Senate wrong to leave 'don't ask, don't tell' in place

Now, let's see.

Around two-thirds of the American public want it.

Around 60 percent of the men and women in the armed forces want it.

Most of the military brass finally came around to admitting it is time for it.

The president of the United States wants it.

The U.S. House of Representatives wants it.

But when the U.S. Senate finally had a chance to do it Thursday, they sat on their hands out of pique because the desire of Republican senators to continue tax cuts to fat cats was not being considered first.

And a move to repeal the shameful "don't ask, don't tell" policy in the U.S. military was defeated.

Everybody claimed somebody else was taking hostages. Democrats were holding tax cuts hostage to force action on unemployment benefits and gays serving openly in the military. Republicans were holding those issues hostage to get the action they wanted on extending the tax cuts.

I sort of wish they would stop taking hostages and, being a deliberative body, go ahead and deliberate.

The "don't ask, don't tell" policy arose 17 years ago when then-President Bill Clinton backed down for Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the brass who opposed allowing gays to serve openly. There is a very slight chance that a repeal of that measure will be reintroduced this session. And there is a likelihood that a federal court decision in the near future will accomplish the same thing, although in a much more disorderly fashion than could have occurred if the Senate moved Thursday.

But for right now, as of this writing, the issue is dead in the water. Once again, promises made to gay men and women that they could exercise their right to serve and die for their country as who they are, rather than hiding behind a nudge and a wink, go unfulfilled.

If I were gay, I would mute the sound on my television set any time a Democratic presidential candidate began any sentence with the words, "We're going to …"

And Thursday's drama had its share of self-righteous politicians claiming that they weren't opposed to the principle behind the legislation, only to the procedure.

That doesn't mean much to a segment of our population that is wooed every two years in the months leading up to elections, and then left at the altar afterward … oh, wait … they can't do that either in most states.

So, while we are talking about the process, I have to admit that I am a little amazed by the way the problem was approached.

There was a survey, the one in which most service members said they had no problem with gays serving openly. And I actually heard Sen. John McCain asking querulously why direct questions hadn't been asked (they were) so a "consensus" could be reached.

Wait a minute.

"Survey"?

"Consensus"?

Really?

During my five years in the United States Marine Corps, I must have missed all of those meetings where our officers got us all into a room and said, "Hey guys, we're thinking about some major policy changes, and also about invading this country down in the Caribbean, so we'd appreciate it if you guys would fill out these forms and then spitball it around for a while and let us know what you think later. Come on. It'll be fun. We'll have a campfire and s'mores and we'll all sing Kumbaya together."

The U.S. Constitution provides for civilian control of the military, not vice versa. When generals and admirals balked at Clinton's plan to lift the ban on gays serving in the military, the correct answer should have been: "Because I am the commander-in-chief, and if Congress and I say you will, do it." It happened when Harry Truman, the last president for whom any buck stopped anywhere, integrated the military in 1948, and the concept of who's running things was reinforced when he fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur, a national icon, in 1951.

For those of you wondering why President Barack Obama doesn't just order the policy lifted … he can't. It is the Uniform Code of Military Justice that prohibits homosexual conduct, and the UCMJ is a federal statute. Only Congress can change it.

If they ever get around to it.

It is certainly a good idea for presidents to seek advice from military leaders, and then to do the right, if not the popular, thing.

And nobody expects rank-and-file service members to like everything that they are ordered to do. Nobody who ever ate chipped beef on toast would doubt that. There was resistance to integration, resistance to increased combat roles for women, and even recently, to women serving in submarines.

Every time there is a major change in any organization, there is a group who doesn't like the change. Members of that group either leave or get asked to leave, people adjust and the mission goes on.

Tying a major civil rights decision — and, make no mistake, that is what this would have been — to procedural bickering is really a way to be homophobic and discriminatory without admitting it.

It is an embarrassment.

Or it should be.

Senate wrong to leave 'don't ask, don't tell' in place 12/11/10 [Last modified: Saturday, December 11, 2010 1:24pm]

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