Will social conservatives throw the anti-gay issue under the bus?

At an academic workshop on social conservatism most of the participants think gay rights is a losing issue, ripe for jettisoning. Sign of the times?

This past weekend, I attended a workshop on the future of social conservatism.  Though this was a somewhat odd experience for someone with my politics (which I stated openly), I’m determined not to get lazy by only talking to people I agree with.  In the end I learned a lot and, I hope, contributed at least a little.

What surprised me most at the conference was that more than one speaker casually referred to opposition to gay rights as a losing issue for social conservatives—one that they’d have to abandon in the foreseeable future in favor of something else. Nobody spoke up in loud dissent, and nobody called for distinguishing same-sex marriage from other gay rights issues.

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Slight omission

The Weekly Standard: hurrah for ROTC, please don’t mention DADT.

Harvard is letting ROTC back on campus. The Weekly Standard thinks the mainstream media are making too little of this.  (I’m not so sure: gay rights was important, but outside the Burkean confines of the Standard, many of us suspect that nothing Harvard does affects society much one way or the other.  I wish it did.)

But the Standard’s blog post buries the lede just a little bit.  Nowhere does it mention the reason ROTC wasn’t allowed at Harvard up to now, and the reason that’s changed: don’t ask, don’t tell.

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The sock riddle returns

So DADT repeal won’t wreck the armed forces and leave us naked to our enemies.  The Marines’ honor has been a little besmirched by that noble service registering the highest fraction (40-60% compared to 30% average for the whole military)  expecting negative effects, but they will get over it and they will follow orders with good will as they always do.  In ten or even five years, we will be as puzzled that we tolerated institutionalized military anti-gay bigotry as we are now that we used to allow people to fill an airplane cabin with cigarette smoke.

At the press conference, someone asked about separate housing and bathrooms.  This one always gives me a laugh, because it depends on fundamentally misunderstanding what sexual preference means for social convention. Recall the riddle: If you have twelve black and twelve brown socks in a drawer in a dark room, how many do you have to take with you into the light to be sure you have a pair?

Bathrooms, locker rooms, and sleeping quarters separate by sex derives from some version of the old Spanish convention that if a man and a woman were alone together, it would be an unthinkable reflection on the man’s masculinity to imagine that they didn’t have sex, therefore architecture and behavioral rules are directed at preventing two people of whom one might be sexually attractive to the other to be alone together, or together undressed, or at least alone together undressed.  If we want to generalize this convention to homosexuals of both sexes, before we even ask about the cost of “separate quarters”,  we have to ask, “separate for whom?”  Generalizing the rule for straight people to gays would require two dormitory/barracks, one each for known-to-be-straight men and women, a double room for each available pair of  gay man/lesbian woman, and singles for every remaining gay person.  Don’t even think about all the “unisex” single bathrooms*.  A gay men’s barracks, for example, would be the chastity equivalent of a coed one for straights.

You need three socks, not thirteen, because a pair of socks is two of the same color, not one of each color.  A population with gay people in it means couples aren’t necessarily one of each sex, and if not having sex is what matters, doors and signs are not going to do the job.  It will have to happen the way most people in modern societies don’t have sex when they could but don’t, which is almost all the time (just look around you): by  not doing it with unwilling partners, or with subordinates, or when it’s otherwise ill-advised.  Big deal; next issue.

*I give up; why is a bathroom specifically available to two sexes, one person at a time, called unisex and not uniperson?

DADT: blame the perpetrator!

Every Democrat save the two from Arkansas voted to end DADT. Every Republican voted the other way. Who’s to blame, do you think?

John McCain’s filibuster of the provision to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell held up, Democrats losing the votes of only two of their own (Pryor and Lincoln from Arkansas) and failing to pick up either of the alleged moderate Republicans from Maine, or Lugar, or Voinovich. (Reid voted no for procedural reasons, allowing him to move for reconsideration later.) Every single Republican voted against even debating an end to bigotry in the military.

The Republicans were outraged because the Democrats wanted to include the DREAM act, normalizing the immigration status of those who serve in the military, and didn’t want to allow Lindsay Graham a vote on re-legalizing torture (pardon me, “not giving terrorists their Miranda rights”).

Naturally, Andrew Sullivan blames this on the Democrats. The fact that no Republican did the right thing, while almost every Democrat did, proves that this wasn’t really a priority … for the Democrats.

Yes, Reid and Obama might well have been able to twist the arms of Pryor and Lincoln to get them to vote right; then, with Reid’s vote, the motion would have fallen one vote short rather than three. Instead of losing, we would have lost.

