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    March 16, 2008

    Bill's excellent gay military adventure

    Posted by: Chris

    PowellclintonThere he goes again.

    Two months ago, Bill Clinton tried to rewrite the history on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," making it seem that he and Colin Powell had come up with a policy that "meant literally that -- that people would be free to live their lives as long as they didn't go march in gay rights parades or go to gay bars in uniform -- in uniform -- and talk about it on duty they would be all right."

    As I pointed out at the time, the former president described the policy exactly backward, since it actually OKs going to gay bars and marching in Pride parades -- neither of which necessarily mean you're gay -- but strictly prohibits doing anything in a soldier or sailor's private life (out of uniform) that involves "homosexual acts" (sex, kissing, holding hands) or "homosexual statements (coming out, love letters, etc.)

    The reason for Bill's revisionist history was clear: he was trying to explain away why he signed into law a discriminatory policy that dishonored the military service of thousands of gay men and lesbians, and resulted in dramatic increases in gay-related discharges.

    Back in January, gay groups mostly did nothing in response to Clinton's big gay whopper, probably because most are led by Hillary Clinton supporters. Only Log Cabin called him to the carpet. At my request, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network did issue a written statement from director Aubrey Sarvis, though only to me in an email:

    As you point out, there were, indeed, some factual inaccuracies in President Clinton’s statement about "€œDon'€™t Ask, Don't Tell."€ Indeed, regardless of the intention behind the law, the reality is that it has not served the best interests of service members, our country or our national security.  Since its implementation, nearly 12,000 men and women have been dismissed under the law. …

    President Clinton's comments also miss a key part of serving under "Donâ€'t Ask, Don't Tell."€  Military members cannot be out to anyone, at anytime, while serving under the law.  Statements to friends, family members or anyone else are grounds for dismissal from the armed forces, as they have been since day one.  The law, indeed, practically prevents any gay American, who is out in anyway, from serving in the military.

    Sarvis also indicated in the statement that SLDN has "made sure that Senator Clinton'€™s campaign is aware of our concerns regarding the President's remarks."

    Well, whatever SLDN said it didn't stick. Because there he went again this week, repeating his false facts about "Don't Ask Don't Tell" in an interview with college journalists:

    It would have been a better policy if it had been implemented the way Gen. [Colin] Powell and I agreed to implement it. I think we may have the support now in Congress to get rid of it altogether. That's what we should do. We should do what every other major country has done and allow gays to serve honorably in the military. I'm not defending 'Don't Ask, Don’t Tell' on the merits. Our guys came to us and said, 'Look. If you don't agree to this, they’re going to bury you. You will have nothing.

    It's classic Clinton, claiming he's not defending "DADT" when that's exactly what he's doing by suggesting some unseen Pentagon ne'er do wells enforced the policy in a different way than he and Powell had agreed upon. DADT was adopted in the first year of Clinton's presidency, if there was an enforcement problem then why didn't the Commander in Chief do something about it? Was he not ready to lead on Day 1?

    In fact he wasn't, ironically. In this week's interview, Clinton portrays himself in an impossible political bind. But those of us who were in Washington at the time remember like it was yesterday how the president rolled over with absolutely no fight, agreeing to the "compromise" policy foisted on him by Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn.

    Ultimately it's a good thing of course that Bill Clinton supports his wife in repealing the policy, even as he stubbornly refuses to acknowledge that it was the policy -- his policy -- that was wrong and discriminatory, and not how it was implemented by the military.

    But Clinton isn't the only one who needs to come clean. Enough of the silence from gay groups on this. It's incumbent on SLDN, the Human Rights Campaign and the Task Force to proactively issue statements that correct the historical record.

    For those who are interested, Clinton also offered some insight into why he promised during his 1992 presidential campaign to repeal the outright ban on military service by gays that existed previously. Follow the jump for that.


    In that same interview with college journalists, former President Clinton talks about why he changed his mind about ending the ban on gays in the military:

    What flipped me on this, what made me strongly in favor of allowing gays to serve in the military, was the first Gulf War. In the first Gulf War, the military knowingly shelved plans to replace more than a hundred people in critical military positions who were gay. They let them serve and as soon as the war was over --” these people had risked their lives for our country, and they served honorably --” then they kicked them out. So that plus [then-Sens.] Bob Kerrey, John Kerry and one or two other Vietnam veterans coming to me and saying, '€˜We'€™ll stick with you on this, because we think it's ridiculous.'

    As nice as that sounds, it also doesn't make much sense to me. Clinton first made his pledge to lift the ban during his campaign, so it's unclear why Senators Kerry and Kerrey would have played a role in convincing him to do so. They involvement would have come later, after Clinton was inaugurated.

    Probably this is another example of Bill Clinton's selective memory and very tenuous grasp on the truth about almost anything.



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    1. Andoni on Mar 17, 2008 10:24:29 AM:

      After listening to Aubrey Sarvis speak at an SLDN fundraiser Friday night, I would bet that this organization is not going to say anything to anger a potential president. They want to be in a position to work with whoever gets elected to repeal DADT and embarrassing a possible president would not be politically astute if you want to work with this person later.

      If you're interested in the truth, I think you are going to have to rely on the media or the bloggers. Neither SLDN or HRC are going to give it to you. Their game is political expediency, not accurate history.

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