Is Sen. Joe Lieberman, the White House’s Senate pointman on a Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal, just being honest? Or cynical? He says he’s “not kidding myself” about getting a repeal done this year, on the eve of introducing legislation to do just that. So what’s really standing in the way of a job well done?
Whether you believe Leiberman to be a terrible pick to lead the DADT fight or not, some things are out of his hands, no matter his intellect.
He needs Republican support. And it’s going to be extremely difficult to get. It’s an election year in the middle of a Tea Party bonanza. Republican lawmakers might not be aligning themselves with the right-wing extremist brigade, but they certainly don’t want to piss them off. (Although not a yet a federal lawmaker, Florida’s U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio gave the clearest example of playing between the GOP and Tea Party at CPAC.) Despite pockets of conservatives saying they’re just fine with openly gay soldiers, the Tea Party class is not among them. Without a few GOP members signing on, sixty Senate votes seems a far off dream.
He needs Democratic support. Don’t think Lieberman can count on Dems to have his back. While many of them will publicly declare their support for a DADT repeal, few are willing to take the lead this early on, without widespread consensus in the Senate, and be branded as “the gay-loving lawmaker.” Which is too bad, because DADT isn’t about sexuality; it’s about national security. Moreover, expect a DADT issue to be used as a bargaining chip. In exchange for his vote, a lawmaker might want a bigger piece of the Defense budget bill devoted to funding a military contractor in his home state. That’s about status quo when it comes to laws dealing with discrimination.
This year-long review period is an excellent stalling tactic. Even lawmakers who publicly support repealing DADT (read: not John McCain) can point to this year-long review period as “movement” and “momentum” on the effort. They aren’t sitting on their hands, they say. Rather, they’re waiting for qualified military experts to report back on whether the U.S. military can function with out homos. That’s not stalling. It’s “carefully considering.” In particular, Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who sits on the Armed Services Committee, indicated he wants to wait for the report back before making a decision. That way, he gets to say he’s open-minded about the issue, but wants the best information out there.
Lawmakers listen to the military chiefs. Whether it’s about how much money the Pentagon needs for new subs or IED armor, no legislator wants to be seen as unfriendly to the needs of America’s soldiers, particularly when the men and women in the armed forces all have families of voters. That’s why the Defense Department’s budget is basically a blank check. So if the heads of the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force say they must wait to review what a DADT would mean before supporting it outright, few senators are going to volunteer to stage a public battle against them. Doing so would let election opponents paint them as politicians who don’t want to keep troops safe — a surefire way to sink a campaign.
It’s up to the president. Obama says he wants DADT repealed, and his most senior military advisers — Mullen and Gates — agree. But they are working in tandem, and neither group makes a move on this issue without the full consultation of the other. Which means until Mullen and Gates tell the White House they’re ready, Obama won’t push too hard on Democrats about speeding up the issue. And then lawmakers get to say, “But, but, the president isn’t guiding us!” It’s a hot potato blame game, and we’re all losers.
The media. Actually, Fox News is the least of your concerns. Aside from Bill O’Reilly’s rhetoric, the cable news network has done a decent job covering the DADT battle. It’s networks like CNN that invite hate leaders on their network to perpetrate falsehoods and fear. A great fact sheet from Media Matters offers reporters some concrete ways on how to avoid spreading these anti-gay fairytales grounded not in fact, but hatred. But increasing the populous’ support for repealing DADT requires averting their eyes to scary butt sex, and convincing them it’ll keep this country safer.