And, naturally, Snowe, Collins, and McCain saw Sullivan’s reaction, and that of some other gay activists, coming. If Republicans’ anti-gay actions are good for them electorally, they’ll keep doing them: just like the rest of their obstruction. Only by blaming the bad guys for succeeding in screwing things up, rather than the good guys for failing to persuade them, can you create the right political dynamic. I loathe Robert Stacy McCain and everything he stands for, but at least he understands the politics of the situation. Hating gays and liberals, he wants gays and liberals to fight. Andrew should consider that if he and a flat-out homophobe draw the same conclusion, one of them is probably wrong.

Really, guys, this isn’t rocket science.

DADT: Crunch Time for James Webb

Whether the Senate repeals the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell statute might be up to Jim Webb.

The Senate Armed Services Committee has voted to repeal the Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell statute and give the Pentagon discretion to end the policy.

The vote?  16-12, with Maine’s Susan Collins voting to join all but one of the panel’s Democrats.  The lone Democratic dissenter?  James Webb.

Given Republican homophobic hysteria on the issue, the GOP has predictably threatened to filibuster the measure when it hits the floor.  Since Ben Nelson has already agreed to it, it’s hard to see any other Democrats peeling off, especially because Blanche Lincoln is still locked in a primary.

That means that Jim Webb may be the one who has to decide on cloture.

What will it be, Senator?

Under the bus

Real moral courage isn’t standing up to your enemies; it’s standing up to your friends.

The Obama Administration betrays gay Americans yet again.

Oh, wait …

Yes, I know boasting is vulgar, but I told you so.

Note the delicious feature of the “compromise”: the process ends in December with a formal finding by the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs that the change will not impact readiness.

Obama has been willing to accept the hostility of the advocacy groups in order to get the thing done right. More likely than not in an unjust world, that hostility will continue even after the deed is done. Obama has done some unheroic stuff, but in my book this makes him a hero. Real moral courage isn’t standing up to your enemies; it’s standing up to your friends.

Update And I’m with James Fallows: the minute the bill passes, the universities that got rid of ROTC should reinstate it, effective the day DADT ends.

The Midterms: A Preliminary Game Plan

The Obama Administration needs to start preparing the ground for the November midterms. Here’s what it should do.

EJ Dionne has a typically smart piece at TNR about how the Democrats can avoid disaster in November’s midterms.  They will obviously lose some seats, but this doesn’t need to be a repeat of 1994.Richard Cohen, though, is worried that Obama is off his game, which bodes very badly for the midterms. 

It seems to me that while the administration has a lot of genuine achievements, it has created a huge political problem for itself by going out of its way to alienate its strongest supporters.  Theoretically, helath care reform will bring many back to the fold, but the inevitable compromises of the dysfunctional Senate have, if anything, dampened Democratic energy.

Usually, Presidents handle this problem by taking executive actions to shore up the base, but Rahm Emanuel seems to know only one play: tell liberals to STFU.  That might work sometimes, but not in a midterm.

What to do now?

1)      Obama should take some high-profile measures regarding Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.  He should publicly refuse to dismiss talented linguists who are gay, for example, on national security grounds.  He has the authority to do this.

2)      If and when there is a SCOTUS retirement, he should appoint someone who will unify the base and drive the Reps crazy while appealing to the center.  My own preferred option is Kathleen Sullivan, the former Dean of Stanford Law School, one of the leading constitutional scholars in the country, and openly gay.

3)      Strong moves on appellate judges.  No backing off.  Lots of action regarding up or down votes.  This will help build momentum for filibuster reform at the beginning of the 2011 session.

4)      Putting reimportation into the 2010 reconciliation bill, and other goodies.

5)      The head of Larry Summers on a platter; maybe replace him with Elizabeth Warren.

6)      STRONG pushes on very tough financial regulation, forcing the Republicans to defend the bankers.  The GOP has already said that it will oppose any unified Consumer Protection Agency.  Let them.

This isn’t hard.  It makes for good policy and good politics.  Whether Rahm understands that is a totally different question.

Army Sec: We’re Ready to End Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

The Army Secretary says that the military is ready to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Congresmember Bachmann: is he anti-American, too?

Or at least so he says:

In an interview with the Army Times published Sunday, Secretary of the Army John McHugh indicated that the army would be ready to lift the ban on gays serving openly if both Congress and President Obama decided to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

McHugh speculated that gays might be allowed to serve in some units but not others, while also stressing that no such plans had been discussed. More importantly, he told the Army Times there was no reason to believe major disruption would ensue in the army if the ban was lifted.

“Anytime you have a broad-based policy change, there are challenges to that,” he said. “The Army has a big history of taking on similar issues, [with] predictions of doom and gloom that did not play out.”

Maybe I will owe Mark that $100.  I certainly hope so.

McHugh, of course, used to be a Republican member of Congress.  Does Michele Bachmann think that he is anti-American, too?