President Barack Obama pledged to end the “don’t ask; don’t tell” policy regulating the service of gays in the US military at a speech before the annual dinner of the Human Rights Campaign, a pro gay rights group The pledge was met with skepticism.
Supporters of gay made note that President Obama did not reveal how he was going to repeal “don’t ask don’t tell” or when he was going to do so. Typical was the reaction of a liberal blogger named John Aravosis.
“What did President Obama say new tonight? Absolutely nothing. What did the Human Rights Campaign get in exchange for once again giving our president cover for all of his broken promises to our community? Absolutely nothing.”
The “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy began in 1993 when then President Bill Clinton sought to build political consensus for allowing gay and bisexuals to serve openly in the US Military. The proposed change ran into considerable opposition, led by then Senator Sam Nunn, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colon Powell.
The policy then in effect was that any service man or woman discovered to be gay or bisexual would be immediately separated from the armed forces. “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was meant to be a compromise. In effect, the US Military would no longer “actively investigate” members of the military and in exchange gay and bisexual service men and women would, in effect, have to remain in the closet. Those discovered to be gay or bisexual were still subject to being discharged. The “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy was enshrined in federal law.
President Clinton was criticized at the time for waffling on his pledge to end discrimination against gays in the military. Many pointed out that until “Don’t ask don’t tell” was passed as a federal law, President Clinton could have ended discrimination against gays in the military by executive order, in his capacity as Commander in Chief of the US armed forces.
On the other hand, President Clinton’s defenders point out that Clinton was faced with a number of political battles in 1993 over issues including deficit reduction and health care reform and that gays in the military was proving to be an embarrassing distraction.
Fast forward sixteen years. The deficit is an even bigger problem and there is another fight over health care reform. President Obama has made a bold promise to end “Don’t ask don’t tell” and gay rights groups are naturally skeptical. While ending “don’t ask don’t tell” is popular across party lines among the general population, it remains controversial within the military itself. If President Obama were to press to repeal “don’t ask don’t tell” he would almost certainly be accused of providing a distraction while the military is engaged in a war in Afghanistan. With health care reform and cap and trade proving to be grinding, political warfare, would President Obama actually give up more political capital to try to end “don’t ask don’t tell?”
Likely not. That is why gay rights groups are correct in holding President Obama to a higher standard than-say-the Nobel Prize Committee.
Sources: Gays question Obama ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ pledge, Christine Simmons, AP, October 11th, 2009
Where’s the Beef?, John Aravosis, AmericaBlog, October 10th, 2009