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The Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Farce

When I wrote that the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy would come up for a vote, I said that it was unlikely to be repealed.  What I should have added was that the vote was a complete farce—just empty political theater—since the Democrats were never serious about trying to getting the repeal passed.

Yes, it was Republican senators who—with the help of Arkansas Democrats Blanche Lincoln (D-AK) and Mark Pryor (D-AK)—filibustered the defense authorization bill that would have repealed “don’t ask, don’t tell.” They did that in spite of the fact the majority of Americans dislike the policy, in spite of the fact that President Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen all have said they favor repealing the policy, and in spite of the fact that a federal court ruled that the policy infringes our soldiers’ first amendment rights.

Yes, the Republican reasons for blocking the bill were bad. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said—before joining the Republican filibuster anyway—that “we should welcome the service of these individuals who are willing and capable of serving their country.” But she explained that she wouldn’t vote to end what she herself described as an unfair policy because the way the Democrats were trying to pass the bill—preventing Republicans from adding nuisance amendments designed to destroy it—was unfair to Republicans. In other words, like many Republicans, she justified continuing discrimination against gay and lesbian service member on partisan procedural grounds. Never mind that—as Jon Stewart pointed out on The Daily Show—she had supported using precisely the same tactics against the Democrats to pass a bill shielding gun manufacturers from liability when the Republicans were the majority. This is like justifying a vote for segregation on the grounds that the other party is being too pushy about ending it.

But the Democratic leadership was never serious about repealing the policy either. If they had wanted to they could have brought the repeal for a vote separately from the defense authorization bill. That might have lost the vote a couple of Democrats. But it also would have put moderate Republicans like Sen. Collins and Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) on the spot. And it would have forced Republicans to take responsibility for their opposition to repeal. Instead the Democrats handed Republicans an excuse for voting against repeal, while allowing Republicans to claim they’re not actually opposed to repeal itself. The Democrats made sure repeal would never pass in any case by also attaching the controversial DREAM Act giving some illegal immigrants a chance a path to citizenship—which they also weren’t serious about passing—to the bill. The truth is that Democrats were more concerned with getting Republicans to vote against repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” before the election than they ever were about repealing it themselves.

This is the worst kind of partisan politics. Both parties used arguments over procedure to distract us from what’s really at stake. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is a civil rights issue—and it’s making our military less effective. It’s time to give repeal an up-or-down vote. And when someone volunteers to put their life on their line in the service of their country, just shake their hands and thank them.


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