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.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

22 thoughts on “DADT: blame the perpetrator!”

  1. When the Republicans were in the majority and the Democrats were filibustering their judge choices, the Senate Republicans threatened to end the filibuster and the Democrats caved. Now the Democrats have a bigger majority than the Republicans ever did and the Republicans are the ones filibustering. Have the Democrats made the slightest effort to follow the successful lead of the Republicans and at least threaten to end the filibuster? No, of course not.

    Yes, the fact that the Democrats choose to continually let themselves lose even with a large majority is the Democrats fault. Every Democratic Senator who will not vote to get rid of the filibuster is, in effect, voting for the Republican side. End the filibuster and this string of defeats will stop. Don't end the filibuster and the defeats will continue endlessly. Everyone knows this, it is not rocket science. It is not the Republicans fault the Democrats don't act on this.

  2. I'm afraid that I have to agree with Andrew here. Yes, the Republicans, Lincoln, and Pryor probably acted out of cold tactical concerns, but the Democrats blew it by making it possible for them. There was no need to include the DREAM act in the legislation. Yes, the DREAM act might be a good idea as a separate piece of legislation, but right now it provided the Republicans with exactly the excuse they needed. Refusing to agree to a defense appropriations bill with DADT being the only reason why would have been much more problematic to defend than refusing to agree to a bill that came with several other strings attached, which allowed Republicans to (not entirely inaccurately) describe it as an election maneuver.

  3. …allowed Republicans to (not entirely inaccurately) describe it as an election maneuver.

    Please elaborate.

  4. So Katja, your recommendation to the Democrats is that they sell out supporters of immigration reform to appease the Republicans? No, thanks.

    Counterfactual, when the Republicans threatened the (un)Constitutional option, I thought that was cheating. I still think so. The filibuster can be ended by a simple majority, but only at the beginning of a new Congress.

  5. My recommendation, Mark, is that the Democrats take what they can realistically get. Attaching both DADT repeal and DREAM to the appropriations bill ended up with them getting neither, and supporters of both bills being disappointed. Now, there is no guarantee that a better packaging would have gotten it through the current Senate. But it would have limited Republican opportunities for counter-rhetoric. Yes, the claim that the DREAM act as an amendment to a defense bill is non-germane is somewhat sketchy, given that one of its purposes is to help the military with recruitment. But it's not as though the Republican's counter-rhetoric wasn't made easy for them — the DREAM act was suddenly dusted off without most people really knowing what it contained or what its purpose was, and is even described on its website as an immigration bill (which, of course, it is). And there's the whole separate issue of Reid wanting to restrict votes on amendments, which didn't go over well, either.

    It's easy to be armchair quarterback, of course, but to me it looks as though the Democrats tried to pull off a legislative gamble to get two pieces of legislation past the filibuster for the price of one, got called on their bluff, and lost. So, yes, I can understand if Andrew Sullivan is a bit annoyed when they fumble this. And I see absolutely no problem with criticizing the Democratic leadership for their handling of the bill: they were facing adverse circumstances, but they knew that.

    As a final thought, I believe that you're mischaracterizing Andrew Sullivan's post: while he's unhappy with the Democrats handling of the legislation, that pales compared to what he says of Republicans ("It rips me up to think of those servicemembers out there still living under this threat, and appalls me that their lives and sacrifices could be cynically used by Senator McCain to pander to the far right to secure re-election.") So I'm not sure where he fails to blame the perpetrators.

    K, the DREAM act has a fairly long history, going back to 2007 in its initial version (though it was called something different back then). It was reintroduced in early 2009 under its current name in both the House and the Senate, passed quickly in the House, but, by all appearances, didn't have much of a legislative history in the Senate for the past year or so, until Harry Reid decided to attach it to the defense appropriations bill fairly recently. Now, his motives may be pure as driven snow, but I have my doubts that trying to push through an immigration bill that hadn't seen much activity recently on the eve of an election was completely unmotivated by electoral concerns.

  6. Am I mistaken in thinking that, with this filibuster in place, the military funding bill is stalled, and that some way needs to be found to pass it, suggesting that all the Dems have to do is grow a spine? Because there's no doubt what the Bush/Rove team would have done if the military funding bill was being blocked to prevent drilling for oil in Arlington or something … they'd have called the obstructionists unpatriotic people who hated our soldiers. I think the DREAM act and funding the military should be used to rhetorically bludgeon the Republicans – and I say the DREAM act and not DADT because no Republican voter is going to change their vote because their Republican candidate won't help end DADT, while non-citizen soldiers getting blown up in Kandahar deserve our respect in a way even Bubba can understand.

