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Posted at 4:12 PM ET, 12/ 3/2010

What are opponents of DADT repeal thinking?

By Greg Sargent

One thing that's been oddly missing from the debate in the Senate over repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell is any discussion of the moral and human dimensions of this story, at least as it concerns the gay service-members themselves. The discussion has mostly focused on how straight troops will be impacted, and has otherwise been bone dry: It's all about what the statistics in the Pentagon report actually reveal and whether Robert Gates will implement repeal on a sufficiently flexible timetable.

Indeed, when Senator James Webb today asked the Service Chiefs a simple question about the gay human beings impacted by this discriminatory policy, everyone at the hearing acted a bit startled. Webb asked: What should we do with gay patriotic Americans who have already served our country for years, and want to lead free and open lives? Everyone looked uncomfortable, as if Webb had gone way off topic.

Matthew Yglesias today wonders what on earth opponents of DADT repeal are thinking. As he says, at bottom this debate is really about whether we are going to treat gays as "free and equal citizens of the country," or whether they're "some kind of subordinate class." Opponents of DADT repeal will deny this up and down, saying this is nothing like the debate over whether to racially integrate the armed forces.

So here's my question: Is it possible that one of the things holding up repeal is that many people simply haven't had an up-close view of the ugliness of anti-gay bigotry, and aren't willing to believe the push for equality for gays is on a moral par with other major civil rights battles?

I have seen anti-gay bigotry up close. I grew up in Greenwich Village in the 1970s, back when it was in many ways a gay ghetto and was also torn by serious class tensions, as working class catholics were getting slowly priced out of the neighborhood. Violent gay bashing incidents were routine.

One thing I distinctly remember from my childhood is seeing bands of thuggish-looking young men from outside the neighborhood cruising around in cars and vans, shouting "f*ggot" out the windows and even occasionally hunting for lone gay men to jump. I lived a few blocks away from a notorious gay bar that was the scene of a string of violent assaults. When the AIDS crisis hit -- and government looked the other way for far too long -- it directly impacted people close to my parents. Cops mounting raids on underground gay clubs was a common occurence, and the open abuse of gays on the streets persisted for years, if not decades.

I'm not saying this legacy necessarily means we shouldn't be debating the impact repeal would have on the armed forces. Of course we should. But it seems to me that the broader discussion has been largely antiseptic and lacking in moral urgency and historical depth. I wonder whether it's because people have mostly been insulated from the ugliness of anti-gay bigotry. I'd be very interested to hear from others on this.

By Greg Sargent  | December 3, 2010; 4:12 PM ET
Categories:  Senate Dems, Senate Republicans, gay rights  
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Next: Happy Hour Roundup

Comments

It is time that three homophobes were separated from the military and younger fresher minds took those slots. The greatest general of the ancient world, Alexander the Greek, conquered the known world in his time -- his homosexuality neither disrupted his military nor caused any reduction in effectiveness.

EVERY Samuri was inducted to the Samuri code by his mentor/master in an explicitly homosexual relationship, and not the best US combat warrior could ever defeat a mediocre Samuri in hand-to-hand combat.

King David in the Bible, the winingest general the Isrealis ever had, then or now, was openly homosexual with King Saul's son.

You can argue what you like but the historical facts call you a liar if you claim that gays cannot produce the best soldiers the world has ever seen. In fact, showing up the wimpy straights could be the cause of homophobia -- the gays are just so obviously better qualified that it's embarrassing to the red-neck drunk 30% of whinny complainers.

There are already gays in the military. That's why 80,000 have been separated by DADT, many of them with more important skills and medals for bravery being badmouthed by some drunken redneck lowbrow privates who never distinguished themselves in combat at all.

It is clear that many officers in the military VIOLATED THIS LAW, they did ASK, they witchhunted private emails from people who never TOLD. If you are kicking out somebody, let's kick out every officer who violated the law and revoke their pension! Gay taxpayers should not be supporting homophobe haters who break the law!

