To Ask or Not To Tell, That is the Question?

Following the news about the U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy can be dizzying. Reporters have a hard time explaining this. Gay citizens are feeling confused and disappointed. Everyone else is just flummoxed. It’s like: Am I reading this correctly?

So, last week a court ruled that DADT is unconstitutional and the Pentagon could not enforce the policy. In turn, the Pentagon announced yesterday that it will stop investigations and discharges of gay soldiers and will now accept openly gay recruits. Nice work.

The then the administration responded by asking for a freeze on that court’s decision. So, in effect, the Pentagon can enforce DADT. Wait… what?

While the appeals court reviews the policy, there’s a lot of judicial uncertainty about what precisely the rules are. So the Department of Justice, with urging from the White House, asked for this stay to temporarily maintain the status quo until there’s a firm decision.

The Obama administration argues that the Department of Defense is a huge bureaucracy and there are a lot of questions to consider, and it will take time to make the necessary preparations. Examples given include the need to overhaul sexual harassment rules, address the question of domestic partner and civil union benefits, and build a sensitivity training program.

OK, I get that a big organization moves slowly, but I’m sorry, no — those are all discrete issues that can be handled separately. What we need is a simple strike-through of DADT. At least take us back to the days before it was installed, for a start. Just eliminate the policy. Then figure out the rest.

An argument President Obama makes against faster change is that it’s unsafe in a time of war. But when is he counting on us not being at war?

He has also said that he wants Congress and not the courts to end the policy. And I guess it would be nice to have a congressional decision on a gay rights matter, to prove to conservatives that there is a taste for gay rights in the country, and to challenge their insistence that we are at the mercy of a handful of “activist judges” who are reading everything all wrong. However, the right thing for Obama to do was to sit back and allow the court ruling against DADT to stand.

Anyway, no one believes we’re going to see a vote to repeal DADT in Congress before the mid-term elections. And after the mid-terms, when Democrats find themselves shut out of Congress, what hope do we have then?

“Change we can believe in” is ready to happen right now. But Obama is bending over for bigots and stalling and making excuses and quibbling about which branch of government should step up and do something about this.

Studies and surveys and polls are showing quite clearly that the public is in favor of reversing DADT, and that doing so would not have a significant impact on troop morale. The secretary of defense, the chair of the joint chiefs, and the president have all stated emphatically that they want to do away with the policy.

But Obama prefers to stick to the bureaucratic slow track, and as a result he finds himself in the untenable position of defending the law he wants to repeal. Consider the political damage that is doing to him. He is keeping it on the books. It might not be his intention, but it is the result. Whatever mistakes Bill Clinton made in installing this policy, this political circus is making everything feel just a little bit worse.


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