The decision has drawn strong criticism from a broad spectrum, including former colleagues, foreign policy gurus, advocates for a safe Israel, defense industry allies in Congress, and LGBTQ groups like the Republican Log Cabin Society. The Log Cabin Society supported the Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan presidential ticket, which was strongly opposed to marriage equality.
Despite all the criticism before the formal announcement, Obama will go ahead with nominating Hagel on Monday afternoon. More likely than not his service as a combat veteran in Vietnam, coupled with a respected, though controversial record in Congress, will enable him to squeak through on the confirmation vote.
Reservations about Obama’s selection are understandable. They need, however, to be explored in greater detail in a fair, measured way both at the confirmation hearings and through reasoned public discussion. Groups and activists most concerned about his nomination, like LGBTQ civil and human rights advocates, have an opportunity to show how prominent leaders have evolved and developed in this area.
Among concerns raised about Hagel’s LGBTQ record: support for the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA); distasteful and disparaging remarks about James Hormel, a gay ambassadorial nominee for Luxembourg in 1998; and opposition to repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) in 1999. His later apology about Hormel has been described as insincere.
Hagel has to carry out Obama’s policies, which would include full support for openly gay and lesbian men and women serving in the military. It’s not a lifetime appointment. He serves at the pleasure of the president. In addition, Hagel likely realizes when it comes to this particular issue, Elvis has left the building, the train has left the station, the barn door is open and the horses are gone. No problems have been reported since the repeal of DADT. It's not an issue that is likely to be revisited.
Questions that should be explored with him include the following:
“Senator, based on what we know today about gays and lesbians openly serving in the military, what reservations, if any do you still have with it?”
“Looking back and with the information now available, did you make a mistake?”
If Hagel admits or even implies he made mistakes or his views are “evolving,” then the admission would be very useful for LGBTQ activists moving forward.
Democratic Presidentis responsible, in part, for both DOMA and DADT. He later supported their repeal and did something extraordinarily difficult for any politician – Clinton admitted he had made a mistake in supporting both laws.
Hagel may not have evolved as much as Clinton on these issues, but is he moving in the right direction? This could be an occasion to show millions of Americans who remain unsure or opposed to LGBTQ civil and human rights that people do change and it’s OK to do so. Changing attitudes toward LGBTQ Americans, as evidenced by DADT, betters the nation and society in general.
Hagel is Obama’s choice. All the criticism beforehand has not stopped the nomination. Further attempting to shout down the nomination isn’t realistic, strategic, or pragmatic.
Seize the moment. Carefully crafted and tailored questions and follow-up questions regarding LGBTQ issues at the upcoming Senate hearings and on blogs, discussion boards, and in the media could be an important teaching opportunity to advance civil and human rights.
Paul Jesep is an attorney, policy analyst, and author of “Lost Sense of Self & the Ethics Crisis: Learn to Live and Work Ethically”; “Credit Card Usury and the Christian Failure to Stop It”; and “Crucifying Jesus and Secularizing America – the Republic of Faith without Wisdom.”