Please don’t ask again
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.