I'll trade you, one hatefilled homophobe kicked to the curb for every gay you bully. This policy ends fast when the ASKERS get their ASK kicked!

McCain has aided and abetted criminal conduct of officers who DID ASK, poked into secret private emails like they were wikileakers. The DADT law is clear: DON'T ASK! Violaters must get their ASK kicked. One officer will be fired for every gay discharge. Gay Taxpayers do not need to support homophobe bullies and their criminal acts. The bums certainly deserve to lose their pensions for dishonorable actions. They need to find out what it is like to look for a job at 45 years old with no pension, no medical care waiting for you. Trade you ONE FOR ONE, bullies! Go ahead McCain, MAKE MY DAY!

Posted by: Liann | December 3, 2010 4:22 PM | Report abuse

Susan Collins:

"After hearing powerful testimony from Secretary of Defense Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen, and reviewing the results of the Pentagon report, I remain convinced that the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy," implemented under President Clinton, should be repealed. And, I agree with Secretary Gates that the issue should be decided by Congress, not the courts.

[and here comes the kicker...]

"Once the tax issue is resolved, I have made it clear that if the Majority Leader brings the Defense Authorization bill to the floor with sufficient time allowed for debate and amendments, I would vote to proceed to the bill."

http://collins.senate.gov/public/continue.cfm?FuseAction=PressRoom.PressReleases&ContentRecord_id=ade8649d-010d-40c0-99f8-43ec52366ef0&CFID=64149682&CFTOKEN=13689783

Thank you and goodnight.

Posted by: Ethan2010 | December 3, 2010 4:24 PM | Report abuse

No Greg, it needs to stay "antiseptic", not a crusade. The humanity of the community has been established, perhaps in part by the horror of AIDS.
The human equality issue is over, as it is for women, religious diversity and so on. But cleaning up the mess of bigotry takes a lot of time and hard work on the part of people who did not make the mess.

DADT has always been about when not if. Allowing the "morality" of all of this stupidity back through the door would be a disaster.

Posted by: shrink2 | December 3, 2010 4:28 PM | Report abuse

"and aren't willing to believe the push for equality for gays is on a moral par with other major civil rights battles?"

Unless I'm mistaken, doesn't the African-American community reject that argument? For example, I recall that most of the opposition to DC's gay marriage (civil unions?) came from African American pastors and churches who vehemently rejected the comparison.

Posted by: NoVAHockey | December 3, 2010 4:28 PM | Report abuse

Ethan, Collins still gave herself two outs there.

And I don't care if some African Americans reject the comparison.

Posted by: Greg Sargent | December 3, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse

@Greg: "moral urgency and historical depth"

Sorry bud, those don't exist in politics anymore.

Of course, in the broader sense you are absolutely correct.

Maybe the better way of approaching this topic is to ask generally whether or not "moral urgency and historical depth" even exist in politics.

Posted by: Ethan2010 | December 3, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

@Greg: "Is it possible that one of the things holding up repeal is that many people simply haven't had an up-close view of the ugliness of anti-gay bigotry, and aren't willing to believe the push for equality for gays is on a moral par with other major civil rights battles?"

There's a lot in that sentence!

I think it's possible that many folks haven't personally witnessed violent gay bashing, *but* I don't think that's what keeps them from doing the right thing. On the contrary, I think that many of those opposed to repeal simply don't have any personal relationships with gay people. If more gay people would come out of the closet, then more straight people would recognize that the people they've respected and admired have all along been gay.

When it comes to putting the fight for gay equality on a par with other civil rights battles - you make a big mistake if you do. They are fundamentally different things. It is at once insulting to some minority groups while it gives idjuts an opening to avoid the real issue.

Collins is right, BTW - the only thing stopping a vote for Defense Authorization (and repeal of DADT) is Harry Reid and the Democratic congress.

