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  • « This finger-wag brought to you by HRC | Main | Are your expectations 'appropriate'? »

    November 14, 2008

    Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Expect

    Posted by: Chris

    Samnunn There are more signs that initial impressions were correct about the administration of President-Elect Barack Obama tackling little more than enactment of already-popular, long-stalled measures like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act.

    First there was the buzz that Sam Nunn, ringleader behind the so-called compromise policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," would "lead the handover team for the Department of Defense." It was Nunn, you will recall, who blindsided the newly-elected president from his own party in early 1993 by sounding the alarm about Bill Clinton's campaign promise to eliminate the ban on gays in the military.

    The Obama team walked back those initial reports, insisting Nunn had no formal role in the presidential transition, but nonetheless acknowledged the former Georgia senator, now 70, "will play an informal senior advisor role throughout the defense transition process" because "his expertise and the respect he has earned will be invaluable."

    Jamiegorelick Trumpeting "respect" for the man who crippled a new Democratic president by playing to bigotry is sure to hit a false note with many Obama supporters. So will word that Jamie Gorelick, Defense Department counsel during the Clinton years, is being considered for attorney general.

    Gorelick has all sorts of baggage relating to her role in curbing anti-terrorism intelligence and later becoming a multimillionaire running Fannie Mae, but we gays will never forget her role as the legal architect behind "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." It was Gorelick who created the legal fiction that DADT regulates "conduct" not free speech or "status" as gay, lesbian or bisexual.

    Well, not "conduct" per se, but proclivity to engage in conduct. So if a soldier or sailor says he is gay, his statement is taken under Gorelick's DADT framework as a rebuttable admission that he has a proclivity to engage in "homosexual conduct" -- meaning not just sodomy but holding hands, kissing, anything particularly homo.

    Never mind that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down laws that criminalize sodomy in 2003; the military still uses Gorelick's DADT fiction to defend its indefensible policy, which the president-elect has said was wrong-headed from the start and harmful to our national security.

    Finally, as if all that weren't enough, there is a depressing coda to my earlier post about how Rahm Emanuel, the new White House Chief of Staff, tamped down expectations that Obama would tackle gay issues early on in his administration.

    Davidmixner Gay F.O.B. David Mixner apparently told harrowing stories in his 1996 book "Stranger Among Friends" about the arrogant atitude taken by Emanuel, a top Clinton advisor, took toward gays when DADT first hit the proverbial fan:

    When President Clinton said publicly that he "wouldn't rule out" an idea to allow the military to segregate openly gay service members from straight ones, Mixner tried to contact the White House for an explanation.

    "We don't have to explain or justify our actions to you," said Emanuel, according to Mixner. "If the President of the United States never does another thing for you people, you should get on your knees and be thankful. He's already done more for you all than anyone. How dare you question his actions!"

    Mixner said Emanuel ultimately finished the phone conversation by saying "I will not talk to you anymore" and hanging up. Emanuel, he said, "made it very clear that he would decide what would be recommended to the President."

    From his point of view, Emanuel told the Wall Street Journal, Mixner "unjustly criticized" Clinton. "If somebody criticizes the president," he said, "then I think they are persona non grata."

    Rahmemanuelbarackobama There's no way to square Emanuel's offensive attitude toward criticism by "you people" with President-Elect Obama's approach to gay rights, politics in general and toward dissent.

    (An excellent article by former Blade editor Lisa Keen also retells Mixner's harrowing encounter with Emanuel over who would pay to replace trampled grass after the 1993 March on Washington. Rejecting any government responsibility, Emanuel said "some of your rich boys" should pay. Geffen can do it. So can several others. They'll want to please the president." Is there any better analogy to the Clinton-Dem attitude toward "you people?")

    There's also hope that Emanuel, who compiled a gay rights record in Congress that is better than the Obama's, has mellowed somewhat on gay issues. Mixner himself remains cautiously optimistic:

    When asked about Obama's choice of Emanuel for Chief of Staff, Mixner called him an "excellent choice."

    "He should just remember it is sixteen years later and a lot of things have changed since then," said Mixner. "I am sure he is aware of it."

    To borrow from Reagan, later paraphrased by Sullivan: Know Hope But Verify.

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