Hagel's offensive apology

  • by James Patterson
  • Wednesday January 9, 2013
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In a few days a high political drama will play out in the U.S. Senate. President Barack Obama this week nominated former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel (Nebraska) to be his next defense secretary. Obama likes Hagel because he opposed the Iraq war and has held a longtime view that the Pentagon budget was "bloated." He has told Obama he would relish the opportunity to manage large scale cuts in defense, which may come if the sequester occurs in March.

But first things first for Hagel. After meeting with Obama, Hagel offered an open apology to former Ambassador James Hormel for anti-gay remarks he made to an Omaha newspaper in 1998. The Human Rights Campaign rushed to accept the apology before Hormel was even aware of it. Though initially skeptical, Hormel later graciously accepted the apology. Ordinarily that might have ended the matter, but this is Washington.

Senate Republicans are outraged Hagel apologized to Hormel. The Congressional Record is littered with anti-gay remarks by Republicans and they damn well don't intend to start apologizing for them. When Senate Republicans call gays such things as "perverts," and "disgusting people" in Senate speeches, they mean it and want it recorded for eternity in the pages of the Congressional Record.

In addition to the apology, Hagel also pledges to "aggressively" work for the "homosexualization of the military." (This was a popular Republican charge against President Clinton in the 1990s.) Hagel supports "open service" and says he will be sensitive to the needs of LGBT military families. This is heresy to Senate Republicans. They see Hagel as a danger, especially the Dixieland Republicans.

In the South, military bases are incubators of sexual tolerance. If that should spread to contractors, other small businesses, churches, communities, schools, etc., it would undermine the GOP's anti-gay politics in the Deep South. In the long run, it might even result in the GOP returning to minority status in the region. No wonder, Senate Republicans want to defeat a Hagel nomination.

Immediately after his apology, Senate Republicans began having "grave concerns" on Hagel's views on Israel, Iran, Hamas, Cuba, Iraq, etc. These "grave concerns" are all fake issues. The real issue is gays.

Unnamed Republican sources have been telling the press that, "Hagel is not one of us," "Hagel is not in the mainstream," and "Hagel has severed ties with the GOP." Hagel has not left the Republican Party. He may want to leave it after Senate Republicans trash him, but as it stands now he is still a Republican.

Many Senate Republicans have already announced they will vote against Hagel. Southern Republicans, as a bloc, oppose him. South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, once rumored to be gay, said that his vote will depend on Hagel's Senate hearings. Tea Party Senator Marco Rubio of Florida said that he may place a hold on Hagel's nomination. His "grave concerns" are because Hagel once dared to suggest the U.S. might someday normalize relations with Cuba. For this, Rubio charges he is soft on communism. This is not only a fake issue, but a stupid one.

Despite the HRC embrace, few other LGBT groups support Hagel's nomination. After first supporting him, the dysfunctional Log Cabin Republicans announced their opposition to him in a full-page ad in the New York Times. Do they really think they have any influence in Washington?

Former Congressman Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts) announced his "strong opposition" to Hagel and then, a few days later, announced his support for him. That was a quick reversal. Frank, angling hard to become interim U.S. senator from his state, might get the chance to vote for Hagel.

It would add to the Senate drama if Hormel went to Washington to support Hagel. It just might solidify Senate Democrats around the nominee. And that is what Hagel and Obama need. In fact, Hagel's only chance of becoming defense secretary lies with the Senate's majority Democrats. He is just too LGBT-friendly now for his own political party.


Former Foreign Service Officer James Patterson was the first gay, lesbian, bisexual program manager for the federal government. A longtime Washingtonian, he is now a San Francisco-based writer. He may be reached at mailto:[email protected].