A Mea Culpa on DADT

The 111th Congress, 2009-11, was a landmark triumph for the rights of lesbians and gay men. The passage of legislation permitting the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was a watershed. It heralded the end of the counterproductive and cruel exclusion of gay Americans who want to serve their country in the military. This was a personal relief for the thousands of gay men and lesbians now serving, for many of those who have served but were discharged because of sexual orientation and may now re-enlist, and for the many more who will serve in years to come. Beyond that, it was important to have the country — by legislation, no less — bring homosexuals into the single most conservative institution we have, the one closest to the heart of citizenship, the one charged with the defense of our freedoms and values. The repeal knee-capped common arguments against the equal rights of gay men and lesbians in many domains, and will continue to do so as the hysterical fears it inspired are disproved in the years to come.

I confess to having been one of those who, in the fall election of 2008 and continuing until the moment of repeal last December, was deeply skeptical about the commitment of Democrats to repealing DADT and dubious about President Obama’s dedication to the effort. And while I could cavil about the sequence of events that led to the repeal vote, could note bitterly that President Clinton was primarily to blame (by incompetence, at the very least) for the codification of the ban, and heap praise on the brave handful of Republicans who voted for repeal, there is no question in my mind that it happened because of the Democrats, and specifically because of the gay Democrats and their supporters who worked for decades to change minds in their party. None of this makes any less important the work that gay Republicans are doing in the GOP. But we must give credit where it is due.

The Dancing of Politics

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?

Time Ticks Away for ‘Don’t Ask’ Repeal

From the Washington Post: “Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has said she will vote for repeal [of the don’t ask, don’t tell ban on openly gay servicemembers] if [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid can ensure a fair debate and will allow Republicans to introduce amendments.” Which he, of course, refused to do during the pre-election vote, ensuring united GOP opposition and a successful filibuster. Now, time is running out, so “If legislative efforts fail, LCR will turn all of its energies to its federal court case, which challenges the constitutionality of the policy.” And we’ll have to see how that goes.

Also in the Post, Jonathan Capehart opines: “now Reid gets a second chance to do the right thing.” Again, we shall see.

More. Obama marks Veterans Day with his latest move: he asks the Supreme Court to keep don’t ask, don’t tell in effect, as his administration appeals the district court ruling that held the military’s discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation to be unconstitutional. On Friday, the Supreme Court granted Obama’s request, keeping the gay-ban in place.

On the legislative front, the Log Cabin Republicans say they have “conducted meetings with numerous Republican senators potentially in favor of repeal, all of whom are waiting for the President’s call.” And waiting, and waiting…

Furthermore. From the Washington Times:

Many Republicans wanted to debate amendments on how the nation would handle trials for suspected terrorists, and also wanted a chance to try to strike language that would allow military hospitals to provide abortions to women willing to pay for them.

Asked whether Ms. Collins, the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, would support a repeal effort, her spokesman, Kevin Kelley, said “she wanted to vote for the defense authorization bill and supports the repeal.”

“Her issue at the time was that Majority Leader Reid had said he would not allow any Republican amendments to the bill at the time. She was opposed to that process, which shut Republicans out of the debate,” he said.

Thanks, Harry.