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    July 31, 2009

    How to repeal DADT

    Posted by: Andoni


    We are 7 months into the Obama administration and DADT (Don't Ask, Don't Tell) is still on the books. I believe anything the president does to initiate the repeal will cause a firestorm that is much, much greater than any of us activists anticipate and could significantly wound Obama politically. This is in spite of the fact that 75% of the public thinks gays should be able to serve openly in the military. Even though they are a significant minority, right wing reactionaries are waiting to ambush the president the minute he moves to repeal DADT.

    So how should we repeal DADT with a minimum of damage? If I were speaking to the president, this is what I would advise him.

    Wait until October when Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mike Mullen's two year term ends. In choosing a new Chief, make sure the general or admiral has impeccable military credentials and is firmly in favor of repealing DADT. Make sure he understands this is a top priority and it is his mission to accomplish this in the first few months of his term. Also instruct the future Chairman that he is to be open and honest about his opinion and plans for DADT during the Senate confirmation hearings.

    During the Senate hearings make sure the nominee is asked several DADT questions and that he publicly states that he believes DADT is a bad policy and needs to be repealed. With the Democrats in control he should be confirmed. The hearings will put him on record about his intentions for the future of DADT. By confirming him, Congress has now approved the concept. The public is on notice and Congress is on notice that things are going to change. No one should be surprised when it happens.

    Then a month or two later, the Chairman appears before Congress with numerous studies showing how DADT decreases national security, how we are losing talented men and women we cannot afford to lose during war time, and that the unit cohesion argument is a myth. He formally requests that Congress repeal DADT for the good of the armed forces. The repeal of DADT is initiated by the military.

    The request was not initiated by a president who has no military service (a major Achilles heal for many). With the military requesting the change, it would give Congress the cover it needs to repeal DADT. It would also fly better with the American people. And if the military requests the change in the law, it would be much more difficult for the right wing to condemn it.

    Had Obama directly requested Congress to do this, I am confident we would have a repeat of the political warfare that happened in 1993 when Clinton tried. Even with 75% of the country with us on this, the crazy right wingers can make a lot of noise, wound the president, and distract from other important issues such as health care reform, banking reform, and comprehensive immigration reform. This is not cowardice, it is smart politics.

    I don't know if the White House is thinking along these lines, but I got the idea after reading "Team of Rivals" by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Lincoln used this technique a lot. Whenever Lincoln ventured into military matters he found that he often got burned by the then third rail of politics - the military. The military was very political back then. Lincoln discovered that when it came to military matters -- it was often best if the order, suggestion or decision seemed to come from the military. Lincoln would make the decision, but then ask a general to announce it as though it were the general's. Lincoln learned that a controversial order or decision about the military was much better accepted if it came from the military.

    I hope Obama has learned this from Lincoln.



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    1. jpeckjr on Jul 31, 2009 9:26:49 AM:

      I agree with this assessment. I first realized it when the new Secretary of the Army was named. The President needs to wait until his civilian leadership team is firmly in place in the Pentagon. Commander in Chief or not, Mullen is not President Obama's JCS Chair.

      I do think, however, the President can initiate a stop-loss measure without waiting. He should do it quietly, though, without a major press conference. I know his preference is to make a big public deal. This would be a good time to suppress that preference.

      I remember the Clinton debacle and the problem there, as I see it, was not so much the policy he wanted to initiate. It was the process he used, announcing it very publicly very soon after his inaguration, before he had established any relationship or credibility with the military. His process blindsided both military and congressional leaders. Although, certainly, there was genuine opposition to the policy. Many, many things, including public attitudes, have changed in 16 years.

    1. Charlie on Jul 31, 2009 9:31:48 AM:

      Very smart suggestion.

      Now, is the President sufficiently committed to repealing DADT to think along these lines? Considering his current record on LGBT issues, I doubt it.

    1. Michael on Jul 31, 2009 5:29:03 PM:

      I beg to differ.

