As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Obama Needs To Step Up And Help Repeal DADT

I highly recommend this segment on the Rachel Maddow show with Dan Choi, a gay veteran and Arabic linguist now being thrown out of the military after coming out on an earlier Maddow program. This is the system that John McCain considers to be "working well." At a time when the military has been forced to loosen their recruitment guidelines to allow admittance for 42 year-olds and the mentally ill, 13,000 members who want to serve have been discharged because of who they choose to love in their personal lives. It's a needless violation of these men and women's dreams and career goals, an unnecessary intrusion into their lives, and a costly policy that doesn't improve unit cohesion or readiness in any way.

Here's Dan Choi discussing his removal from the Army:

CHOI: Well, when I got the letter, I was extremely angry. I was angry -- I mean, the letter is basically saying bottom line, Lieutenant Dan Choi, you're fired. You're a West Point graduate, you're fired. You're an Arabic linguist, you're fired. You deployed to Iraq, you're willing to deploy again, doesn't matter. Because you're gay, that's enough grounds to kick you out.

But the biggest thing that I'm angry about is what it says about my unit. It says that my unit suffered negative good order -- negative actions -- good order and discipline suffered. That's a big insult to my unit.

I mean, all the insult that the letter can do, to say that I'm worthy of being fired, you know, that's nothing comparing to saying that my unit is not professional enough, that my unit does not deserve to have a leader that is willing to deploy, that has skills to contribute.

Choi plans to fight the policy, an opinion he apparently shares with the President. Yet Obama has shied away from meaningfully committing to overturning the policy. He keeps fussing with the language on his website, advocating not a "repeal" but a "change" of the policy. Plus, he could end implementation of the policy and essentially put a moratorium on all discharges right now until the policy review is completed and Congress takes action. I understand that Obama must be looking at the model of Bill Clinton, who came out for full participation of gays in the military in 1993 and eventually had to accept this policy, and he doesn't want to make the same mistake. But there will never be a "good time" to repeal DADT. At some point, leaders lead, and while Eugene Robinson mainly talks about gay marriage in this piece, the exact same statement could be made about DADT:

Before his inauguration, President Obama called himself a "fierce advocate of equality for gay and lesbian Americans." Now, with the same-sex marriage issue percolating in state after state and with the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy ripe for repeal, it's time for Obama to put some of his political capital where his rhetoric is [...]

It seems to me that equality means equality, and either you're for it or you're not. I believe gay marriage should be legal, and it's hard for me to imagine how any "fierce advocate of equality" could think otherwise.

Obama sensibly advocates the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell." He should press the case by publicly reminding opponents of letting gays serve openly in the military that their arguments -- it would hurt morale, damage cohesion and readiness, discourage reenlistment -- are often the same, almost word for word, as the arguments made 60 years ago against racial integration in the armed forces. It was bigotry then, and it's bigotry now.

Obama should also make the obvious case that forcibly discharging capable, fully trained servicemen and servicewomen for being gay, at a time when our overstretched military is fighting two big wars, can only be described as insane.

Congress needs to act to fully repeal DADT, and Rush Holt, among others, have committed to that option. One of them is, interestingly enough, Rep. Joe Sestak, a retired Navy Admiral talking about primarying Arlen Specter in the Senate race in Pennsylvania. While Sestak may be moderate on a few issues, he has always been out front on the issue of DADT repeal.

SESTAK: First, Lieutenant, thanks for your service to our nation. And I think this is indicative of the kind of quality of man and woman that we have lost. Look, I went to war, and we knew by survey that when I went to war that we had a certain percentage in that carrier battle group, and when I was on the ground briefly in Afghanistan, that were gay. And now we come back to America and say they don't have equal rights. I've never understood it. This is something where we have to correct this. It's just not right.

MADDOW: When the president says, Admiral Sestak, when he says that it could be slow going in part because it has to move through Congress -- and again, we know this because he wrote it in a handwritten letter to somebody who is currently being kicked out of the military, as Lieutenant Choi is -- he's essentially saying that Congress will be part of the reason that this needs to go slow. But you're saying that this could actually happen quite quickly.

SESTAK: I think it could, yes. I think the president as commander in chief needs to be the one that says to the military -- and I understand what Secretary Gates said recently about the plate is kind of full -- that's not the Defense Department's decision. This is the commander in chief's decision to say we need to change it, which he has [...]

And I know there's several of us veterans here -- Patrick Murphy, Eric Massa, myself, you know, warriors, veterans, like the lieutenant, that want to, as Ellen Tauscher, who is the primary mover of this, goes off to the State Department, that we can pick it up as co-sponsors, and hopefully rapidly move it. If it's a law, I think we should do it by due process.

Just as fascinating, the aforementioned main sponsor of the bill, Ellen Tauscher, is moving to the State Department, and among the candidates readying themselves to replace her is gay veteran Anthony Woods, who served two tours in Iraq as a platoon leader before coming out to his superiors and being discharged from the military. Woods would rather not be pigeonholed as the gay DADT candidate, and he has much more to offer than that. But clearly he becomes a powerful symbol in this debate, one that the President could end quickly with a little leadership.

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