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    January 17, 2008

    Dems 'Don't Tell' on gays in military

    Posted by: Chris

    080115debatehlarge8pjpgohlarge Lost amid all the headlines about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton calling a truce at Tuesday night's Democratic debate in Nevada was a question by NBC's Tim Russert about whether they would enforce a statute on the books that cuts off all federal funding to colleges and universities that do not allow military recruiters on campus.

    Russert didn't explain that the purpose of the statute, known as the Solomon Amendment, wasn't to override liberal universities opposed to the war or the military generally -- but to block dozens of schools from enforcing non-discrimination policies based on sexual orientation, which prohibit on-campus recruiting by employers unwilling to sign a pledge not to discriminate.

    The military, of course, does discriminate based on sexual orientation, forcing soldiers and sailor who are gay, lesbian and bisexual to hide and lie about who they are and to remain celibate. A group of the nation's most prestigious law schools, including the alma maters of Obama (Harvard Law) and Clinton (Yale Law) challenged the constitutionality of the amendment on First Amendment grounds but lost in a unanimous Supreme Court ruling authored by Chief Justice John Roberts.

    Unfortunately, most debate viewers were completely unaware of this background because the way the question was put by Russert, the Solomon Amendment came off as a progressive effort to achieve a better balance in the military among poor urban and rural service members and well-off, college-educated youth. Perhaps as a result, all three Democrats promised aggressive enforcement of the Solomon Amendment without even acknowledging the civil rights issue at the heart of it.

    Ditto Russert's follow-up about schools that resist on-campus Reserve Officer Training Corps programs. Some objections may be pacifist, but most are civil rights based, and all three candidates are on record agreeing that "Don't Ask Don't Tell" is wrong, discriminatory and should be repealed. (The full question and responses are excerpted in the jump to this post.)

    The Supreme Court correctly decided the Solomon Amendment case, since the law is viewpoint neutral and schools can still inform students who visit military recruiters about the school's opposition to the discriminatory "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. Even still, it was unfortunate that none of the candidates managed to at least raise the issue in their answers.

    Gergen742883 Credit CNN commentator David Gergen, a moderate Republican who also worked in Bill Clinton's administration, for raising the issue at the end of a commentary about the debate:

    A post-script to last night's Democratic debate: Clinton, Edwards and Obama each told Tim Russert they would enforce laws requiring universities to allow military recruiters on campus. As a long-time advocate of restoring ROTC to major universities, I just want to add that a huge stumbling block now is the "don't ask, don't tell" policy of the military, which is seen at many schools as highly discriminatory against gays and lesbians. If that is amended -- as growing numbers in the military think should happen -- we will have a much better chance of persuading schools to honor service in the armed forces in the ways that they should.

    One of the ways to test the candidates' commitment to gay rights is what they say to a general audience when given the opportunity to address gay issues. On that score, all three failed on Tuesday night.

    From the transcript of Tuesday night's Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas:

    RUSSERT: Senator Clinton, I’ll start with you. The volunteer Army, many believe, disproportionate in terms of poor and minority who participate in our armed forces.

    There’s a federal statute on the books which says that, if a college or university does not provide space for military recruiters or provide a ROTC program for its students, it can lose its federal funding.

    Will you vigorously enforce that statute?

    CLINTON: Yes, I will. You know, I think that the young men and women who voluntarily join our all-volunteer military are among the best of our country.

    I want to do everything I can, as president, to make sure that they get the resources and the help that they deserve. I want a new, 21st-century G.I. Bill of Rights so that our young veterans can get the money to get to college and to buy a home and start a business.

    And I’ve worked very hard, on the Senate Armed Services Committee, to, you know, try to make up for some of the negligence that we’ve seen from the Bush administration.

    You know, Tim, the Bush administration sends mixed messages. They want to recruit and retain these young people to serve our country and then they have the Pentagon trying to take away the signing bonuses when a soldier gets wounded and ends up in the hospital, something that I’m working with a Republican senator to try to make sure never can happen again.

    CLINTON: So I think we should recognize that national service of all kinds is honorable and its essential to the future of our country. I want to expand civilian national service.

    But I think that everyone should make available an opportunity for a young man or woman to be in ROTC, to be able to join the military and I’m going to do everything I can to support the men and women in the military and their families.

    RUSSERT: Of the top 10 rated schools, Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Stanford, they do not have ROTC programs on campus.

    Should they?

    CLINTON: Well, there are ways they can work out fulfilling that obligation. But they should certainly not do anything that either undermines or disrespects the young men and women who wish to pursue a military career.

    RUSSERT: Senator Obama, same question.

    Will you vigorously enforce a statute which says colleges must allow military recruiters on campus and provide ROTC programs?

    OBAMA: Yes. One of the striking things, as you travel around the country, you go into rural communities and you see how disproportionally they are carrying the load in this war in Iraq, as well as Afghanistan.

