This is bad. It’s also evidence of a much larger problem.
Today, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), the lead group fighting the gay ban for 15+ years now, issued a press release harshly criticizing President Obama for asking the Pentagon to prepare a study on whether lifting the ban on gays in the military would hurt national security. As I wrote on Monday, Obama’s decision to pursue the study is fraught with danger, and has the air of backing off of his repeated promise to lift the ban:
I think Obama is wise to get his ducks in a row, and wise to court Congress, before trying to lift the ban (and in any case, the ban is now written into law, so Obama will need Congress in order to lift it). But this decision to have the Pentagon do a “study” on the national security implications of lifting the ban sounds like we’re walking into a bit of a buzz saw. It also sounds, from the article, like Obama hasn’t quite made up his mind, and may actually be waiting to see what the study says before making up his mind as to whether to proceed – if so, that would be a major, and devastating, flip-flop.
Today, SLDN weighed in, and seemed to concur:
“We oppose another ‘study’ regarding ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. “Commissioning a study is Washington-speak for kicking the issue down the road because ‘we don’t want to deal with it right now.’”
During the campaign, the president repeatedly called for the repeal of the law, which forbids gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.
“The president didn’t say on the campaign trail that he would re-visit or review or reconsider ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ leaving wiggle room for a future study. He said categorically in public appearances and on his web site that he “will work with military leaders to repeal the current [Don't Ask, Don't Tell] policy and ensure we accomplish our national defense goals.”…
“There are at least a dozen studies or papers on this topic, and all, without exception, say the same thing,” said Sarvis. “We would, however, support a 90-day implementation study (a review of how to successfully implement a new non-discrimination policy) if the Pentagon thought that was necessary.”
There are a number of problems here, and I’m reporting on this for reasons far beyond gay politics.
As I have written repeatedly, Obama surrounds himself with people who practice political autarky. They believe so strongly in themselves, and their cause, that they not only think they can accomplish anything (a good trait), they think that they don’t need anyone else’s help along the way (a bad trait). We saw this time and again during the campaign, with poor outreach to the Netroots, to the gay community, to the Hill, to Democrats across Washington. Then, the Republicans chose Sarah Palin, while Obama started tanking in the polls, and suddenly Team Obama started reaching out, and we all, collectively, did great things for the final 8 weeks – and we won.
Since the election, outreach faded away, and again Team Obama attempted lofty (and admirable) things, all by themselves. From Team Obama’s perspective, they have 13m names on an email list, so who needs the gays, the Netroots, the women’s groups, the Latinos, the unions, and every other “whiney” Democratic constituency? The army of 13m will win it for Obama.
So what has Obama’s army gotten us to date?
A nearly dead stimulus package, when only days ago we had the votes to pass the bill.
And, in terms of specific communities, Obama’s every move drives a further wedge between his administration and the gay community, the Netroots is totally ignored, and there was a recent blow-up with women’s groups, to name a few.
And these are Obama’s friends. They’re people who wanted him to win. Who helped him win. And they’re practically begging the administration to work with them. To little avail.
It is unimaginable that Obama moved ahead on gays in the military without coordinating his strategy with the lead group in America working on that very same issue. And it’s even odder yet that Obama’s move seems to have undercut the very goal we all share in lifting the ban. Obama and SLDN need each other if we are going to win. But to Obama, SLDN, like the larger community it represents, seems always an after thought. Just like the Netroots. Just like so many others on the Democratic side of the aisle.
I have never seen anyone in Washington – or anyone in life more generally – win by consistently alienating their friends and caving to their enemies. It’s a change, to be sure. But, I fear, not for the better.