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The Hagel nomination and identity politics

Steve Clemons is a leading exponent of the anti-Israel, anti-interventionist, hands-off Iran school that Chuck Hagel represents. He is also gay. So I decided to see how Clemons is blowing off the criticism directed at Hagel over the anti-gay remarks Hagel made some years ago at the expense of James Hormel, a nominee for an ambassadorship.

Hagel, it will be recalled, said that an “openly, aggressively gay” man should not represent the United States. Why? Because “they are representing America; they 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.”

As expected, Clemons discounts Hagel’s remarks on the theory that they were uttered years ago and that Hagel’s views have changed. But there are two amusing twists to his piece.

The first is the obsequiousness of his comments about the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights organization that has criticized Hagel. Clemons feels obliged repeatedly to praise the HRC and its president.

But second, Clemons blames the gay rights community for making “little effort to inquire about what [Hagel's] views about LGBT rights are, either of him or of gays who know him (like yours truly).” He also complains that the HRC has not invited Hagel to its dinners.

Clemons’ obsequiousness is, I suppose, an attempt to soften this absurd complaint. The burden was hardly on the gay rights community periodically to check in with Hagel (or with Mr. “Yours Truly”) to see if his offensive views were “evolving.” If Hagel genuinely had evolved, he could have apologized at any time to James Hormel. Instead, he waited 15 years, until he was about to be nominated for high office, to apologize. No wonder Hormel was not impressed.

In a way, it’s impressive that, to some extent, gay rights leaders have spoken out against Hagel. And it will be interesting to see how other practitioners of identity politics react. For example, Hagel’s positions on abortion would make him a leader in the “war on women” if such a war existed. Thus far, however, feminists seem unconcerned.

Then there is the fact that Obama has now nominated white males for both Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense (plus head of the CIA). Not since the Bill Clinton years have both of these two jobs been held by pale patriarchs. Identity mongers have noticed, but don’t seem too bothered.

My view is that identity politics shouldn’t trump the two considerations that ought to drive the confirmation process for cabinet appointments. They are: (1) the presidential prerogative and (2) ideology that pertains to the subject matter of the cabinet post.

“Identity politics” should enter the discussion only if a nominee has demonstrated animus against a particular group such as gays or Jews. At that point, it’s more about human decency than identity politics.

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