remark, an apology which was accepted by the HRC. President Obama dismissed the accusations of homophobia, telling NBC’s Meet the Press that “anybody who serves in my administration understands my attitude and position on those issues.”
The conservative LRC, on the other hand, refuses to accept Hagel’s apology. They claim that if Hagel is made defense secretary, he poses a danger to recent advances made on gay rights in the military, such as the repeal of the military’s controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” regulations which prohibited openly gay persons from serving in the armed forces.
Conservative groups opposing Hagel from the left on social issues? While the LRC is positioning itself as concerned about gay rights, their recent endorsement of GOP candidate Mitt Romney – who had far more troublesome and ambivalent positions on homosexuality – hints there’s more going on here.
LRC interim Executive Director Gregory Angelo says that “the next couple of years will be critical with regard to compelling the GOP to change its position on a number of issues relevant to the gay community.” Previous Director R. Clarke Cooper, who stepped down from his leadership role at the end of 2012, said that the organization was able to negotiate a sizeable discount on the ad and raised funds from multiple donors to purchase it.
“This is being true fiscal conservatives,” Cooper commented. “We’re not paying full price. And honestly, if we had not raised the funds, we would not have run the ad.”
What about the person Hagel targeted with his homophobic remark, James Hormel? While Hormel initially “questioned the sincerity” of Hagel’s apology, he later formally accepted it, stating that it was “significant – I can’t remember a time when a potential presidential nominee apologized for anything … if [he follows through on] a commitment to treat LGBT service members and their families like everybody else, I would support his nomination.”
Other prominent members of the LGBT community have stepped forward to defend Hagel as well. Gay Atlantic editor Steve Clemons wrote passionately about his personal relationship with the former senator, saying “there are Republicans whose views have evolved a lot in 14 years” and he was confident that Hagel would “be strongly supportive of the gains of the LGBT community in our national life.”
Daily Beast contributor Bernard Avishai – a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem – said “it is time to acknowledge, bluntly, that certain major Jewish organizations … are among the most consistent purveyors of McCarthyite-style outrages in American today,” and that criticizing Israel is a sure way to be accused of “things only an anti-Semite would do” and be the subject of “fatuous charges.”
Conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan pointed out that merely a few weeks ago, Cooper was heaping praise on the nominee, describing him thus:
“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.”
Sullivan asked who had paid for the ad. Noting that LCR had endorsed “countless” GOP candidates with harsher anti-gay views than Hagel, he added that their position on Hagel appeared inconsistent with previous statements. Sullivan suggested that if “new donors from the Greater Israel lobby paid for the ad, as part of their rather crude strategy of smearing Hagel by all possible means and angles,” then LCR members and the gay community “have a right to know who was behind this” and why.
Cooper had a rejoinder for that criticism: “LCR has a long history of showing support for our ally Israel and questioning those who would be soft on Iran,” he said. “Anyone doing basic research on LCR or my national security experience would see the consistency in my position.”
With members of the left and right questioning that consistency, the LRC’s rejection appears to be based more on pressure from above – whether from the so-called Israel lobby or from high-ranking Republicans – than about Chuck Hagel’s record on gay rights.