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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Obama Shying Away From a Fight He's Sure to Win

Banner that reads 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell Discriminates!'
Yesterday, the Supreme Court turned down a challenge to the military's ban on gays serving openly. In declining to hear a suit brought by former Army Captain James E. Pietrangelo II, the court let stand a lower court's decision. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) will stand. "Pietrangelo appealed to the Supreme Court on his own, while most of the other plaintiffs asked the court to not to review the case, preferring to allow the administration to deal with the issue," the Washington Post reports.

For now. The Obama administration has promised to do away with the ban, but that seems to be one the backburner -- so far back, in fact, that the Supreme Court's decision was a win for the administration. "When Barack Obama sought the presidency, he pledged to reverse the 'Don't ask, don't tell' policy preventing gays and lesbians from serving openly in the U.S. military," according to a piece at TIME. "Yet on Monday, the Supreme Court rejected a gay Ohio soldier's challenge to the law -- with the legal backing of none other than the Obama Administration."

The administration sees legislative action as the only lasting solution. It's hard to see why a court decision wouldn't have the sort of legs a law would -- I give you Roe v. Wade -- but this is the argument. The administration has a plan to end DADT, we're assured, so don't get so antsy.

And the administration, already fighting for economic recovery, is concentrated on health care reform. It's widely believed that the White House thinks they have no political capital to spare -- it's now or never for health care reform.

But how much political capital would it take to end DADT? Turns out the answer is "not much."

A Gallup poll out last Friday asked respondents, "Do you favor or oppose allowing openly gay men and lesbian women to serve in the military?" 69% answered that they do.

Not really news. It's no secret that most people think this whole thing is stupid. We look around the world and see other militaries working just fine with openly gay service members. And not just from those liberal elitist nations in effete Europe -- the Israeli military has no ban on gays. There may be a lot of bad things you can say about the Israeli Defense Force, but one of them isn't that they're ineffective and lack "unit cohesion."

"They’re citizens of Israel, like you and me," says one Israeli officer. "The sexual orientation of the workers around me doesn’t bother me."

Gallup shows that majorities share that view. Notice the plural there. Gallup found no demographic group with a majority supporting DADT. Among self-described liberals, 86% favor openly gay service members. Among moderates, it's 77%. Conservatives score 58% in favor. In terms of party, 82% of Democrats, 67% of Independents, and 58% of Republicans would like to see "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" go away.

Go to church? Odds are good you want to see it go, too. The numbers rise as the regularity of church attendance falls, but even self-described weekly churchgoers support gays serving openly by a whopping 60% -- among those who only see the inside of a church at weddings and funerals, it's 76%.

And Gallup's still not done nailing down the various demos. Men score 64%, women 73%. 18-29 year-olds favor repeal by 78%, a number that falls as the demos age, but still winds up at 60% for those 65 or older. 77% of people in the east want it gone, along with 76% of midwesterners, 71% of westerners, 57% of southerners. Again, no demographic polled showed anything close to a majority in favor of DADT.

"Gallup Poll data from 2009 reveal that majority support among Americans for repealing 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' has only strengthened in recent years," the pollster reports. "Repealing the policy is a promise Obama made on the campaign trail and is one that gay rights groups have recently been more vocal in urging him to fulfill. While the administration to date has not taken action on the issue, the Gallup Poll data indicate that the public-opinion environment favors such a move."

So, really, how much political capital would it take to do this now? It's clear no one would be voted out of office because of their opposition to DADT -- even in the South or other deep red state areas. This isn't exactly a challenging issue. If we were to put it up to a popular vote today (and no, a national referendum isn't constitutional, so we can't), a repeal of DADT would win easily.

I understand that health care reform is a pressing issue. It's good for the economy and it's good for our nation's health. In fact, universal coverage was the first issue I ever worked on as a political fundraiser -- it's important to me too.

But there really isn't any risk here in doing the right thing about this ridiculous "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ban. As Matthew Yglesias once said, "I think walking and chewing gum at the same time is part of the president's job."


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