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DADT repeal on schedule -- Obama's schedule

By Jonathan Bernstein

Via Andrew Sullivan, Brian Beutler over at TPM reports that according to Sen. Carl Levin, the Obama administration "got religion on the issue 'in the last few days.' " Sullivan wonders: "Why did Obama change his tune?"

Well, perhaps, but I think the person who nailed this repeatedly last year (for example here) was Mark Kleiman. As he's argued, Obama has followed a slow but steady path, with the key step of getting the military brass solidly on board before throwing it into the publicity glare of congressional action. Kleiman has bet all along that repeal would happen this year, and while the measure will still have to actually have the votes, things look pretty good for repeal as of now.

As far as what changed, that seems fairly obvious to me: The plan for some time has been to add DADT repeal as a rider to the defense appropriations bill. What's changed is the calendar, pure and simple. It's time for approps mark-ups, and so it was time to work the next step out.

This is, of course, typical of the way that Barack Obama goes about business: light on the bluster, don't worry about the ephemeral news cycle, stick to long-term plans. Now, it's also true, reportedly, that activists have been pushing hard on this issue. But that's one of the advantages of the long-term strategy! By keeping a low public profile on issues that were not yet ripe -- by which I mean ready for actual meaningful action, such as a mark-up or a floor vote, not in the more abstract sense -- Obama is able to see which issues really do have constituencies who care, one way or another. Perhaps if advocates of repeal had put most of their energy into other issues, and perhaps if outcry among pro-ban groups had been louder, Obama might have changed course. But it seems to me pretty obvious that repeal has been his intended course from the beginning.

-- Jonathan Bernstein blogs about American politics, political institutions and democracy at A Plain Blog About Politics, and you can follow him on Twitter here.

By Washington Post Editors  |  May 25, 2010; 5:20 PM ET
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Mark Kleiman's a nice guy but I think he's been stunningly naive on this particular issue. The Administration really, really didn't want to do this and has only compromised under relentless pressure from gay groups who elbowed the feckless HRC out of the way and started making a fuss.

Posted by: maakuWP | May 25, 2010 6:31 PM | Report abuse

You may be right that this is how Obama moves -- the flaw is that the result is an activist base that is permanently furious with your seeming hesitancy. This wears people down and minimizes the goodwill you may win if you manage to deliver something. See also: health insurance reform.

Posted by: janinsanfran | May 25, 2010 11:23 PM | Report abuse

janinsanfran, I think the frustration is more short-term than the activist base would make it seem. Come 2012, the people who voted for Obama are going to look back on his first term and see that though the final outcomes haven't always been exactly what they wanted, he's followed through on a ton of the issues that got him elected. Gay rights activists may have been annoyed for a year and a half while HCR and FinReg/jobs were the only things being discussed, but at the end of the day it's looking like DADT will actually get repealed. I know everyone wants their particular favorite/hated issue addressed right now, but people don't vote based on how they feel right now; they vote based on how they feel on election day.

maaKuWP, I don't profess to having some window into Obama's head, but I definitely don't have the feeling that he didn't want to address DADT. I think he just didn't want to address it when it would potentially pull votes away from HCR. Now that HCR has passed, and FinReg is hopefully another couple weeks from being law, he can focus on things like DADT that don't require huge pieces of legislation.

Posted by: MosBen | May 26, 2010 9:21 AM | Report abuse

"maaKuWP, I don't profess to having some window into Obama's head, but I definitely don't have the feeling that he didn't want to address DADT."

I don't know what's going on in his head either, which is why I spoke in terms of the Administration. And certainly you would never get the idea from his public statements. As recently as the SOTU he said he looked forward to working with Congress on it this year. But as has been extensively reported in the gay press, Administration figures have been privately warning the Congress off taking action this year, and Robert Gates escalated to a public request to back off just recently. I'll stop short of accusing them of deliberately trying to delay it to death, but they were absolutely dead set against legislative action this year, which meant the near-certain killing of it in it practice.

Posted by: maakuWP | May 26, 2010 8:18 PM | Report abuse

By rushing legislation to end DADT before the military could complete its study in December, the Obama Democrat Party has demonstrated that it cares far more about the political support of gays and lesbians than it does about the defense of the country.

Posted by: mvd78209 | May 30, 2010 10:50 PM | Report abuse

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