    OBAMA: And it is not fair. Now, the volunteer Army, I think, is a way for us to maintain excellence. And if we are deploying our military wisely, then a voluntary army is sufficient, although I would call for an increase in our force structure, particularly around the Army and the Marines, because I think that we’ve got to put an end to people going on three, four, five tours of duty and the strain on families is enormous. I meet them every day.

    But I think that the obligation to serve exists for everybody, and that’s why I’ve put forward a national service program that is tied to my tuition credit for students who want to go to college. You get $4000 every year to help you go to college.

    In return, you have to engage in some form of national service. Military service has to be an option.

    OBAMA: We have to have civilian options as well. Not just the Peace Corps, but one of the things that we need desperately are people who are in our foreign service who are speaking foreign languages can be more effective in a lot of the work that’s going to be require that may not be hand-to-hand combat but is going to be just as critical in ensuring our long-term safety and security.

    RUSSERT: This statute’s been on the books for some time, Senator. Will you vigorously enforce the statute to cut off federal funding to the school that does not provide military recruiters and a ROTC program?

    EDWARDS: Yes, I will. But I have to say, it’s not enough to talk about the extraordinary service of men and women who are wearing the uniform and have worn the uniform of the United States of America. Tonight across this country, 200,000 men and women who wore our uniform and served this country patriotically, veterans, will go to sleep under bridges and on grates. We have men and women coming back from Iraq with PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, other kind of emotional problems; many with serious physical injuries.

    EDWARDS: We have families who are here at home, while they serve in Iraq, who are having a terrible time paying for child care, paying the bills. We have reservists and members of the Guard who go to serve and get paid 50 cents, 60 cents on the dollar for what they were making in their civilian jobs.

    What are we going to do about this? Every man and woman who comes back from Iraq or Afghanistan deserves to have a thorough comprehensive evaluation of their medical needs, including mental health needs and physical health needs. Every one of them ought to get job training if they need it, and additional education if they need it.

    We, America, you know, we should help them find a job. They didn’t leave us on our own, we shouldn’t leave them on their own. And we need to narrow this gap between civilian pay and military pay, and help these families with their child care.

    And then finally, for all the veterans who have served this country, we need a guaranteed stream of funding for the Veterans Administration so we don’t have veterans waiting six months or a year to get the health care that they deserve.

    WILLIAMS: Let’s go…

    CLINTON: This is…

    OBAMA: There just one thing that I wanted to…

    WILLIAMS: Go ahead, Senator Obama.

    Thirty seconds each, Senator Obama and Clinton.

    OBAMA: Very briefly, because I think this shows you how this administration has failed when it comes to our veterans.

    I went to Walter Reed to talk to the wounded warriors who had come back to discover that they were still paying for their meals and their phone calls while in Walter Reed, while rehabbing, which I could not believe. And I was able to gain the cooperation of a Republican- controlled Senate at the time and pass a bill that would eliminate that.

    But that indicates the callousness with which we are often treating our veterans. That has to stop.

    WILLIAMS: Well, I think that we have to do everything necessary to help these returning veterans get the health care and the support that they need.

    And this new signature wound called traumatic brain injury is something that I am really upset about, because we’ve only begun to recognize it and diagnose it.

    CLINTON: And, John, I was able to pass legislation to begin to provide the physical and mental evaluations so that we could begin to treat this.

    And, you know, we have 1,200 people in Nevada who sign up to join the military every year. They’re now going to be getting these exams because we’ve got to track what happens to young men and women when they go into the military, then provide the services for them.

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    1. Kevin on Jan 17, 2008 9:11:38 AM:

      Excellent point, Chris. Before the gay organizations coronate anyone, they should be making sure that the future president at least has a *clue* about the specifics of the issues we care about.

    1. Andoni on Jan 17, 2008 11:26:38 AM:

      Yes, but.......

      The Supreme Court decision is the law of the land. And a 9 -0 decision is a hard one to say you aren't going to enforce. I guess the key word is "vigorously" here, but can't you just see the negative sound bites that would have occurred if a potential president says they will not enforce the law of the land -- especially when it comes to protecting the rights of the military.

      In my mind it is justifiable to not enforce this law, but to say so in a debate and try to explain it is suicide. If the format were different and there was more time to explain the background and what the law meant and what the future president would be trying to convey by not enforcing the law......maybe.

      But the reality is they each had a minute or so and anything but a "Yes I will enforce the law" would have been a very dangerous answer and not worth the risk of what it said about their character or what it signaled to LGBT community.

      I give them all a pass on this one.

    1. Kary on Jan 17, 2008 7:51:30 PM:

      Okay, girls..ONE MORE TIME: Dennis Kucinich is the ONLY pro-gay candidate. Line up for crumbs from the tables of the others. Of course, you could be a Log Cabin Groveler, and then you would be used to that treatment. You'd walk around with a crumber in your breast pocket all day.

    1. Monster Beats Sale on Nov 30, 2011 1:49:03 AM:

      You'd walk around with a crumber in your breast pocket all day.

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