  7. Sullivan is hardly the only one who needs, according to Mark, to "consider that if he and a flat-out homophobe draw the same conclusion, one of them is probably wrong." Politico has a piece on the DADT fiasco citing a number of lefty advocates of repeal who blame the Democrats for its failure on the same basis Sullivan does:

    Mark attributes to Sullivan the notion that "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." Of course, that's not what Sullivan said or meant: he points out that the Democrats have had two years to get it done. (Other advocates mentioned in the Politico piece note that Obama has been "absent from the debate.")

    In any case, if Mark wants to excoriate Sullivan for pounding the Democrats for the failure of repeal, there's quite a few other repeal advocates he'll need to take on as well. And I seriously doubt any of them hold Republicans blameless; that they're the villains of the piece is hardly worth mentioning.

  8. A post at Balkinization says, in part:

    By allowing these amendments did Harry Reid squander the opportunity to repeal DADT?

    In a word: no. Even without the last-minute additions, there was a very good chance Senate Republicans would have blocked the spending bill anyway because they have little incentive to allow President Obama to fulfill his pledge to end DADT.

    Once Harry Reid recognized the bill probably wasn’t going to advance, it made sense to add on provisions that would appeal to Democratic voters. It made particular sense to add an immigration provision that would appeal to Hispanic voters. With an election a little more than a month away, losing on DADT was an opportunity too good to pass up.

  9. I'm inclined to agree with Katja–including the DREAM act was a tactical error.

    As for blaming the Dems…well, this is a common phenomenon/puzzle. Of course you're right, Mark, that the bulk of the blame should be apportioned to the Pubs…but when two parties (in the generic sense), A and B, are involved in such a thing, and if party A is sufficiently irrational, it's common to focus on the errors and foibles of B. Of course the fact that it's common doesn't make it reasonable…but I think people reason in that way because they concede that A is beyond the reach of reason. Sure, A is, well, wronger…but get wrong enough, and people just begin thinking of you as they would a mean dog or a force of nature. They no longer see you as being (as the Sellarsians say) "in the space of reasons."

    But even if that isn't right, there's a more familiar point: whose fault is it if Smith knowingly walks down an alley where he knows that Jones is almost certain to rob him? Well, needless to say, Jones shouldn't be robbing people, but if those are the facts on the ground, it's hard not to fault Smith with imprudence…

  10. And so the gay community feels comfortable whipping Harry Reid for trying to help not just gay but immigrant soldieres as well. Nice. I think Henry's comment is apt. YOu can strategize until you are blue in the face. The writing was on the wall: Snowe, Collins and the rest of the allegedly moderate Republican coalition weren't going to cough it up. And I give no leeway to Lincoln or Pryor — Lincoln is toast, and both of them know it. They had the chance for her to leave actually having done something good but apparently it's more important to cling to the notion that there is a snowball's chance in hell of not getting melted than, you know, doing something to benefit your constituents.

    Which is to say, if Jim Webb could shed his alleged concerns at the end of the day to support this, so could they, and the fact that Webb did shows how hard Reid and Obama worked to get it done.

  11. And I seriously doubt any of them hold Republicans blameless; that they’re the villains of the piece is hardly worth mentioning.

    Why is it hardly worth mentioning? Why give the Republicans a free pass on the blame?

