In 1998, then-Senator Chuck Hagel criticized President Bill Clinton’s nomination of James Hormel to be U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg. Ambassadors represent America, “our lifestyle, our values, our standards,” Hagel told the Omaha World-Herald. “I think it is an inhibiting factor to be gay — openly aggressively gay like Mr. Hormel — to do an effective job.” In that Hormel was openly gay and expressed himself on gay-rights issues, “I think you do go beyond common sense there, and reason, and a certain amount of decorum.”
Decorum! Actually, successful ambassadors aren’t always decorous. I’m reminded of Ben Franklin, our Ambassador to France, who wore “rustic” fur hats around Paris to stun all beholders.
The French were so amazed and delighted by Franklin’s first fur hat that he sent home for more so he could keep up the shtick.
Anyway, Franklin wrote, “The cat in gloves catches no mice.” So much for decorum.
Now that Hagel is a likely prospect for Secretary of Defense, his record is getting another look. His comments on Hormel came up. So did his related 1999 remark on attempts to get rid of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” that “The U.S. Armed Forces aren’t some social experiment.”
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), for one, said those remarks were “unacceptable.” And “coupled with his consistent anti-LGBT record in Congress, raise[s] serious questions about where he stands on equality today. For him to be an appropriate candidate for any administration post, he must repudiate his comments.”
And he did. The next day, Hagel said “My comments 14 years ago in 1998 were insensitive. They do not reflect my views or the totality of my public record, and I apologize to Ambassador Hormel and any LGBT Americans who may question my commitment to their civil rights. I am fully supportive of ‘open service’ and committed to LGBT military families.”
Sound pretty good? Hormel didn’t think so. “I have not received an apology,” Hormel told the Washington Post. “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.” He said it seemed like something Hagel said “only in service of his attempt to get the nomination.”
He told the Washington Blade, “When I see an apology, then I’ll consider it.”
So there are two apologies here, a general one to LGBT Americans and LGBT military families. And another personal one to James Hormel.
As for the general apology, the Human Rights Campaign accepted it. “Our community continues to add allies to our ranks and we’re proud that Senator Hagel is one of them.”
For The Atlantic, Steve Clemons wrote about “The Chuck Hagel I Know: A Staunch Defender of Gay Rights.” Clemons says Hagel “supports solid legal protections for gay families and is personally supportive of gays and lesbians.
“How do I know this? Because I’m a national-security wonk who happens to be gay and who happens to have interacted with and followed Chuck Hagel for years. I have spoken directly about these issues with him over the years…”
Hagel has evolved on these issues, Clemons says. Hagel has hugged him. In public. In front of Republicans. And Clemons was wearing a tuxedo at the time.
So I think the general part of Hagel’s apology was sincere. Happily, many people’s views have evolved in the last 14 years. HRC accepts it, and I think we should too.
What about the other part? The Hormel apology is an example of the misdirected apology, the apology that doesn’t go to the person insulted or injured, but to a different audience, the one whose opinion the person apologizing really cares about. In the case the audience is the public – or that part of it that cares about LGBT rights.
I was trying to figure out what to call these things. (Besides bad apologies.) My friend Teresa Moore suggested showpology. My spouse suggested tele culpa, but my Latin is so sparse that I think I’d better use showpology. A showpology is a bad apology. Hagel should pick up the phone and call Hormel. They could talk about fur hats.