The Republican response doesn’t address Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

Timothy Kincaid

January 28th, 2010

With each State of the Union address, the party not occupying the White House issues its response. And while a President may lay out his intentions, the response can often clarify which plans will flow smoothly and which will face fierce resistance.

This year the Republican response was presented by Bob McDonnell, the newly elected Governor of Virginia. And in a speech that in some ways reflected his campaign, McDonnell avoided social issues and focused on jobs, the role of government, and taxes and regulations. Most importantly, he said nothing in response to the President’s promise to “work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are.”

This does not mean that the Party avoided all response to the issue of gays in the Military. John McCain, the 2008 party nominee, responded with a statement:

“In his State of the Union address, President Obama asked Congress to repeal the ‘Don\’t Ask, Don\’t Tell\’ policy. I am immensely proud of, and thankful for, every American who wears the uniform of our country, especially at a time of war, and I believe it would be a mistake to repeal the policy.

“This successful policy has been in effect for over fifteen years, and it is well understood and predominantly supported by our military at all levels. We have the best trained, best equipped, and most professional force in the history of our country, and the men and women in uniform are performing heroically in two wars. At a time when our Armed Forces are fighting and sacrificing on the battlefield, now is not the time to abandon the policy.”

However, it should be noted that this rebuttal is the McCain response, not the Republican response. If I’m evaluating this situation correctly, the Republican Party will be expending little capital this year in opposing the change in Military policy.

And it may be a stretch to read too much into this, but I think I am beginning to see a pattern emerge. It appears to me that anti-gay policies may be shifting from being Official Republican Positions to becoming the positions of Republicans. And this instance is not the only indication of a shift; here are a few other indications.

Recognizing a decline in emphasis on “values issues” within recent elections, some conservatives have been seeking to impose a litmus test on candidates which they would have to pass in order to receive support or funding from the Party. They sought to require that all Republican candidates agree with at least eight of ten key points, including “retention of the Defense of Marriage Act”. It was an effort to diminish moderates and other “RINOs” (Republicans In Name Only).

Although most Republicans could agree on many of the positions, party leadership strongly opposed the effort. Chairman Michael Steele said,

“Every community should have responsibility for deciding who best represents their values, their interests, their principles. I trust them to do that. It is not the business of the RNC,” Steele said. “Ronald Reagan would be ashamed if the party moved in that direction.”

Leaders recognize that purity tests would eliminate the Party’s ability to run candidates in more liberal parts of the country and pointed out that Massachusetts’ Scott Brown likely could not have passed the test. Yesterday, at the RNC’s winter meeting, the state party leaders voted unanimously to reject the proposed restriction.

Another indication that the Party may be allowing dissension on gay issues is the recent public support for gay marriage from John McCain’s wife and daughter. The senator took the opposite position, thus presenting an image that one can be a “good McCain” and, indeed, a “good Republican” and hold differing opinions on issues surrounding gay equality. Nor did party officials loudly condemn Cindy McCain; indeed, it seemed as if they wanted to avoid any discussion of the issue.

Reluctance to visibly oppose marriage equality can also be seen in the response to the District of Columbia’s decision to enact marriage equality. A mere handful of legislators (29) signed an amicus brief in support of having a referendum and visibility on the issue has been scarce. In an election year, the Republican Party has elected not to make gay marriage in the nation’s capital much of an issue at all.

Now, I do not expect that Republicans are now going to immediately become allies of our community. Nor do I have any hope for an outbreak of Republican support for marriage equality.

Also I think that the Dede Scozzafava situation has shown us that hardcore conservatives will not readily or happily accept much divergence from their anti-gay, anti-choice, anti-freedom agenda. They will fight the “big tent” ideology with the vast resources they can muster and will at times be successful.

But I do think that perhaps signals are being sent from Party leaders that individual Republican legislators are free to take positions in opposition to DADT or in favor of ENDA without facing official repercussions or Party sanctions. And, while this could all change at a moment’s notice, I hope that taken together, these signs indicate that the days of the Republican Party using the gay community as a convenient scapegoat for all of the nation’s ills are waning.


January 28th, 2010

Extremely thoughtful summary, Timothy. Thank you.

David C.

January 28th, 2010

The republican party cannot remain viable by moving into the right-most ideological quartile. There simply will not be that much mainstream support for positions found in such extremism.

Rovian division politics, which played a key role in the 2004 presidential election, depended on the strong opposition to marriage equality by religious activists and organizations. The corresponding base has become more ideologically extreme in the years since that time, but mainstream voters have moved in the opposite direction, towards tolerance and equality, and perhaps begun to see so-called “hot-button” social issues such as reproductive choice and gay civil rights as a distraction from the real economic and social problems faced by the country.

The Culture Wars have, in the final analysis, helped no one in the United States, certainly have done harm both in the US and abroad, and have contributed to the polarization and corrosion of public political discourse. Republicans would be wise to distance themselves from the positions of the agitators that insist on continuing to fight them.

Social policies inspired by religious conservatism and instituted by the Bush administration have also been shown to be damaging to public health.

It has also become increasingly clear that DADT is a national security liability though it is still favored by those on the far right.

The majority of the electorate in the US lies in the middle two quartiles of the ideological spectrum. Either extreme is not a tenable place upon which to found the platform of a viable political party, and the Republicans have begun to see this quite clearly, at least the ones that are at all paying attention.


January 28th, 2010

If McCain truly had immense pride and gratitude for *every* American in uniform, then he would not support DADT.

Priya Lynn

January 28th, 2010

Excellent point Alex.


January 28th, 2010

The Pentagon has announced that they will announce a plan of action on DADT on Tuesday. But I’m confused. In reponding to the question about DADT after his speech, Obama said:

“Look, as I said last night, my belief is that a basic principle in our Constitution is that if you’re obeying the law, if you’re obeying the rules, you should be treated the same, regardless of who you are. I think that principle applies to gay and lesbian couples.”

COUPLES? Is that a Freudian slip. I got that quote from Andrew Sullivan who read Marc Armbinder’s blog at the Atlantic.


January 28th, 2010

So 11,000+ discharges and hundreds of millions of dollars wasted is a “successful policy”, Senator McCain? :P


January 29th, 2010

Maybe homosexuality is something the Republicans no longer wish to debate or justify their oposition to. Maybe they just want the discrimination to be treated as an article of faith.


January 29th, 2010

This analysis leaves out a few other recent developments. In the debate in NY and NJ over same-sex marriage bills, there was a lot of silence from the GOP side and unanimous or near unanimous opposition.

There having their cake and eating it, too.

And in Indiana, the “waning” opposition to gay rights has generated UNANIMOUS support among GOP legislators for a constitutional amendment banning SSM and civil unions.

Some might argue that they’re just ashamed to give voice to their views. I think they’re just trying to pull the wool over the eyes of people who think Cindy McCain’s actions mean much.

I hope no one thinks her timing is accidental.


January 29th, 2010

ack! Not “there having their cake”… “THEY’RE having their cake”

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