Posted by: sbj3 | December 3, 2010 4:38 PM | Report abuse

shrink, I'm not saying the Senators should be railing against injustice as they confront military leaders. I'm making a broader point about the debate that has been unfolding in the press. it's very dry and not particularly human

Posted by: Greg Sargent | December 3, 2010 4:40 PM | Report abuse

"Ethan, Collins still gave herself two outs there."

Yup. That's a lot of hedging for something she is "convinced" should happen. She is utterly craven, but we already knew that.

Posted by: Ethan2010 | December 3, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse

Btw, Greg, this is OT, but posted it in the previous thread and thought you'd be interested if you haven't seen it yet:

Chuck Grassley hits back on ethanol subsidies, throws back the "yeah but oil gets subsidies too" line:

http://www.agri-pulse.com/Audio-Friday.asp

http://www.agri-pulse.com/uploaded/OpenMic112910.MP3

Yeah, what about those oil subsidies? Better question for Grassley... Which would you prefer:

A) neither ethanol nor oil gets subsidies or
B) both continue to get subsidies?

Posted by: Ethan2010 | December 3, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

"I'm not saying the Senators should be railing against injustice as they confront military leaders."

ok, good

"the debate that has been unfolding in the press. it's very dry and not particularly human"

Hmmm, I am not sure about this. If it gets hot, wouldn't that almost immediately turn the "not if but when and how" discourse back into a whether or not? It seems to me that is the greater danger. McCain as the last ditch standard barrier of the opposition seems to me to be a really good thing.

Obviously the opponents of DADT repeal oppose gays and lesbians in the military period and they are very serious about their hatreds. It seems to me it might be a good thing if the public/media involvement stays cold and dry. But your point, that repeal could die as a result may be bolstered if you consider the Republican rising to be just getting started. If you are saying it is now or never in other words.


Posted by: shrink2 | December 3, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

This is an excellent column. You are right that the forgotten people in this whole debate are the gay and lesbian servicemembers. The DADT act forbids gay men and lesbians from marrying or attempting to marry. Just think about that. What would happen if someone proposed that straight soldiers should not be permitted to marry? The military could save a lot of money by doing that, but I suspect there would be a huge outpouring of indignation. Yes, no one has pointed out the injustice of forbidding gay and lesbian servicemembers of marrying or entering civil unions or domestic partnerships. No one has talked about the psychological strain of having to hide one something so crucial as one's sexual orientation at risk of being fired. No one has spoken in the hearings about how the law makes gay servicemembers susceptible to blackmail. Neither has anyone mentioned what it says about straight people to assume that they are so weak that they can't handle having to work alongside someone whom they know (as opposed to merely suspecting) is gay or lesbian.

Posted by: JayJonson | December 3, 2010 4:59 PM | Report abuse

shrink, there are grounds for thinking that if they don't do it now it will be some time before congress will be able to do it.

there are always the courts, but...

Posted by: sargegreg | December 3, 2010 5:00 PM | Report abuse

I can give my take on the military pre-DADT. I was a Naval Officer and served on a couple of ships from 88-92. We had a number of guys who everyone knew were gay, and I can say honestly, no one cared. Seriously. They were not beaten up, threatened, or even called names, as far as I knew.

I also saw a number of discharges for homosexuality, and in 100% of the cases, the guys self-reported. I would also be willing to bet that they were not gay. The gay discharge is about the only way one can honorably leave the military before one's hitch is up. In most of these cases, it was a young recruit who joined the navy, realized it wasn't for him, and wanted out. This was the only way to do it and get an honorable discharge.

I CAN say with absolute certainty, that the leadership was not looking to find if guys were gay, staking out gay bars, etc. There were a number of gay guys that were pretty obvious about it, and no one cared.

The military can handle gays. I do wonder, though, how the military will handle the lack of a safety valve. Because there will always be kids who join the military for the wrong reasons (they are only 18 after all), and the gayness out was a way to let them out without having the equivalence of a felony conviction on their record for the rest of their lives.

