Whether Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell gets repealed this year depends on what Barack Obama does over the next few weeks. Yes, on this one, the ball is in Obama’s court. He makes the call.
Servicemember Legal Defense Network took the gloves off this week. The organization is sending a powerful message to the President, asking him to “Lead the Way”:
Last October, President Obama declared, “I will end ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.'” The year before on the campaign trail he repeatedly said “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was a bad law and should go. Now he needs to match his words with action.
In a few short weeks, the president will be submitting his administration’s defense budget to Congress. This is where “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” originally became law and, 17 years later, it is the logical place to end the ban. By proposing to repeal the law in his defense bill, President Obama will make it clear to Congress and to the American people that we can eliminate this wrong in 2010. Without his leadership, however, it will be tough to get rid of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” this year.
In an open letter to Obama, appearing as an ad in Roll Call today, SLDN’s Executive Director, Aubrey Sarvis, states:
If you urge Congress and the American people to join you, we can win this battle. But if you do not include repeal in your defense budget, it will be tough to win repeal this year. You have yet to say to Congress, Let’s finally end this embarrassing and archaic law and here’s how we do it.
The time is now. Not next year or the second term. To delay another year is to stand aside and okay the daily firing of service members merely because they are gay. Patriotic gays and lesbians are fighting and dying for our country in two wars, just like their straight comrades-in-arms.
It looks like SLDN has had enough of the speeches and promises. Unlike many DC-based organizations, SLDN is focused on its critically important organizational mission. Now, that might mean no more White House invitations, but what’s more important: Finally ending DADT; or getting invited to another cocktail party? No doubt, this campaign is going to irritate people at the White House. Jim Messina, the Deputy Chief of Staff who oversees gay issues, will probably blow a gasket and start screaming at someone. The “No Drama” Obama thing doesn’t apply when top staffers at the White House yell at progressive groups and others who expect Obama to keep his promises. Conservatives and Blue Dogs never get that kind of treatment from the White House, only the President’s friends and allies who helped elect him in the first place.
Of course, it would be a big mistake for someone in the White House brain trust to cut off its relationship with SLDN, “the” group that represents gay military personnel. SLDN was formed from the Campaign for Military Service, the group that was formed to fight the ban when Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was first being formulated in early 1993. SLDN has been in the thick of it from the beginning. I’d expect the other gay groups to stand with SLDN on this one. Because SLDN is right. But more importantly, the community will most certainly stand with our lead group that has been fighting the ban for all these 17 years. The White House takes on SLDN at its own peril.
This is all up to the President, and whether he chooses to keep his promise. Kerry Eleveld makes a similar point in her weekly column, explaining the powerful role the President play in all of this:
So what would it take for the Pentagon to recommend repeal? Basically, a nod from the White House. Based on several conversations I’ve had, the leaders at the Pentagon — meaning Defense secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs chair Adm. Mike Mullen — are prepared to implement the policy change if the commander in chief asks them to.
In the absence of serious resistance from leadership at the Pentagon, President Barack Obama has the best opportunity in 17 years to end a discriminatory policy that haunts the cohesion of gay and lesbian soldiers and their colleagues, mocks the military’s honor code, and hamstrings our national security efforts.
We’ll know in a couple weeks, the first week in February, if President Obama is going to include the repeal of DADT in his budget. He promised he would. The ball really is in Obama’s court.