There was the gratuitously provocative nomination of Chuck Hagel for defense secretary, followed by the gratuitously insulting invitation of Louie Giglio, a Georgia pastor, to give the inaugural benediction. That plan was abandoned after the revelation of Giglio’s past remarks that homosexuality offends God, that homosexuals yearn to take over society and that a conversion to heterosexuality is the only answer for them. Giglio would have been the second florid homophobe in a row to stand with Obama and a Bible in front of the Capitol — Rick Warren, in January 2009, was the first — and while it appears that this double bigotry whammy wasn’t the administration’s intent, it’s an example of vetting so epically sloppy that it gives an observer serious pause about the delicacy with which Obama and his allies, no longer worried about his re-election, are operating.
The pick of Hagel underscores that indelicacy. There’s a potent case to be made for his installation as secretary of defense, but there are potent cases for others, and it’s hard to believe that Obama couldn’t have found someone who shared his values and would further his agenda but wouldn’t be such a guaranteed lightning rod for his Jewish, LGBT and female supporters, all of whom played crucial roles in his November victory.
Regarding women, Hagel’s record on reproductive freedom is as conservative as his record on gay rights, and it included his support for a ban on abortions in military hospitals, even for servicewomen prepared to pay for the procedures themselves. What’s more, Obama rolled Hagel out in a cluster of other high-profile nominees (John Brennan, Jack Lew, John Kerry) sure to be noted for their gender uniformity and to rekindle questions about the predominantly male club of advisers and golf and basketball partners who have the president’s ear. The upset was predictable and avoidable.