Monday, April 26, 2010

The Soft Bigotry of Lowered Expectations

President Obama was recently heckled at a political fundraiser in California. A new group, Get Equal, sent a handful of supporters to the event to demand that Obama keep his oft-repeated promise to repeal the so-called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" anti-gay policy in the military. After all, the President is, on paper at least, Commander in Chief so one would expect him to have a little influence in such matters. Nonetheless, the White House has confirmed that Obama will not try to repeal DADT this year.

So should we give Obama a break?  After all, fighting over a "controversial" issue can weaken a politician, right?

Of course, that raises the question of why a politician would fight over any issues.  And in the military, unlike, say, private sector employment, the all-volunteer force swears to obey orders up to, and including, orders that are likely to result in death -- whether yours, the enemy or an innocent civilian.  Now it seems a bit strained to suggest that soldiers willing to follow an order to kill-or-be-killed are such sissies that they couldn't follow orders allowing gays to serve openly.

As a thought experiment, imagine that the armed forces in America still discriminated on the basis of race. I know, it seems so long ago that it is hard to even imagine such a thing, but try it anyway.

Now imagine how long it would have taken President Obama to force a change in that discriminatory policy. And then, following the inevitable outburst of racial bigotry hidden behind false concern for military "discipline" and "readiness" imagine Obama turning the political tide with an eloquent speech that brilliantly defends equality and freedom.  In other words, the very principles that justify a standing army in the first place.

Unfortunately, that ain't gonna happen any time soon.  So we are left with a President who fully comprehends the injustice of anti-gay bigotry, who claims to be a "fierce advocate" for gay and lesbian rights yet who avoids direct confrontation with the bigots.  Even his recent effort to address the incomprehensible prohibitions against hospital visitation rights by non-married partners was nothing more than a request to federal agencies to, pretty-please, write new regulations that allow gays and lesbians to make hospital visits.  Even assuming the new rules are well-written they can be undone by the stroke of the next Republican president's pen.

Like all politicians, President Obama wants credit for his stated intentions, even when he doesn't put much effort into fulfilling them.  During his State of the Union speech in January, Obama promised, "This year, I will 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." 

After a full year of avoiding the issue, that could be seen as some sort of improvement.  Yet it is also likely to push repeal of DADT past the next election, when Republicans are expected to make gains in both chambers of Congress.  Obama's political strategy -- to secure gay support by making bold promises -- appears to have been betrayed by his timid tactics -- wait until your opponent agrees with you before you act.  And that's no way to run an army. 
Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.  -- Sun Tzu


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