According to The Washington Post, President Barack Obama is going to call for the repeal of the military’s ban on openly gay members, otherwise known as "don’t ask, don’t tell." This was a big campaign promise, and one that many hoped would be completed within the president’s first 100 days. But Obama, as is his wont, has been playing that centrist, appeasing, consensus thing that so infuriates progressives. And now that he’s finally ready to make good, it may be too late.
Short backstory: soon after he was inaugurated, the language on Obama’s Web page changed so that instead of promising to repeal "don’t ask, don’t tell," he instead supported “changing it in a sensible manner.”
After a year of promises from various branches of government to essentially "get to it later," the Senate finally scheduled an Armed Services Committee hearing to discuss the place of DADT in the modern military. It's probable that the Obama administration was in on this, because a Senate committee decision looks like less of an imposition by a liberal president and more like a natural evolution, one harder to attack from the right. Fair enough, but hardly the bold actions of a man claiming to be a “fierce advocate” for gays and lesbians, especially in light several other serious insults to the community, including his unsolicited support for the Defense of Marriage Act.
The hearings were to begin this Monday, and when they didn’t, the expected cries of frustration rang out in the blogosphere. By Tuesday, though, word had leaked that the meeting was delayed—not canceled—because Obama wanted to address DADT in the State of the Union address. Cause for celebration? Not quite. Those same bloggers and commenters were skeptical that his announcement would not be an end to the ban, but some halfhearted compromise that kept the spirit of the law in place. But now that the word “repeal” is in the news, will the progressives finally get excited?
That would be nice for Obama, who has been in serious trouble with his liberal supporters for not taking a stronger stand against Republicans on health care, reproductive rights, and, well, just about everything else. But the starry-eyed progressives who washed Obama into office on a wave of hope and change have been seriously disillusioned. Winning them back won’t be easy and may take more than a calculated rallying call around DADT.
First of all, “calling for” the repeal and actually repealing are two very different things. As any number of pissed-off gay politicos could tell you, President Obama, as the commander in chief of the United States military, could end the ban with a stroke of his pen. Will he announce a repeal effective immediately, or announce a rescheduled hearing and urge senators to vote for repeal? (Ambinder says Obama will either call for a Senate hearing or announce a military task force devoted to safely integrating gay soldiers into the military. There's also talk that the repeal of DADT will be included in the upcoming defense authorization bill. Tonight, Obama may announce that the budget he must soon submit for this bill will have language calling for repeal.)
No matter what happens, the damage might already be done. DADT was such a simple thing to repeal, such an easy way to make good on a promise and reward the progressives who helped vote him in with such a bold mandate. That mandate, they feel, has been wasted on politics as usual, and for many, repealing DADT now is seen as cynical ploy by the Obama camp to get back into good graces with the left—a tiny, sharp bone to distract them while health-care reform is slowly dying on the vine.
Still, an end to DADT is an end to DADT. One could make the argument that a gift horse, however mangy and rotten in the teeth, is still a gift—and in these troubled times, you take what you can get.
UPDATE: Obama said exactly what the early reports said he would—that he'll repeal DADT. Specifically, "This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are." A little short on details, but what is there indicates that he's not going to charge the gates. If the behind-the-scenes rumblings are true, which suggest that DADT will be a part of the appropriations bill, things might start moving soon. Obama is set to turn his 2011 budget, including the funds for defense, over to Congress on Monday. Still, Obama fan and DADT foe Andrew Sullivan isn't holding his breath:
I note that he has committed only to working with Congress and the military to end the ban this year. If he achieves it, I will stand up and cheer. But I have experienced enough crushing disappointments to believe it will actually happen.
Finally, the Twitterati noted that the Joint Chiefs didn't applaud and looked "stone-faced" when Obama talked about working with the military to repeal DADT, perhaps implying that they weren't happy with the idea. Please. These guys are soldiers. They don't smile or clap, period.
Posted originally at 8:28 p.m. Updated at 11:05 p.m.