Please don’t ask again

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

The com­man­der in chief on Oct. 10 re­it­er­ated his sup­port for hav­ing ho­mo­sex­u­als serve openly in the mil­i­tary. For­tu­nately, there’s a good chance this is an­other is­sue on which Pres­i­dent Obama is all talk.

In his speech at the Hu­man Rights Cam­paign’s an­nual ban­quet, Mr. Obama re­cy­cled can­di­date Barack Obama’s “hope and change” talk­ing points, adding an apol­ogy for not yet de­liv­er­ing on his prom­ises. “I ac­tu­ally have been much more vo­cal on gay is­sues to gen­eral audiences than any other pres­i­den­tial can­di­date prob­a­bly in his­tory,” he told the ac­tivist news­pa­per the Ad­vo­cate in April 2008. How­ever, in that in­ter­view, he cau­tioned that over­turn­ing the mil­i­tary’s ban on ho­mo­sex­u­als would re­quire a con­sen­sus-build­ing process and get­ting a buy-in from the mil­i­tary, some- thing he said would take time.

Nine months into his pres­i­dency, the cred­i­bil­ity gap be­tween words and deeds yawns wider. There is no ev­i­dence that Mr. Obama has been seek­ing any con­sen­sus to change the “don’t ask, don’t tell” pol­icy. The ad­min­is­tra­tion falls back on the line that it’s up to Congress to change the 1993 law that es­tab­lished the com­pro­mise, but law­mak­ers have not been rush­ing to the bar­ri­cades, nor has the White House been push­ing them in that di­rec­tion.

The Obama team is re­ported to be wait­ing for “the right time” to ad­dress the is­sue, but that will be no time soon. Ac­tivists cite polls that seem to sup­port their po­si­tion, such as a De­cem­ber CNN sur­vey show­ing 81 per­cent ap­proval for open ho­mo­sex­u­als serv­ing in the mil­i­tary. Those num­bers were re­leased as the Obama tran­si­tion team was rush­ing to put the is­sue in deep freeze. A May 2009 USA To­day/Gallup Poll showed 69 per­cent back­ing for a pol­icy change, which sug­gests this is­sue is more pop­u­lar than ma­jor Obama ini­tia­tives such as gov­ern­ment health care.

The con­sen­sus in the mil­i­tary, how­ever, is in the other di­rec­tion. The most re­cent Mil­i­tary Times sur­vey showed that 58 per­cent of mil­i­tary re­spon­dents op­pose a pol­icy change, and 24 per­cent said they would ei­ther leave the mil­i­tary (10 per­cent) or con­sider ter­mi­nat­ing their ca­reers af­ter serv­ing their tours of duty (14 per­cent). We don’t know what the ad­min­is­tra­tion con­sid­ers a “buy-in,” but the White House isn’t close to hav­ing mil­i­tary sup­port for end­ing “don’t ask, don’t tell.” The Obama team could be jus­ti­fi­ably con­cerned that push­ing change would be seen as a danger­ous dis­trac­tion at a time when the pres­i­dent is hav­ing dif­fi­culty for­mu­lat­ing a strat­egy for the war in Afghanistan.

Don’t ex­pect move­ment in 2010. The cur­rent Demo­cratic Congress is highly un­pop­u­lar, and there is a grow­ing sense that par­ti­san checks and bal­ances need to re­turn to Wash­ing­ton. It’s un­likely that the Democrats, fac­ing tough midterm elec­tions next year, will risk tak­ing on an is­sue that his­tory has shown can bite them, as it did when Repub­li­cans took the House two years into Pres­i­dent Clin­ton’s first term af­ter he had tried to end the ban on ho­mo­sex­u­als in the mil­i­tary. Mr. Obama drags his feet on dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions, so he prob­a­bly will con­tinue to dis­ap­point his con­stituency on this is­sue, which is fine by us.

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