Saturday, December 18, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Think

Senate Repeals Don't Ask Don't Tell:

The Senate on Saturday struck down the ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military, bringing to a close a 17-year struggle over a policy that forced thousands of Americans from the ranks and caused others to keep secret their sexual orientation.

By a vote of 65 to 31, with eight Republicans joining Democrats, the Senate approved and sent to President Obama a repeal of the Clinton-era law, known as “don’t ask, don’t tell,” a policy critics said amounted to government-sanctioned discrimination that treated gay and lesbian troops as second-class citizens.

Mr. Obama hailed the action, which fulfills his pledge to reverse the ban. “As commander in chief, I am also absolutely convinced that making this change will only underscore the professionalism of our troops as the best led and best trained fighting force the world has ever known,” Mr. Obama said in a statement after the Senate, on a 63-33 vote, beat back Republican efforts to block a final vote on the repeal bill.

Of course, what Obama didn't say was "I could have ended this ban via executive order the day I was sworn in; so too could have my predecessor George W. Bush, and his predecessor Bill Clinton, the architect of this abysmal policy."

Because we live in a society where "history" is basically what happened yesterday, people forget that Harry Truman desegregated the troops via executive order in 1948. Had he he had waited for Congress to act, we'd probably still have segregated troops.

Here's some fun, bonus irony: in the 1948 presidential election, the loudest objection to Truman's action came from Deep South Senators, one of whom, Strom Thurmond, used the issue to whip up support for his pro-segregation platform; in 2010, every Deep South Senator (almost none of whom has ever served in the military) voted against repealing DADT.

The point being: presidential timbre and testicular fortitude, shall we say, ain't what it used to be. Truman did the right thing, the politics of race be damned, but Don't Ask Don't Tell represented the worst of triangulation. You can triangulate all kinds of issues, if you prefer, but civil rights isn't one of them.

Oh well. To the ash heap of history it goes, 17 long years later and thousands of lives and careers ruined for naught. A bittersweet victory, indeed.

I'll close this post with words from Truman's announcement ending the segregation of troops:

“It is my deep conviction that we have reached a turning point in the long history of our efforts to guarantee a freedom and equality to all our citizens. And when I say all Americans -- I mean all Americans.”

If only we had modern presidents of that caliber anymore.