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Hope, But Verify

Jim Burroway

December 20th, 2010

One way or another, President Barack Obama’s strategy for repealing DADT has somehow paid off. I was skeptical because if it were possible to design a strategy intended to fail, this would be how you do it, by timing a Pentagon study to finish after after midterm elections and holding off a vote until a contentious lame duck session of Congress. And with a Republican majority waiting in the wings in the House, it was all but certain that if DADT repeal failed this year, it would be several years before we would get another crack at it. This narrowed the opportunity for repeal’s passage to just a few short weeks. And when Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid called a snap vote on December 9th without even taking the minimal care of ensuring he had the votes lined up on the Democratic side — Sen. Blanche Lincoln was sitting in the dentist’s chair when the roll was called — it appeared that the entire effort to repeal DADT was nothing but a charade.

In the end, President Obama’s strategy worked after all. But it worked not so much because it was a brilliant strategy but because he was lucky. He was lucky that Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) took DADT repeal seriously more than just about anyone else in the Senate, and that Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) saw an opportunity to stand on the right side of history slipping away. I know it galls a lot of people to say this, but we actually have the hard work and perseverance of Sens. Lieberman and Collins to thank for retrieving the legislation from the shredder when everyone else said it couldn’t be done.

I have no doubt that President Obama wants DADT repealed. I do however have doubts about his urgency. The law is comatose — President Barack Obama is expected to sign the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010 some time this week — but the policy remains. The legislation that recently passed the Senate only repeals the law that prohibits LGBT people from serving in the military. It does not require that the military permit LGBT people to serve openly. What’s more, the new law doesn’t repeal the old law right away, but sets out a process by which the policy can be rescinded. President Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mulling must certify to Congress in writing that the military has drafted the necessary policies and regulations, and that the changes will not impact troop readiness, cohesion or military recruitment and retention. After that certification has been sent to Congress, sixty days must pass before DADT becomes history.

If certification were sent to Congress tomorrow, DADT cannot be officially repealed until the end of February. And we know that certification won’t come tomorrow. In fact, we have no idea when it will occur because the new law does not give a timetable. That uncertainty is leading to widespread speculation of how long repeal will actually take. Some say six months; others a year or even longer:

The service chiefs wanted to have more than a year to implement the new policy, citing the need to train the force and prepare it for “open service,” according to a source close to the matter.

Marine Commandant Gen. Jim Amos, for example, may demand that physical modifications be made to accommodate concerns among some Marines about showering with other Marines who are serving openly. All of this could take time.

Amos may have backing on Capitol Hill, where Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), a former Marine, has been pushing the Pentagon to phase in any new policy. Webb said in a statement last week that Defense Secretary Robert Gates confirmed to him that implementation would be “sequenced in order to protect small unit cohesion.”

“We have not determined the specific methodology that would be used should this legislation pass, but I can assure you that the specific concerns that you raise will be foremost in my mind as we develop an implementation plan,” Gates told Webb in a Dec. 17 letter. “Further, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and I remain committed to work closely with the Service Chiefs and the Combatant Commanders in developing this process.”

The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) and Secretary Gates caution LGBT service members from coming out just yet and for good reason: DADT is still on the books, and will be for quite some time.

The hard work of convincing Congress to repeal the law is over. For that we can celebrate. But now we must roll up our sleeves and begin the hard work of pushing the White House and the Defense Department to follow through with repeal. When Obama took office, the White House Web site offered a very specific set of promises to the LGBT community, and we’ve been trying to hold a reluctant administration accountable to those promises ever since then. We can see repeal on the horizon, but we’re not there yet. Once repeal is an actual fact on the ground, then we can give the President credit for accomplishing this task. But not before then.

Update: The Advocate reports that the repeal legislation will be signed on Wednesday.

Comments

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John in the Bay Area
December 20th, 2010 | LINK

I do hope that Log Cabin can continue it’s lawsuit against this Administration. Until the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has been fully implemented, there is no reason to abandon this lawsuit.

Lucrece
December 20th, 2010 | LINK

2/7, not great. HCA and DADT were the least controversial and barely passed. No housing/employment discrimination in the future with Republicans, and DOMA will need to be through the courts as there’s no way in Hell it’ll be legislatively repealed.

Timothy Kincaid
December 20th, 2010 | LINK

On the flip side, however, is that while the policy is not officially repealed, its implementation is over. With Gates demanding that every DADT discharge get his personal approval, the expulsions are no more.

L. Junius Brutus
December 20th, 2010 | LINK

What strategy? He had none. Obama deserves zero credit for what happened. Lieberman and Collins were the one who did all the work. The only thing Obama deserves (dubious) credit for, is for losing the Democrats the House.

Also, on the list, points three and four are basically the same, and the last two points are not gay issues. So I guess Obama is 2 out of 5 – which will likely not change throughout his presidency.

B John
December 20th, 2010 | LINK

Thank you Junius, you took the words right out of my mouth…what strategy? The guy never picked up the phone and called anyone.

Maybe “no strategy” was the secret strategy. I’ll bet Gibbs tries to paint that picture at the next press gaggle.

