DADT Goes Fubar

What should have been a stellar legislative achievement has collapsed into political failure

To care about politics is to be perpetually disillusioned.

In the normal course of life, this isn’t an indictment. We live in a democracy made up of different groups with often wildly different opinions — none of us can have our way on everything.

But it is an indictment when it comes to ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

I agree with President Barack Obama that a legislative repeal of the odious DADT law would be preferable. It was Congress that stuck the country with the law, and by all rights it should be Congress that rids us of it. Plus, a major legislative victory for gay and lesbian rights would be a demonstration that the United States has finally moved forward on equality, a demonstration that could buttress other efforts such as ENDA and repeal of DOMA.

Where I disagree with the president is the inept, foot-dragging, mollycoddling process he put into place that seemed designed to placate bigots rather than repeal a discriminatory law. There were no shortage of people who warned that putting DADT repeal on a track that wouldn’t end until after the certain-to-be-difficult midterm elections could be disastrous.

Plenty will argue that the 2009 calendar was too busy to deal with DADT, but if the plan was always to create a months-long timeline for the Pentagon to ask straight soldiers and their spouses, ”How do you feel?” then the previous year would actually have been the time to do so.

Instead, we now face a situation where an overly cautious political pragmatism has turned into a case of political malpractice.

Now, Judge Virginia Phillips has declared DADT unconstitutional and refused to back down from her order that the military cease all investigations and discharges; the Obama administration finds itself in the politically untenable position of defending a law it wants to repeal, that was struck down in a case brought by Log Cabin Republicans; and the Senate is clearly signaling that hopes for a successful repeal vote in the lame-duck sessions are likely hollow.

Last year, at the Human Rights Campaign national dinner, Obama told the crowd: ”Now, I’ve said this before, I’ll repeat it again — it’s not for me to tell you to be patient, any more than it was for others to counsel patience to African Americans petitioning for equal rights half a century ago.”

Yet since January’s State of the Union address, when he included DADT repeal in his list of legislative priorities, all he has asked for is patience in a process that his administration crafted. At The Atlantic website, political reporter Marc Ambinder wrote of the president’s reaction to the continued DADT protests: ”I do know that President Obama gets angry every time he’s heckled by ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ protesters. He thinks he’s doing everything he can given the constraints imposed on him by reality.”

Frankly, tough shit. His administration crafted the approach that brought us to this impasse and most of the hits the White House is taking for it are deserved.

That doesn’t lessen the heaps of blame available for others. Embattled Senate Majority Leader (D-Nev.) Harry Reid managed to bungle a critical vote by playing procedural games. Embittered Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has vowed to filibuster any attempt to repeal DADT, having already put out notice he won’t accept the much-ballyhooed survey because it asked how DADT should be repealed, not whether it should be.

What could have been a signature achievement on equality for the Obama presidency and a Democratic Congress has gone fubar, and they only have themselves to blame.

Sean Bugg is Editor Emeritus for Metro Weekly.

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