How about a simple rule for Democratic cabinets: no bigots need apply

You’ve probably heard by now that former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican, is being considered for Obama’s new Secretary of Defense, to replace the incumbent, Leon Panetta. I think he would be a terrible choice. First of all, it’s not like his record on foreign policy and national security issues is anything to be proud of. He voted in favor of the Iraq War and also made a series of other terrible votes concerning that war; for example, against creating a special committee to investigate Halliburton and other defense contractors. In addition, he was pretty awful on national security issues, voting in favor of FISA and the the PATRIOT Act.

But the real no-brainer reason as to why he should absolutely, under circumstances whatsoever be considered for a cabinet position is that he is a bigot who has openly favored persecuting LGBTQ people. He not only favored excluding gay men and women from the military, but, in 1998, tried to prevent a Clinton nominee from becoming ambassador because he was gay. The man, James Hormel, eventually did become ambassador to Luxemborg, but Hagel strongly opposed the nomination, telling the Omaha World-Herald:

They [ambassadors] are representing our lifestyle, our values, our standards. And I think it is an inhibiting factor to be gay — openly aggressively gay like Mr. Hormel — to do an effective job.

That “openly aggressively gay” business is sort of hilarious. What did he think, that Hormel was going to host state dinners in Liza Minnelli drag?

As it turns out, Luxemborg had anti-discrimination laws and that country had no issue with Hormel’s sexual orientation. The only ones who had a problem were the Christian right and senate bigots like Hagel and his comrades-in-arms Jesse Helms, John Ashcroft, and others.

Now, 14 years after this disgraceful episode, and with his nomination for SecDef hanging in the balance, the Chuckster has issued an apology for his past anti-gay slurs and support of anti-gay policies. It’s day late and a dollar short, if you ask me, and Hormel himself is having none of it. In an interview yesterday with the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, Hormel questioned the sincerity of Hagel’s apologized, and noted that Hagel had never apologized to him personally:

“I have not received an apology,” Hormel, who is a major figure in Democratic politics, told me. “I thought this so-called apology, which I haven’t received, but which was made public, had the air of being a defensive move on his part.” Hormel added that the apology appeared to have been given “only in service of his attempt to get the nomination.”

Chuck Hagel is up for a very important job in a Democratic administration. The Democratic Party ostensibly supports equal rights for, and the full inclusion of, LGTBQ people. And yet up until very recently, Hagel was an open bigot who believed it was perfectly okay to deny highly qualified gay men and women ambassadorships and the right to serve in the military, simply on the basis of their sexual orientation.

In this country, we have a political party which supports the bigoted, homophobic viewpoint that Hagel championed throughout his public life. That party is known as the Republicans. The Democrats are supposed to stand for something different. There are many people qualified to serve as Secretary of Defense, who are not burdened with Chuck Hagel’s ugly, homophobic baggage. Chuck Hagel’s nomination would be totally unacceptable. I urge President Obama to move on and select such a person, someone has championed values of tolerance and equality, rather bigotry and hate.

Kathleen Geier

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee