Kaszycki: Republicans should rethink ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ position

By Steve Kaszycki

The Senate Republicans have remained firm in their opposition to repealing Don’t Ask Don’t… The Senate Republicans have remained firm in their opposition to repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the Clinton-era bill banning openly gay and lesbian people from serving in the military. The Republicans would be better off getting out of the way and concentrating their energy elsewhere.

Some of the blame falls on Harry Reid, the Democratic Senate majority leader, who continues to operate the Senate in a heavy-handed, extremely partisan manner. After steamrolling through Obamacare using tactics that some Americans found objectionable, Reid has continued to behave obstinately, refusing to permit the GOP to make amendments to the bill. It is understandably very difficult for the GOP to work with a man who once called his opponents “evil-mongers.” Reid has unfortunately disavowed the concepts of extended debate and reaching across the political aisle with anything other than a clenched fist.

In the end, however, there are more pertinent issues for the GOP to focus on. And there’s little they have to do on this one other than not filibuster. A CNN poll found in May that 78 percent of Americans favor repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, a sufficiently large number to discourage the GOP from trying to make the matter a wedge issue.

For the GOP, like the Democrats, political calculations are salient. Social conservatives, who might be less than pleased with the overwhelmingly economic focus of Tea Party protesters and candidates, want to discuss something that actually matters to them — some of them feel strongly that permitting openly gay people to serve in the military would create an uncomfortable circumstance for some soldiers. It’s not that their beliefs aren’t sincere. It’s that the stories of gay soldiers who openly served within battalions illustrate that social conservatives’ qualms are ill-conceived.

Although by effectively ignoring the issue the GOP would risk a backlash from social conservatives, the reality is that there are many more pressing matters that Republicans are concerned about. The Senate GOP would be better served strategically, as well as ethically, by concentrating on them. The Republican Party has finite resources and finite media opportunities, and wasting time defending a measure that will inevitably be overturned — probably sooner rather than later — is a significant blunder.

Obamacare, or the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2009, remains a highly unpopular statute — a Rasmussen poll indicates that only 33 percent of likely voters think it’s good for the country. Republicans should capitalize on the fact that the law’s opposition stretches across the lines of the conservative sectors — economic conservatives, social conservatives and moderates object to it.

There are some counterarguments to be wary of as well. Opponents of the DADT provision deserve critique as well and should be careful in their campaigning. Contrary to what their rhetoric often suggests, there is no intrinsic “right” to serve in the armed forces — the U.S. military is an institution that can set its own guidelines according to what aids it in accomplishing its goals. That’s why the military is not required to enlist people with disabilities, whom it is illegal to discriminate against elsewhere in society. The same goes for obese people, etc.

The obvious difference is that being gay doesn’t prevent one from being a good soldier. But this is where the crux of the case for overturning Don’t Ask Don’t Tell resides: It’s not that there is a right to serve, it’s that restrictions should work to strengthen the military, and preventing gay persons from being able to serve without having to camouflage their sexual preference does not contribute to a strengthened military. Instead, it weakens it, robbing it of qualified soldiers.

As far back as the early ’90s, there were some conservative voices in favor of permitting gays and lesbians to openly serve in the military — most notably former presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, who declared, “I see no harm at all with having gays in the military.” It makes sense from a conservative perspective: Why have needless government restrictions?

Going forward, the proper follow-up to a repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell would involve politicians working with and listening to the active duty commanding officers in the military.

Write Steve at [email protected]