Last night the White House made some subtle but significant changes to their official website. The civil rights section has gone from calling for a full repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to calling for sensible changes in the policy. Is the Obama administration backing off of a campaign promise, or streamlining some language?
The paragraph used to read, “Repeal Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell: President Obama agrees with former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili and other military experts that we need to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The key test for military service should be patriotism, a sense of duty, and a willingness to serve. Discrimination should be prohibited. The U.S. government has spent millions of dollars replacing troops kicked out of the military because of their sexual orientation. Additionally, more than 300 language experts have been fired under this policy, including more than 50 who are fluent in Arabic. The President will work with military leaders to repeal the current policy and ensure it helps accomplish our national defense goals.”
The civil rights section now states, “He supports changing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in a sensible way that strengthens our armed forces and our national security, and also believes that we must ensure adoption rights for all couples and individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation.” I think that this is more than cleaning up some loose language on the website.
The administration announced before they took office that they were seeking to delay the repeal until 2010. The White House probably softened the language in the hope of reaching a consensus that would allow the president to avoid the ideological warfare that comes with this issue. It is also important to keep in mind that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell came into being as a consensus policy.
An ABC News/Washington Post poll released last year found that attitudes have shifted on gays in the military. Support among Republicans has doubled from 32% to 64%, and support overall was up to 75%. All of the people in the Obama administration remember how DADT dragged down the early days of the Clinton administration, so I think they are treading carefully in 2009.
I would suggest to the White House that times have changed, and their fear is unjustified. More than anything, many people in an out of the military want a clear policy. It doesn’t matter to some what the policy is, as long as it is clear. The administration’s thinking is that they have enough problems without opening up the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell can of worms.
They are hoping that they have fewer crisis level items to deal with in 2010, but they may not do it then because of the 2010 midterm election. The one thing that the president can’t afford to do is back off of repealing the policy, but I don’t see them repealing the policy in the election years of 2010 and 2012, so that leaves this year or 2011, and it looks like this year is out of the question.
(h/t: Think Progress)