Posted by: sold2u | December 3, 2010 5:06 PM | Report abuse

"And I don't care if some African Americans reject the comparison."

I think it's worth acknowledging that a traditionally Democratic voting block could be a problem on this issue. For example, African Americans overwhelmingly voted against Prop 8 (http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2008/11/70-of-african-a.html). Do they poll similarly on this issue? If the numbers are that bad, from a tactic standpoint, does it make sense to alienate a core part of your party's base? Especially if you can win the day without doing so? If nothing else, it strengthens your argument to know that (after 10 seconds of googling) John Lewis, civil rights icon, also rejects that argument.


FWIW, I agree with you that gays should be able to serve in the military. As my grandfather, a retired Marine, recently told me it doesn't matter if a Marine is straight, provided he can shoot straight.

Posted by: NoVAHockey | December 3, 2010 5:08 PM | Report abuse

I get it. It that context, it would be so awful if the question of the subordinate class had to be re-litigated, perhaps the worst possible outcome if Roberts, Scalia, Thomas etc. get the decision.

The marriage debate has been all wadded up in religious issues (which of course, have to do with beliefs, not information), but so far the military service question has been well focused on whether or not the mission would be compromised. If I had to choose, I'd say, keep the whole discussion focused on the heck no answer to that question.

Posted by: shrink2 | December 3, 2010 5:08 PM | Report abuse

@Ethan2010""Ethan, Collins still gave herself two outs there."

Yup. That's a lot of hedging for something she is "convinced" should happen. She is utterly craven, but we already knew that."

No, the Republicans have learned that they have a lot more leverage if they stick together. That's not the same thing as being "craven".

Adj. lacking the least bit of courage : contemptibly fainthearted

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/craven

To see craven in action, look to the Democratic leadership position(s) on the Bush tax cuts.

Posted by: jnc4p | December 3, 2010 5:21 PM | Report abuse

Anything else going on?

Posted by: tao9 | December 3, 2010 5:21 PM | Report abuse

This debate is blown out of proportion just like many are. Grow up. Let everyone serve, and move on. Ignore McCain.

Posted by: mikefromArlington | December 3, 2010 5:25 PM | Report abuse

It's called a COMPROMISE

Don't Ask is a COMPROMISE


The liberals - claimed they wanted compromise in 2008, but NONE, nada, zilch from them.


In fact, all this Don't Ask stuff is going back on the original COMPROMISE

In case you haven't noticed, the country is done with the liberals.


AND you still claim you don't understand the other side.

Posted by: RainForestRising | December 3, 2010 5:25 PM | Report abuse

This was a really good post Greg. Shows how far we've come and just how far we have to go as human beings.

I'm just not sure how you get around that McConnell letter saying they have to do taxes first. Then the GOP drags out that process by demanding time consuming items. Next thing you know, time's up and BAM! Nothing happens.

The GOP has found that doing nothing is great politics. Governing takes courage and I don't think the Dems or the Repubs have that courage.

Posted by: Alex3 | December 3, 2010 5:28 PM | Report abuse

Unemployment is 9.8% and you are talking about this? No wonder the Dems took a shellacking.. Yawn

Posted by: CarolinaMike | December 3, 2010 5:30 PM | Report abuse

"Don't Ask is a COMPROMISE"

The CAPS are so ever effective!! Oooo!

DADT is unconstitutional. You don't have classes of subhumans in the U.S. at least we're not supposed to.

Posted by: Alex3 | December 3, 2010 5:33 PM | Report abuse

sold2u: your anecdotal reminiscences notwithstanding, after the adoption of DADT, it was implemented in a way that actually encouraged witchhunts, and witchhunts took place all during the Clinton years. Far more gay and lesbian servicemembers were discharged under DADT in those years than had been discharged under the previous policy that simply banned gay soldiers. Part of the problem was the bitterness of the DADT hearings and part of the problem was a kind of insubordination against Clinton. He was told that there would be no witchunts and that no one would attempt to find out if someone attended gay pride parades or gay bars, etc. But that was not the way it was implemented.

