Steve Miller’s post on DADT makes some great points, including what appears to be the lack of action by President Obama as our advocate, fierce or otherwise. I don’t discount the possibility that he might be doing his work behind the scenes and out of public view. Sometimes, discretion is the better part of victory. Not everything a President does has to be in the public eye. But given the media’s just-shy-of prurient interest in this issue, it’s easy enough to imagine that the administration really is just watching the Senate agonize, and maybe crossing its fingers for us.
But I want to focus a bit on the politics that go unnoticed by most people. The promise that Joe Lieberman got from Susan Collins and Richard Lugar is not what I would call a solid one. What, exactly, or even approximately, is “an open amendment process?” This is just the sort of subjective “agreement” politicians announce all the time to make it appear they have done something they have not.
I have no reason to believe Collins and Lugar (and others) don’t intend to vote for repeal. But as we learned in the earlier chapters of this debate, their party’s leaders continue to have some sway over the strays.
The real test here, is once again of Harry Reid’s political skills. The “open amendment process” is not an argument, it is an excuse that the GOP can use any time they find it necessary or helpful or just convenient. Reid and the President can prevail (and I still assume the President does want to achieve repeal) only if they create the political climate where the GOP loses more from continuing DADT than they do. It’s a game of political chicken. If the GOP thinks DADT’s continuance is better for them, they can claim any amendment process Harry Reid comes up with isn’t open enough.
And by “losing” I obviously mean political loss. As is so often the case in Washington, not a single senator has a direct interest in this. It’s easy for them to treat our equality as an abstract principle because for them that’s what it is.
That’s why Joe Lieberman stands out. He has shown the kind of true and principled, actual leadership on this issue that only the best politicians even aspire to. So, too, Patrick Murphy in the House. In fact, Murphy had more to lose by standing up for us, and in fact lost in the midterms. Obama’s commitment as our fierce advocate can and should be measured against the open advocacy of these two men.
But neither Lieberman nor Murphy has the clout of the President and of Reid. This is now all about leadership. But it will also be the acid test for the Republicans in the Senate. How dedicated, really, are they to John McCain’s addled homophobia? Is his really the face of the 21st Century GOP?
In fact, for the Republicans, repeal will give them all a chance to re-decide McCain’s most fateful judgment. He could have chosen Joe Lieberman as his vice-president, but found Sarah Palin a better fit for his party. He rejected moderation and bet the farm on empty partisanship. In 2010, support of DADT is as empty as partisanship gets. It has nothing in its corner except ignorance and fear — ignorance and fear that it seems even most members of the military have abandoned.
That is the political calculation that the Republicans will have to make for themselves. For the Democrats, the calculation has to do with the risks of leadership. They saw what happened to Patrick Murphy. Do they have the courage to make this happen, and maybe suffer the anger of some voters, or will they take the easier course (for them) of leaving us with at least four more years of Bill Clinton’s compromised legacy?