Last Thursday, the gay GOP group Log Cabin Republicans (LCR) placed a full-page ad in the New York Times that attacked Chuck Hagel as anti-Israel and anti-gay and urged President Obama not to appoint him as Defense Secretary. This was quite a strange event for multiple reasons.
First, full-page ads in the NYT are notoriously expensive, particularly for a small, poorly-funded group like LCR; published rates indicate that such an ad can cost well in excess of $100,000, though some discounts are possible with flexible dates (five years ago, the published rate for a black-and-white full-page political ad was $142,000). Second, LCR - which touts itself as "the only Republican organization dedicated to representing the interests of LGBT Americans and their allies"- has virtually no demonstrated prior interest in Israel; the only mention of that country on its entire website is as part of a laundry list of nations which allow gay and lesbians to serve in the armed forces, while its only substantive position on Iran policy is a tepid 2010 statement advocating a single 2010 bill for increased sanctions, something which Obama supported and signed (the group did lend its name to a coalition against Iranian nuclear proliferation). Third, since when does LCR - which endorsed McCain/Palin in 2008 and Mitt Romney with his abundant anti-gay advocacy in 2012 - oppose GOP officials on the ground that they have some anti-gay aspects to their record?
All of those facts made me deeply curious about what prompted LCR to place this ad and, especially, who funded it. That curiosity was heightened by another fact: a favorite tactic of neocons - who have led the smear campaign against Hagel - is to cynically exploit liberal causes to generate progressive support for their militaristic agenda. They suddenly develop an interest in the plight of gay people when seeking to demonize Iran, or pretend to be devoted to women's rights when attempting to sustain endless war in Afghanistan, or become so deeply moved by the oppression of Muslim factions - such as Iraqi Shia - when it comes time to justify their latest desired invasion.
As it so often does, this tactic has worked magically here, as numerous progressives who do actually care about gay issues - from Rachel Maddow to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force - dutifully popped up to attack the neocons' number one public enemy. Andrew Sullivan is right that this is a classic technique of the neocon smear campaign - recruit progressives to their cause with exploitation of unrelated issues - and he's also right that Hagel's record on gay issues is hardly uncommon or unusually disturbing for DC officials (particularly given his apology and disavowal). Indeed, very few of these progressives had difficulty supporting Obama in 2008 despite his opposition to same-sex marriage on this warped ground: "I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman. Now, for me as a Christian, it's also a sacred union. God is in the mix." But the LCR ad is designed to rile up progressives against Hagel by making it appear that Good Liberals oppose the former Senator for reasons having nothing to do with his heresies on Israel (just as so many Good Liberals were convinced to support the attack on Iraq, and will do the same with an attack on Iran, on the ground that the war advanced their Liberal Values).
As a result, I posed several questions to LCR about the funding and motive behind this ad. In response, the group's Executive Director, R. Clark Cooper, confirmed that LCR did not pay for the ad out of its existing funds. Rather, he said, the ad campaign "is being funded by a number of donors". But he not only refused to identify any of those donors, but also has thus far refused to say whether those "donors" are from the self-proclaimed "pro-Israel" community and/or are first-time donors to LCR: in other words, whether these donors are simply exploiting gay issues and the LCR to advance an entirely unrelated agenda as a means of attacking Hagel.
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As for why LCR would suddenly object to the anti-gay record of Hagel despite a history of supporting more virulently anti-gay Republicans, Cooper claimed that "LCR is particularly concerned about Chuck Hagel as a potential Defense Secretary because of the role he would play in continuing to oversee the implementation of open service of the military." But he did not respond to my follow-up inquiry about why, then, LCR endorsed Mitt Romney - who has long supported Don't Ask, Don't Tell and other anti-gay measures - as President. Why would this group be so moved by concerns about a possible Defense Secretary's anti-gay record that they take out a full-page ad against him in the New York Times, but just three months ago endorsed someone who is at least as anti-gay for the position of Commander-in-Chief, which obviously has far more influence on such policies than a Defense Secretary?
What makes this all the more inexplicable is that, a couple of weeks before the LCR ad was placed, the very same R. Clark Cooper spoke out in praise of Hagel to the Gay City News:
"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."
At some point thereafter, LCR decided not only that Hagel must be publicly smeared as anti-gay and anti-Israel, but that the group just had to take an extraordinary and incredibly expensive step - a full-page ad in the New York Times - to do so. And then magically, the substantial funding for that anti-Hagel ad materialized.
While I agree with those who insist that a Hagel nomination would not meaningfully change administration policy, the goal of the anti-Hagel smear campaign is to ensure that there can be no debate and no diversity of views on Israel when it comes to top government officials. That was the same objective that drove the successful effort to torpedo the 2009 appointment by Adm. Dennis Blair of life-long foreign service diplomat (and periodic Israel critic) Chas Freeman to a position within the National Security Council. Gay advocates are the exploited tools in this effort. We should at least have some transparency about that fact.