Saturday, December 18, 2010
Played with the strategic wizardry of a chess master, President Obama today achieved one of his campaign promises, the repeal of the Clinton-era "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law that was used to purge the American military of lesbians and gays. Coming down to the wire in the lame duck session of Congress, Obama's skill at compromise and building support paid off for a major item in the liberal agenda. Repealing DADT was a campaign slogan, then given more urgency in this year's State of the Union address. He completely lined the ducks up in a row: he organized his Department of Defense and military bigwigs to advocate for repeal, and then worked with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to come up with compromise language to suggest that repeal of the DADT law wouldn't imply immediate culture shock to the armed forces. Through a year of ups and downs, slow advances and setbacks, with the liberal and gay community constantly calling "foul" and suggesting Obama was selling them down the river, the final duck was lined up with his tax compromise that, signed and delivered, allowed him to bust Republican unity and swing several Republican senators over to his side. The vote today was historic, possibly the first piece of stand-alone gay civil rights legislation to pass through Congress. Along the way there was lobbying, backroom deals, protests, and howls of betrayal. As it is, implementation of the repeal is likely to be slow.
On the one hand I think it's important to recognize a civil rights advance, one that adds potential momentum to civil rights advances in other areas, especially employment non-discrimination. It's important to see this as a victory for Obama as well: just weeks after the midterm elections his maneuvering skills seem formidable. The fact that the right and center wings of the Republican party were just completely outmaneuvered is major. We'll see how this plays out after the new year when the House reverts to Republican control: we're not likely to see even minimally progressive legislation make it through there for a while. But I think it's also important to be reminded of what the repeal means: that gay people now have the equal right to kill and die for imperialism.
And this is not an abstraction: the U.S. remains engaged in, depending on how you count, at least two wars of aggression, and numerous questionable military engagements all over the world from Korea to Somalia. All those gay Arabic-language military translators who were fired over the last few years (and there were dozens), they will shortly be able to keep their jobs.... ensuring American and Israeli hegemony in the Middle East. So as much as the extension of a democratic right is a victory, it remains incumbent on those of us on the side of peace to continue to advocate for the gay community to make wise choices. The presence of openly gay volunteer soldiers will not make these wars more just, nor make them go away. These wars are still wrong: don't enlist!
And if Obama's manipulation of the forces of government was a thing to behold, there is a caution for those on the left. He, as a force in the center, is likely to be successful in some ways that are not at all progressive. In that his strategic victories in the DADT fight make him stronger, there is the danger that it makes his repressive instincts stronger also. The Department of Justice has already made raids on leftists in the midwest, attempting to taint certain leftists with the tar of terrorism. His sabre-rattling over Korea and Iran should be watched with caution.
Still, a battle won. I'll take the good news with the bad.
(Graphic "I Want You To Die in a Foreign Desert for Corrupt Politicians...Don't Be An Idiot Don't Join up!" snagged from a comment on Queerty.)