At this point, I wouldn’t even be surprised if the guy doesn’t issue a signing statement saying he doesn’t have to follow the repeal. “Barack Obama: Best Republican President since Ronald Regan.”

Dan
December 20th, 2010 | LINK

I was a Democrat ’til this year and am now an independent — but I have to say that LCR deserves most of the credit for the repeal measure. We need them to continue their suit if we’re to have confidence that repeal will stay on track.

Employment and housing nondiscrimination are the least likely to come through the courts. We need ENDA, and according to the HRC, it might pass during the lame duck session. Congress has, potentially, ’til early January.

We need the legislature to get that done.

Dan
December 20th, 2010 | LINK

Toward the end, Obama did call several on-the-fence legislators.

Emily K
December 20th, 2010 | LINK

All I could think about during this time is that if McCain had been elected, there is NO WAY that the bill would have gone through. Even if it had slid past both houses easily he would never have signed it. He made that abundantly clear the past couple months especially.

Yeah, nobody likes the “lesser of two evils” canard, but in this case, the choice is between a guy who would have stood in our way at this point, or a guy who actually does want this policy done away with. No he didn’t do enough. But at least in the end he’s doing what he promised he’d do.

John in the Bay Area
December 20th, 2010 | LINK

Emily,

I fully agree that Obama is the lesser of two evils, but Obama only responds to aggressive pressure. One thing that we have learned from this President and this overwhelmingly Democratic Congress is that we cannot sit back and wait for anyone to do the right thing. We have to push, and push, and threaten them and embarrass them and push some more in order to get the smallest steps towards equality enacted. Being nice just gave Obama the opportunity to waste 2 years in office with barely anything to show for it on equality for gay and lesbian Americans. We were damn lucky to get this win from this Congress and this President.

Matt
December 20th, 2010 | LINK

Perhaps it’s better to be lucky than good sometimes.

Erin
December 20th, 2010 | LINK

What Emily K said. My girlfriend and I were talking about that when we watched him mutter that ridiculous crap about soldiers losing limbs. (They love to exploit the stories of soldiers killed and wounded in the war they started)Not only would he have vetoed this, if Congress even attempted it, knowing they wouldn’t have his signature, he also would have gotten to appoint 2 Supreme Court justices. We all know how important court cases can be for our rights. A McCain presidency would have been a complete and utter disaster for gay rights.

L. Junius Brutus
December 21st, 2010 | LINK

“Even if it had slid past both houses easily [McCain] would never have signed it.”

Ah, so Obama deserves credit for not vetoing this bill?

“He made that abundantly clear the past couple months especially.”

And Giuliani made it abundantly clear the past months that he would have signed it.

Equal rights are just a minor “policy preference” for Obama. If it were up to him, he would give us equality, but he doesn’t really care, nor does he want to expend significant political capital (or indeed, any political capital whatsoever) on getting equal rights. I don’t really care that Obama does not support gay marriage, but the fact that he will do zilch to get us what he does support (like ENDA), does disturb me.

L. Junius Brutus
December 21st, 2010 | LINK

Erin: “A McCain presidency would have been a complete and utter disaster for gay rights.”

And… no one is disputing that, but I am saying that Obama is fairly useless.

Emily K
December 21st, 2010 | LINK

Ah, so Obama deserves credit for not vetoing this bill?

Yup.

L. Junius Brutus
December 21st, 2010 | LINK

Well, then that explains a lot. I would have given Bush credit if he wouldn’t veto stuff like this, because it would actually require courage and risk-taking. For Obama, it’s a no-brainer.

Jason D
December 21st, 2010 | LINK

Obama has been putting pressure on Congress about DADT since he got into office.
As Dan mentioned, he did actually call some fence sitters recently.

Do all of you assume that if it’s not in the press or on C-Span it’s not happening? You are aware there are behind the scenes conversations, right?

He made it clear he wanted this done in a lasting way by congress. And oh look, he’s signing the very document tomorrow. We about halfway through his presidency and we’re about to check off 2 things on the list.

He deserves no credit because he didn’t spend every waking hour working on repeal. Because he didn’t issue an executive order which would take the heat off but easily undone by the next president.

He appears to be keeping the promises he made, just not fast enough, vigorously enough, and the way you want him to do it.
You know who wants to micromanage the government? The Tea Party, which many of you are starting to sound like.

How petty is it to basically say “yeah he did it, but not fast enough, and not the way I wanted it done.” Did he promise to do it faster, or a different way, then why was that your expectation?

L. Junius Brutus
December 21st, 2010 | LINK

“You are aware there are behind the scenes conversations, right?”

Oh, you seem to be aware of them, alright. Secret for all but you.

“We about halfway through his presidency and we’re about to check off 2 things on the list.”

And that is about to stay that way, because he lost the Democratic majority in the House.

“Did he promise to do it faster, or a different way, then why was that your expectation?”

He certainly did not promise to be pressured by Congress into acting. And whatever happened to ENDA? He couldn’t get it passed with 258/60 votes? Impressive.

I didn’t expect him to repeal DOMA, because that would be rather hard, but passing a bill (ENDA) that the Democrats already passed in 2007 with a much smaller majority? Hillary would have done it. And she also wouldn’t have lost the Democrats the majority in the House.

