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    February 03, 2010

    DADT: Cards on the Table, Everyone...

    Posted by: Kevin


    When Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. military, said under oath before a Senate committee that they were absolutely in agreement with President Barack Obama's pledge to end the ban on gay Americans serving honestly in the military, it was the ultimate "call" in a nearly 20 year long game of political poker.

    And it was when everyone's cards were put on the table.  What we saw in each player's hand was perhaps the most dramatic political moment for us since the Democrats returned to power in Congress in 2006, and added the White House to their column in 2008.

    First off, the unassailable position of Admiral Mullen, and his obvious lack of discomfort or reluctance to speak in favor of lifting the ban, is a testament to the long, intense, patient and capable work of Professor Aaron Belkin of the Palm Center, a think-tank at the University of California at Santa Barbara which had put out reams and reams of peer-reviewed research for the better part of a decade dismantling every aspect of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy's effectiveness, and maneuvering among the military scholar community and the highly influential constituencies of current and retired generals and officers.  This transformational moment (even more neat in how it was captured on Admiral Mullen's Twitter account, to drive the point of modernization even further home) would not have happened without Belkin and the Palm Center.  (Full disclosure: I had the Palm Center as a consulting client from 2002 to 2006, serving as their Washington representative.  But Belkin and his band of brilliant scholars, like Dr. Nathaniel Frank, author of "Unfriendly Fire", the definitive book on the policy, were the ones who did all the real work.)  I'm not saying that Belkin was directly responsible for Mullen's position, but the work that he did all these years had a great deal to do with the atmosphere among military leaders that resulted in Mullen's position before the Senate.

    It also showed the very strong hand of President Obama himself.  I have raised a great deal of criticism of this president, from the moment he was elected, and I know that before this week happened I was not alone among many, many gay Americans of every political persuasion.  I was simply demanding results from the promises we got.  Well, in that moment in the Senate, we got results.  This would not be happening were it not for the determination and the seriousness of President Obama and his White House to deliver on this promise, even though he cannot deliver on it alone.  He deserves credit and praise for that, and our support in moving it forward.

    It also gave retired General Colin Powell the chance to lay his cards on the table.  He was quick to join in supporting Mullen, Gates and President Obama in this effort.  "[A]ttitudes and circumstances have changed," Powell said in a statement.  “I fully support the new approach presented to the Senate Armed Services Committee this week by Secretary of Defense Gates and Admiral Mullen.”  This from the man who was Joint Chiefs chairman when the policy was enacted.  Yet another score in our favor, perhaps later than it should have been, but Powell also deserves praise for speaking out after years of silence when all private reports in GOP circles was that he has felt this way for a long time.

    Finally, another set of cards were laid on the table, and they were infuriating and heart-breaking.  Senator John McCain, who told me to my face and to a group of other Log Cabin leaders in his office in 1999, that "the day Colin Powell comes up here and says it's time to change the policy, that's the day we should change the policy" basically showed himself to be a liar.  Instead of absorbing the reality of Gates' and Mullen's testimony, and what it represents in terms of active military brass and their desire to move forward, he chided them about usurping Congress' role in the matterWTF? That's something you'd expect from a haughty, disrespectful cow like Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), not from a war veteran and a man I have always seen as highly honorable.  It was a surreal moment for many of us who'd backed and loved John McCain over the years, and it was perhaps the most discouraging and sickening moments I've ever experienced in politics.

    However, this was just the first serious round of poker in this effort.  A lot of other hands must now be forced, almost entirely within the Democratic ranks of the House and Senate -- the people who will decide whether this policy stays or goes before they lose their majorities (whenever that happens).  And that is where all the scholarly work, all the patience of convincing military leaders, where all the lobbying of the White House must take a back seat to the pure, activist politics of holding the feet of Congress to the fire.  That means Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.  It means the senior Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee:  Chairman Ike Skelton of Missouri, John Spratt of South Carolina, Solomon Ortiz of Texas and Gene Taylor of Mississippi (all of whom have been in the basement of the Human Rights Campaign's ratings system for a long time).  It also means Carl Levin, who has been a friend before, but also former Klansman Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who has not been one.  That's the next gang of characters that must be frontally engaged with every bit of leverage, persuasion, pressure, carrots and sticks alike, by the so-called gay and lesbian leaders at HRC and other elements of the gay Democratic establishment who have been promising and promising and promising and promising in fundraising letter after fundraising letter after fundraising letter for decades now that THEY will be the smartest, the strongest, the "most muscular" lobby imaginable to deliver when the time comes.

    Indeed.  We'll see.



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    1. Chris on Feb 3, 2010 3:13:30 PM:

      Amen, Brother Kevin! I think you give credit exactly where it's due and blame exactly where it's deserved. My only two cents, albeit offered from the advantage of partisan independence, is that your personal sense of heartbreak and disappointment at John McCain looks very much like the heartbreak and surprise that Gay Rights Inc., and A-List Gay Dems express whenever our "allies" among the Democratic ranks fail to fulfill their pledges on our behalf.

      I don't believe any of us should urge cynicism in the face of commitments from politicians, but I do think that when we choose to believe, we must stand ready to hold their feet to the fire and call them out when they are wavering and fall short. On the Log Cabin side, I have seen over the years the enormous stake that is put on private commitments made by politicians who are then free to walk away from them at any time. In McCain's case, of course, the promise he made to you was one he repeated on "Hardball" for all the world to see in 2006.

      I would hope that Log Cabin will speak out as forcefully against McCain as you have today, especially given their head-scratching endorsement of him to be our president and commander-in-chief less than two years ago.

    1. Lucrece on Feb 3, 2010 3:16:51 PM:

      It was also worthy to note how palpably dated the dissenters presented themselves.

      "Intent or inclination to homosexual behavior"? That lexicon belongs to long-past decades.

    1. Kevin on Feb 3, 2010 3:29:28 PM:

      Thanks, Chris. As a private citizen, located well beyond the borders of Screamdom, D.C., I too just toss my two cents into the ether here and hope that my friends in Log Cabin remember that integrity has a shelf-life of decades.

      Lucrece: I know!! Sessions and McCain just seemed to be ghosts communicating via ouija board from the distant past. And Mullen was tweeting. I was like, where's Bill Dannemeyer and Strom Thurmond and Bob Dornan?

    1. Terry Hamilton on Feb 14, 2010 8:30:01 PM:

      Log Cabin is pressuring all camps by continuing our legal challenge to DADT. It is the only organizational challenge that has survived. The day after President Obama call for the end of DADT, his own lawyers were back in court challenging our case. We need to win in the courts as well as congress. Support Log Cabin's challenge to end DADT at www.LogCabin.org. Our case goes to trial in June 2010. Expert witnesses have expenses that Log Cabin must cover. White and Case is handing the legal work pro bono but Log Cabin must still cover any expenses. Want DADT to go away forever?

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