NoVaHockey: it is not true that African Americans voted overwhelmingly for Prop 8. They voted slightly more for Prop 8 than White voters, but not by much. The early analysis of exit polling was badly flawed and later corrected.

I doubt seriously that African American attitudes toward DADT are much different from that of the general publics.

Posted by: JayJonson | December 3, 2010 5:35 PM | Report abuse

Wow, thanks for sharing this perspective Greg. Impressive, and powerful.

These are the types of pieces I wish we saw more of from our media outlets. I'm sure other pundits have similar experiences on this, and many other issues. It's a great foil to talk about stories, and how/why they effect people's lives.

Great work.

Posted by: TheBBQChickenMadness | December 3, 2010 5:38 PM | Report abuse

I actually saw a black on a panel discussion the other day - clearly stating that the black community resented the gays co-opting all the civil rights language to advance their gay agenda.


Interesting take.


AND it makes me wonder if that was the root of why Obama held off on Dont Ask for the last two years.


.

Posted by: RainForestRising | December 3, 2010 5:40 PM | Report abuse

@"I'm just not sure how you get around that McConnell letter saying they have to do taxes first."

Easy, you do the tax cuts first and acquiesce to what the Republicans want to do. This seems to be what's going to happen anyway, the question is how long the Democrats are going to drag it out to give the appearance of a fight for the benefit of appearances with their base. The Republicans are perfectly happy to run out the clock here.

"White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs is now insisting that there are two things President Obama absolutely will not, under any circumstances, allow to happen on taxes: He will not agree to a tax hike on the middle class, and he will not go along with a permanent extension of the top rates.

Put another way, Mr. Obama will not allow anything more than what Republicans have been demanding for months. And he means it. "

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703377504575651163012802860.html?mod=WSJ_Opinion_MIDDLESecond

I believe the Democrats would be better served to trade a full extension of the Bush tax cuts for two years for cloture votes on other things that they care about that they can actually pass in the lame duck such as DADT, DREAM and START, rather than try to go down fighting on tax cuts for the rich. The elephant in the room is the fact that the election already happened and the makeup of the next Congress is already determined.

Posted by: jnc4p | December 3, 2010 5:43 PM | Report abuse

Throughout history there have been legions of conservatives willing (eager even) to line up on the plainly, obviously (maybe not to them)wrong side of an issue. It is some sort of pathology.

Obviously there is a powerful need for actual conservatism, right? Change coming too quickly (see: French Revolution) certainly isn't good. But this stuff is just getting absurd.

Posted by: genericOnlineID | December 3, 2010 5:46 PM | Report abuse

"I believe the Democrats would be better served to trade a full extension of the Bush tax cuts for two years for cloture votes on other things that they care about that they can actually pass in the lame duck such as DADT, DREAM and START."

I don't think the Dems will have the time to address Defense Authorization if they go after tax rates, DREAM, and START first. And that seems like their plan.

Perhaps there's a reason that Reid has *still* failed to agree to normal order for Defense - and it's the opposite of what Serwer propsed earlier: maybe it's the *Dems* who want to avoid the DADT vote and instead want the courts to force it?

Posted by: sbj3 | December 3, 2010 5:50 PM | Report abuse

Mark Halperin at Time had it correct today;

the democrats are acting like complete children


The was an election. All this talk of pressing the liberal agenda through SMACKS of disrespecting the election and the American People.

If the democrats really want to destroy their remaining position in the nation, they can persist with the words and actions we have been hearing over the past month.


What are the opponents thinking?


WHAT are the democrats thinking ?

Posted by: RainForestRising | December 3, 2010 6:08 PM | Report abuse

Subhumans? That is a little ridiculous


Posted by: RainForestRising | December 3, 2010 6:11 PM | Report abuse

All I can say is that the language used by proponents of DADT amounts to nothing less than hate speech.