Priya Lynn
December 21st, 2010 | LINK

Junius said “He certainly did not promise to be pressured by Congress into acting.”.

And he didn’t promise to not be pressured by congress into acting.

Priya Lynn
December 21st, 2010 | LINK

To some of you it seems to matter very little that the repeal was passed and a great deal that it was not passed in the way you would have liked. One thing’s for sure though, without Obama repeal wouldn’t have happened at all. If you really cared about repeal you’d be damn glad for that.

Aeval
December 21st, 2010 | LINK

One must not forget that Barak Obama is the president of a nation where same-sex sexual activity has been legal nationwide for only 8 years.

L. Junius Brutus
December 21st, 2010 | LINK

“To some of you it seems to matter very little that the repeal was passed and a great deal that it was not passed in the way you would have liked.”

Not at all, it passed exactly the way I would have liked it. I think it’s stupid to expecte an executive order, that would have been illegal, because an EO can’t overturn an Act of Congress. Also, the people who heckled him were idiots. I just don’t think that Obama deserves any credit whatsoever for this repeal – he didn’t do squat. The fact of the matter is that without all the pressure we exerted, Obama would have been perfectly fine doing nothing on DADT, just like he did nothing to advance ENDA (which could have easily passed).

“One must not forget that Barak Obama is the president of a nation where same-sex sexual activity has been legal nationwide for only 8 years.”

And that explains why you wouldn’t act on issues that have majority support (like DADT and ENDA) when your opponents are slowly trying to back away from fighting on those issues?

Obama is (one of the people) to blame for ENDA’s demise.

Timothy Kincaid
December 21st, 2010 | LINK

I, for one, have been disappointed in the President’s commitment to equality. However, if his half-hearted effort contributed and if his pen will be signing the bill, then I will delightedly praise the President for his part in ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

The law banning gay servicemembers will be gone tomorrow, and I am willing to thank ANYONE who contributed to its ending. This week I’m just too happy to scrimp on praise.

Jason D
December 21st, 2010 | LINK

“You are aware there are behind the scenes conversations, right?”

Oh, you seem to be aware of them, alright. Secret for all but you.

Um, No, sweetheart. EVERYONE knows they happen. It’s no secret, it’s common sense, dear. If you really, truthfully, honestly, think that NOTHING ever happens in washington unless a camera or reporter is present—then I think it’s time to seek help.

L. Junius, but by all means, continue harpooning our supporters whatever form and degree their support takes. Please, please stab everyone in the foot who’s not running fast enough for that equality finish line.

Good lord people, THIS is why we fail. There’s critique and there’s just plain nitpicking. Sometimes the right wing is right; sometimes we are a bunch of spoiled brats the way we nitpick, move goalpoasts and WHINE WHINE WHINE about how advocate XYZ isn’t doing things exactly the way we want. The Waaambulance is outside waiting for you.

I get the feeling even if Obama manages a second term and crosses everything off that list that BTB shows us, some of you, hell TOO MANY of you will still be grumpy malcontents crying about how it wasn’t fast enough, it wasn’t done the right way, and why was there only one damn cherry on top???

L. Junius Brutus
December 21st, 2010 | LINK

“Um, No, sweetheart. EVERYONE knows they happen. It’s no secret, it’s common sense, dear. If you really, truthfully, honestly, think that NOTHING ever happens in washington unless a camera or reporter is present—then I think it’s time to seek help.”

Who taught you logic, Sarah Palin? You claimed to know that (1) “Obama has been putting pressure on Congress about DADT since he got into office.”. When asked what your evidence is, (2) you referred to “behind the scenes conversations”. When I commented that these are secret, but that you appear to know what they were about, you (3) acted as if I was denying the very fact that such secret talks. Actually, I affirmed that they were actually secret, while you claimed that they were not secret, since you have special knowledge of them, enough to say that “Obama has been putting pressure on Congress about DADT since he got into office”.

Now, it could be that you are a clairvoyant, that you somehow know what the contents of these secret talks were. In that case, I will apologize for doubting your extra-sensory perception. But until you establish such, you will only be blathering about secret talks when you know nothing of the contents.

“L. Junius, but by all means, continue harpooning our supporters whatever form and degree their support takes.”

I am pretty sure that we are Obama’s supporters and not vice versa. I expect nothing of ordinary people, but I do expect things from politicians who want the gay people’s support and cash.

“Please, please stab everyone in the foot who’s not running fast enough for that equality finish line.”

One day, people will bash me for being “anti-trans” because of my political realism, the other day, someone will bash me for allegedly expecting too much.

Politics is the art of the possible. ENDA was most certainly possible, which is why I am criticizing Obama for not passing it, despite having huge majorities in Congress. My apologies for not being an Obama fanboy, with blind trust and approval regardless of what the His Excellency does.

(I eagerly await how this comment will be misrepresented.)

palerobber
December 21st, 2010 | LINK

it wasn’t luck.

the late timing of the votes was a mistake but the overall strategy was very deliberate and very effective.

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