      As should be eminently clear to anyone who's read the Constitution, the president is the commander in chief of the armed forces--whether or not s/he's ever worn the uniform. If the president tells them "Jump," the only correct answer is "Yes, sir! How high, sir?" Pussyfooting around in the manner you describe only serves to perpetuate the mythology that the military is something special that only people who have served in it can understand.

      Obama has the statutory authority to end discharges under DADT right now. He just doesn't have the guts to do it--and, frankly, I don't really believe he wants to in the first place. But he can--and should--do so. Congress will have to repeal the law, yes. But Obama can stop the damage it does right now, without even a "by your leave" from Congress. In fact, now would be a perfect time for him to do it, with Congress heading for National to get out of town for a month. Then if anybody bitches about it, all he has to say is "I was taking action because this is an important issue and Congress was not in session."

      It is not 1993 any more. Killing DADT will not cause a firestorm of any kind, except among the wingnut fringe that is outraged by the fact that Obama is living and breathing and occupying the White House. There's ample support in Congress--if the White House would ever get off its back and let them do it, and if the Democratic leadership could, you know, actually lead.

    1. John on Jul 31, 2009 5:34:59 PM:

      Good sugggestion, though I remain skeptical that Obama is serious about repealing DADT. He has shown zero leadership on this and I doubt he ever will.

      It would also help if certain more liberal gay activists would keep their yaps shut about their distaste of the military: http://www.pamshouseblend.com/diary/12307/blue-angels

    1. keithincali on Aug 1, 2009 11:08:14 AM:

      The people are behind repealing DADT, the military is behind repealing it, The Congress is behind repealing it, but here we are with it still on the books. Everyone is afraid to take the lead and just do it for fear of the possible fallout. You are going to have certain homophobes who will get out and that's just what they need to do. In America, we stand for freedom and if some don't want to accept that, they can go fuck themselves. They don't realize that any civilian company they work will have out gay employees. Their homophobia at a company will get them fired. Discrimination has no place in a work environment, and the military is no different.

    1. Jake Spencer on Aug 2, 2009 7:44:50 AM:

      Makes all the sense in the world.

    1. The Gay Species on Aug 2, 2009 3:56:03 PM:

      Alcee Hastings could have solved this problem by defunding the witch hunts, but the White House asked him to withdraw his bill. THE WHITE HOUSE. RAHM EMANUEL in all likelihood, a notorious homophobe. Despite 170 CO-SPONSORS, simply authorizing the President to defund the persecutions. NO. Watch Rachel Maddow and learn.

    1. Hawyer on Aug 4, 2009 3:10:24 PM:

      Barack Obama has done nothing since his inauguration to indicate he will compromise one scintilla of political capital on us. While everyone was gushing over his 14 words buried in a speech to the NAACP:

      But make no mistake: the pain of discrimination is still felt in America [laundry list of victims] .... [last on the list] ... "by our gay brothers and sisters, still taunted, still attacked, still denied their rights" ...

      ... And his paltry attempt to shoehorn some domestic partner benefits around the language of DOMA - instead of advocating the repeal of DOMA as ugly, divisive, and a relic of Newt Gingrich era wedge-issue target-practice against gays.

      Blah Blah Blah One more time, we've been punked.

    1. Wes on Aug 5, 2009 3:38:25 PM:

      Yes Andoni's comments are well thought out and reasonable. Unfortunately, Charlie and Hawyer are correct: Nobody in the White House cares.

      There are always alternatives to writing a check and showing up and voting for a Democrat.

      Make you feel good to vote for a Democrat? Why? What have they done? I have written checks and supported Democrats solely because of gay issues for 28 years. And my stint at this stunt is over. If they are not going to do anything with 60 votes in the Senate they surely are not going to do anything when the number starts frittering away. And to all of you who argue to "give it time and have patience": THIS is the time for action. These inepts will begin to lose power in 2010 and it will dribble away after that on a downhill slope.

