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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Promises, Promises

When I heard about this, all I could think about was that line in Top Gun, "your ego is writing checks your body can't cash."

President Barack Obama reaffirmed his campaign pledge to end the ban on homosexuals serving openly in the military in a speech Saturday, but offered no
timetable or specifics for acting on that longstanding promise.

He acknowledged to a cheering crowd that some policy changes he promised on the campaign trail are not coming as quickly as they expected.

"I will end 'don't ask-don't tell,"' Obama said to a standing ovation from the crowd of about 3,000 at the annual dinner of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay civil rights advocacy group.

What a pickle he's now in. Taking on this issue is political quicksand. Bill Clinton raced to get below 50% approval at the beginning of his term exactly because he decided to take on a similar promise at the beginning of his term. We got the aforementioned "don't ask don't tell". We also got an unnecessarily weakened president and that didn't help any when he went after health care.

President Obama is looking at an even bigger problem. He's already weakened. He's racking up controversial issues: health care, Afghanistan, Iran, GITMO, and there's even talk he'll take up immigration. Now, he wants to add yet another divisive issue to his cards.

Of course, besides making an emphatic statement the president gave no details. This certainly sounds like one of those promises he has no intention of keeping. If that's the case, he'll hurt his own credibility. He'll catch flak from his left flank. At some point, he'll want to take on education reform. In order to do that effectively, he'll have to take on the teacher's union. Breaking a promise beholden to the left flank won't help in that.

This is nothing short of politically reckless. This issue doesn't poll well. It forces the President to override nearly the entire military apparatus. The overwhelming advice from generals and other officers would be to keep the current policy in place. Furthermore, we're in the middle of a war with two fronts. Is the president really prepared to take on a socialogical experiment in the middle of this? Not only would he suffer politically while he attempted to do it, he'd suffer much worse for any real or perceived negative consequences. Don't ask don't tell isn't as simple as the president would like it to be. Military folks all live together. Some aren't comfortable with gays. That may not be P.C. but it is reality. By forcing openly gay reality on that group dynamic the president opens himself up to the laws of unintended consequences. Since they're unintended, there's no telling what they are. If the president wants the direction of his presidency and the war effort left to forces outside his control he should implement this. If he wants to control the situation as much as possible, he'll keep things the same.

Of course, as you can see, there is no good answer now. Either you implement a bad and very unpopular policy or you break a most public promise. Neither winds up helping your presidency.


Anonymous said...

Again with the Top Gun rhetoric? Does every Republican aspire to be Tom Cruise pretending to be Duke Cunningham or something?

In any case, its not 1994 anymore. Homosexuality is practically irrelevant as a political issue anymore. It was bad enough when the right claimed Clinton's life would be in danger if he visited a military base back then but you're essentially making the same argument right now. Talk about an anachronism.

Do you seriously expect me to believe the military absolutely needs hatred of gays to motivate the troops? Because this whole "unit cohesion" nonsense sounds like what they said about blacks when Truman desegregated the military in the 50s. We were fighting a war back then, too.

Donalbain said...

It seems that it does poll alright. And as for being in a war.. that is the best time to STOP firing people for things completely unrelated to their ability to prosecute that war.

And as for people being homophobes, lots of them were racists, they were told to get the fuck over it and do what they were told when the army was desegregated.