  12. Andrew Sullivan is an otherwise very intelligent gay man who thinks of himself as a "conservative." He adores Margaret Thatcher and would vote for the Tories if they were on the ballot over here. He has never liked the Democrats and never misses an opportunity to carp about the failures of the Democratic Party to advance gay rights. Sullivan is not, however, representative of most of the gay commentariat. They are already well aware of the nastiness of the Repugnant Party and their disdain usually extends to gay people who remain supporters of the Republican Party. The Repugnant Party is the enemy. No doubt about it. The problem is the betrayal by the man we helped put in the White House. To characterize gay reaction to this latest disaster from the Obama Administration as "anti-Democrat" is to misread the actual response. The Obama Administration has been appallingly inept in dealing with the gay community. In fact, its transparent disregard and condescension to gay concerns is downright insulting. The credit for this disaster lies in the White House. No one trusts it to address gay rights issues honestly. No one expects it to do the right thing in terms of actually lobbying Congress to repeal the too-long list of anti-gay legislation already on the books. No one expects it to do the right thing by failing to appeal favorable court decisions. No one wants more East Room parties. No one wants any more speeches. No one gives money to Democratic and Obama campaign organizations, but they do give to individual Democrats and they will vote. The problem is that the "fierce advocate" has absolutely no credibility on gay rights issues any more. That's not a Democratic Party failure. It's an Obama failure. DADT and DOMA will probably still be on he books and ENDA will not have been passed when Obama leaves the White House. Please don't trot out that tired list of the administration's "accomplishments" because they will not survive the end of his presidency.

  13. So Temple, a real question for you, if you are so sure that no other Obama accomplishment will outlast his presidency, why bother with DADT at all? Surely DADT would be one of the first "accomplishments" to be reversed, no?

  14. Someone more knowledgeable than me needs to parse Joe Biden's interview with Rachel Maddow last week, in which he discussed this. He appeared to anticipate this vote, and to believe that repeal would nevertheless ensue because of pressure on the Republicans to let the Defense bill proceed. He also stated that the Administration has refrained from rocking the boat in terms of administratively cutting back DADT enforcement as part of a political deal to go for an "orderly" change in the law — so presumably that is subject to change if repeal fails. Some insider insight right now would be useful.

  15. Sullivan has a history of supporting Republican gay-baiters on the grounds that Democrats are insufficiently enthusiastic about gay rights. As emotionally satisfying as this sort of Naderism might be, it fails to take into account the fact that he wants to punish the party that has taken a serious stab at repealing DADT.

  16. Given the history of the last 20 years or so – and especially the last two years – it seems naive to suggest that Republicans would start working with Democrats if only Democrats were more accommodating.

  17. @Dave:

    Why is it hardly worth mentioning? Why give the Republicans a free pass on the blame?

    It's hardly worth mentioning that the Republicans are the villains of the piece because it's a given, dog bites man. And as to "free pass on the blame," you just quoted me saying "I seriously doubt any of them hold Republicans blameless," so I'm not sure why you'd even ask.

  18. It's political theatre, not political action.

    The Democratic Party has split, and that split is the context within which this piece of political theatre and non-action, fails.

    One "half" of the Democratic Party remains loyal to the Democrats, and to the vision of the Democratic Party as a vehicle for progressive hope, and is ready to rally to the partisan cause. The other "half" feels betrayed and frustrated; in a two-party system, they fear there is no vehicle available, for progressive policy choices — there's only the radical, crazy Republicans, on one hand, and the Republican-lite of the Obama Administration and the Corrupt Centrists controlling the Senate, on the other.

    Clearly, if you belong to the former "half", you are inclined to see this bit of political theatre as Mark Kleiman does, as more evidence of the critical differences between Republicans and Democrats, which make Dems worth supporting as a governing Party. It is, what it was intended to be, by Harry Reid, a rallying point. And, you are a bit miffed that everyone doesn't see clearly who is wearing the black hats.

    If you belong, as I do, to the second "half" — the despairing, increasingly cynical "half" — you just want to scream at the emptiness and futility of it all. The drama, which Harry Reid staged, fails as drama, for me, because my "priors" are such that I don't automatically credit Reid with either the will or the competence to get the job done.

    And, on this particular issue, I still expect that DADT will be repealed, eventually. But, on a whole range of issues, the series of political dramas have convinced me that the Democratic Party is not responsive to me or my interests — indeed, is not responsive to the interests of the middle class or the 90%. I'm just here to be manipulated, by these staged political dramas. Emotionally, I respond accordingly.

    I suppose I'm representative of some part of the Democratic "base", which is, in various degrees, disaffected and disappointed. I'll vote, because I always do. Those still adhering to the Democratic establishment will be inclined to hector people like me, or see me, I suppose, as a latter-day Naderite shouting a pox on both feuding political Houses.

    My own view is that the country has undergone a political realignment, which has left it a thorough-going plutocracy, in which democratic processes have become purely ceremonial.

  19. Of course democrats are culpable. The republicans are the wild animals here: outside moral consideration, should be put down, but not really 'responsible'.

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