This account of the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) in the politically liberal New Republic is fascinating for what it says, and for what it doesn’t say.
The report describes how the Obama administration did not want to pass repeal in 2010, when Democrats held large majorities in both houses of Congress, but preferred to push it off into 2011, when it was first likely, and then certain, Republicans would control the House of Representatives:
“When asked by LGBT leaders how Obama planned to repeal DADT in a Republican House, the administration’s DADT pointman, Deputy Chief of Staff, Jim Messina, had no answer.”
Not so clearly stated is the reason why: so the Democrats would have a campaign issue to galvanize gay voters, just as not passing immigration reform when in control of Congress gave Obama a cause to fire-up Latino voters. In both instances, the GOP is far worse than the Democrats, but the Democrats intended to use these issues for political advantage by not delivering to their base.
The article does relay how LGBT activists and bloggers forced the Democrats to move on DADT in December 2010, before the House shifted to the GOP in January 2011. However, it does not relate the heroic actions by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and how she mobilized her Senate colleagues against Majority Leader Harry Reid, who was doing everything he could to ensure DADT repeal would be tied to a package that Republicans were pledged to block, so Reid could tell Democrats he tried, and then blame Republicans for defeating DADT repeal. Collins, Joe Liberman (I-Conn) and a few others didn’t let him get away with that, and when Reid did allow a “clean” bill to come to the floor, it easily passed (as I blogged at the time).
The New Republic article relates how, following DADT repeal, the Obama administration for the first time embraced marriage equality. It doesn’t say that the reason it did so was it had to move on to another issue that would energize gay voters. But without DADT repeal, it’s unlikely there would have been movement on marriage.
The upshot: for this administration, everything is a political calculation.