Seriously folks, it is hateful - and there is a complete disrespect here towards people who do not agree with them.


The attitude is: WE ARE GOING TO BE IN THEIR FACES.


The rest of the country is saying: no, please take it elsewhere.


.

Posted by: RainForestRising | December 3, 2010 6:21 PM | Report abuse

Jay, I hope you realize I am not supporting DADT. The original rationale for banning gays was that they were a blackmail risk, and therefore a security risk. Even if that were true 20 years ago, I seriously doubt anymore one could be blackmailed over sexual orientation in this day and age. The other point I was making is that the hit to good order and discipline is bs, since we had (pretty) open gay sailors and nobody cared.

Posted by: sold2u | December 3, 2010 6:23 PM | Report abuse

Greg

You complain about anti-gay bigotry

However, you are happy, even gleeful in talking down to the Tea Party - and calling them 'rubes'.


You really can't have it both ways - one or the other.


You can't complain about hate when you so gleefully engage in it yourself

Posted by: RainForestRising | December 3, 2010 6:24 PM | Report abuse

All, Happy Hour Roundup posted:

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/plum-line/2010/12/happy_hour_roundup_140.html

Posted by: Greg Sargent | December 3, 2010 6:28 PM | Report abuse

Unfortunately, many blacks are brainwashed by religious bigotry.
The real shame is that this backwards thinking has suppressed their race in this country.
Hate leads to ruin, but they havent figured that out yet. Thats why more blacks in prison, more uneduacted blacks, etc
Worst of all, the down low aspect, the shame that gay blacks feel, make them have sex with men secretly and infect their wives-the bigotry toward gays is killing them
Martin Luther King, per his wife, would have backed gay rights
Lets get rid of this discriminatory policy and then allow gays to marry
Its gonna happen whether you all like it or not

Posted by: Amalgamate | December 3, 2010 6:30 PM | Report abuse

Unfortunately, many blacks are brainwashed by religious bigotry.
The real shame is that this backwards thinking has suppressed their race in this country.
Hate leads to ruin, but they havent figured that out yet. Thats why more blacks in prison, more uneduacted blacks, etc
Worst of all, the down low aspect, the shame that gay blacks feel, make them have sex with men secretly and infect their wives-the bigotry toward gays is killing them
Martin Luther King, per his wife, would have backed gay rights
Lets get rid of this discriminatory policy and then allow gays to marry
Its gonna happen whether you all like it or not

Posted by: Amalgamate | December 3, 2010 6:30 PM | Report abuse

I think Gate's statements and the Pentagon rightfully kept the issue as a military one rather than a moral one and is the correct approach in this instance. The idea that we were turning men and women away who were willing to both fight and die for their country is a powerful motivator. I do appreciate your sentiments though Greg and I think there has still been the moral issue, and conflicting sides of it, hovering in the background. We see it here on a daily basis with some of the comments. I've been afraid to dare hope for repeal and jinx it somehow, which I know sounds absurd. I've learned to lower my sights over the last couple of years though.

Posted by: lmsinca | December 3, 2010 6:33 PM | Report abuse

"I don't think the Dems will have the time to address Defense Authorization if they go after tax rates, DREAM, and START first. And that seems like their plan."

I believe that DADT and DREAM are being offered as amendments to the Defense Authorization bill, so there should be enough time if they truly want to work it out.

Posted by: jnc4p | December 3, 2010 6:58 PM | Report abuse

"Matthew Yglesias today wonders what on earth opponents of DADT repeal are thinking. As he says, at bottom this debate is really about whether we are going to treat gays as "free and equal citizens of the country," or whether they're "some kind of subordinate class."

This whole issue is not about the emanicipation of Gays for unfettered access to any position or career path in the military. It IS about the inclusion of gays into the military in a fashion that will protect the major interests and needs of both in 2010. Period.

Posted by: dollarsforgoofs | December 5, 2010 11:00 AM | Report abuse

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