      I can say that I have never trusted this President Showboater. Even back when he was showboating on the election trail. But any doubt to his intentions should have been removed when he (a) put Rahm Emanuel at the White House and then (b) put Rick Warren under his arm in January and (c) gave us the big irrelevant middle finger in June with his court brief. Obama reeks.

    1. Michael @ LeonardMatlovich.com on Aug 8, 2009 3:58:29 PM:

      While I agree that "packaging" is everything, for the most part, you have the wrong packaging, as others have noted here.

      First, we must face the obvious fact that Obama has decided to abandon, indefinitely, his repeated and detailed action plan on starting to get rid of DADT, which he declared in November of 2007, "will start when I take office," in exchange for the support of the remaining dinosaurs in the Jurassic Park that is the Pentagon for his plans for Iraq and Afghanistan and, especially, his 2010 defense budget which took away many of their favorite multimillion dollar toys. Even before being elected, he said that support for DADT repeal would not be "a litmus test" for any member of the Joint Chiefs, so there's no reason to expect that would change when he's in full retreat on the idea itself.

      But that is not to say that, if he chose to, he could reclaim his CIC cojones. Even that lying, remorseless homophobe Colin Powell said in 1993, at the same time he was doing all he could to prevent Clinton's gay integration plan, that he and the rest of the military would implement it if ordered to. [At this point, it's appropriate to point out that jpeckjr's memory of the chain of 1993 events is weak. Nathaniel Frank, author of the definitive study on the evolution of DADT, "Unfriendly Fire," has repeatedly documented that Clinton's plan was neither "sudden" nor post-inauguration. In fact, his first public statement about it was in response to a question at Harvard on October 28, 1991. By the early fall of '92, the Troglodytes realized he was serious and began to publicly oppose it even before he was elected. Thus he discussed it with Powell, then Joint Chief's head, shortly after being elected, but underestimated how rabid opposition would become. The Obama Nostra has done a great job of rewriting this history as an excuse for Obama not "moving too quickly" when the real problem was Clinton backing off his promise of an immediate executive order and, instead, instituting a six-month cooling off period which only allowed the coaltion of homophobes, civilian and military, to unite.]

      Third, if a brainless, stammering fool like Bush could manipulate the public's fear of terrorism for seven years for the wrong reason, surely the brilliant, eloquent Obama could frame a stop-loss order AND repeal for a good one...in terms of national security in such a way that would result in the public who already supports allowing gays to serve, including 59% of Republican voters, stepping on the red neck of any who dared oppose it.

      So much attention by both mainstream and gay media went to the transparent "quiet the restless gay natives" intent of June's White House tea, that they ignored the fact that the President of the United States virtually indicted himself when he declared that "preventing patriotic Americans from serving their country weakens our national security"

      As the Palm Center recently documented, focus on glacially slow legislative action soley or over a demand for a stop-loss order derailed the media attention that, along with diminishing donations to the DNC, had the administration briefly running scared, resulting in that tea party and Gates' phony search for room in the statute to be more "humane." He claims he's STILL looking when he must be aware of two Palm Center reports that detail exactly how he could be.

      Bottomline: methodology is not Obama's intial problem but motivation. He will only provide the leadership he promised to end DADT, that Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin recently insisted was a prerequisite for any real movement by Congress, if he's forced to by reminding MSM of the efficacy and urgency of a stop-loss order and him and the DNC that gay donations will cease until we see ACTION.

    1. Marc Liggin on Aug 18, 2009 4:01:48 PM:

      Imagine what would happen if 65,000 LGBTQ service members came out on the same day. DADT would die immediately. http://www.objector.org/FUK___DADT.html

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    1. ferngesteuerter hubschrauber on Dec 5, 2009 8:01:37 AM:

      I am somewhat a little surprised that nothing major has happened yet on this issue, especially since it is a domestic question and not an International one. It is part of one of Mr. Obama's leading electoral promises and he has been in office for over 100 days now.

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