While Obama has already said he opposes the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy, which basically bans gay and lesbian Americans from serving in the US military, this reiteration of that position is significant. Yesterday, the Obama transition team chose to include a question about DADT in their weekly online Q&A; with incoming White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. In that Q&A;, Gibbs reads a question from Thaddeus in Lansing, Michigan. Thaddeus asks:
“Is the new administration going to get rid of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy?”
“Thaddeus, you don’t hear a politician give a one-word answer much, but it’s ‘Yes.'”
Why is this significant? Because they affirmatively chose to include that question in this week’s Q&A; – it didn’t just come up by chance. That means a number of things.
First, Obama is showing, I believe, that he feels the need to reiterate his support for the civil rights of gay and lesbian Americans (I suspect in the wake of the Rick Warren fiasco, and expressions of concern from the gay community that gays were excluded from Obama’s cabinet). That’s good, as it shows that some of the recent disaffection by gay and lesbian Obama supporters has not gone unnoticed.
Second, It’s one thing to make a promise during a campaign, it’s quite another to reiterate that promise categorically after the election is over and at the very beginning of the new president’s administration. Bill Clinton got into a lot of trouble by bringing up DADT at the beginning of his administration in 1992. A lot of that trouble was Clinton’s own doing – Clinton walked into a buzz saw because he did not prepare for the obvious opposition he would face. You don’t announce you’re going to do something this revolutionary until you’re ready for the blow-back, until you’re ready to win – Clinton wasn’t ready, and he got rolled. The natural impulse for Obama, or any politician, after watching what happened to Clinton, is to avoid gay rights in general, and to certainly not get into it at the beginning of your term (thus much of the concern gays and lesbians have had with Obama reaching out to Rick Warren and not including gays and lesbians in his cabinet). The fact that Obama chose to have Gibbs bring up DADT, and state categorically that he will repeal DADT, is therefore, in my eyes, significant. He didn’t have to, but he did anyway.
Having said that, at some point words aren’t enough. I sincerely hope the Obama team is preparing to actually lift the ban, and preparing for just how they’re going to do it while avoiding the calamity that befell Clinton. They also need to figure out when they’re going to do it. Right now, I suspect Obama feels the need to (understandably) focus on the economy, exclusively. But next year is a congressional election year, and the two years after that are presidential election years. All of that begs against addressing DADT, against making any controversial decisions on anything. Team Obama needs to prepare now for how they’re going to lift the ban in a timely, successful fashion. And if they do, God bless ’em.