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.

That reason is hardly a secret. The phrase appears three times in the twelve-‘graph Times story, and the fact that repeal of the policy led to repeal of the ban is the whole point of the story.  But someone who read only the Standard’s version would get the idea that an effete Ivy League university, having dissed the military for no particular reason, has now climbed down.  (A later post on how Columbia may invite ROTC back too also fails to mention DADT.) We apparently are supposed to see this as a triumph for conservatism.

In some ways, this makes me glad.  Conservatives are well along in the process of treating gay rights as they have treated civil rights.  First conservatives defended Jim Crow and talked as if the most interesting thing about the Civil Rights movement was that some of Dr. King’s friends had once been communists.  Then they stopped defending segregation but fervently opposed, on ever more desperate procedural grounds, measures to end it.  After that, they ignored the whole issue but took umbrage at any suggestion that the U.S. had ever had a race problem or that race was a significant part of our history. (Don’t believe me? Look up “political correctness” articles from anywhere in the country in the late 80s, or in much of the South or the hard-core Right blogosphere to this day).  Now, they quote Martin Luther King whenever they want to propose something really radical that King would have hated.

In thirty years, expect the Standard to write that the Democratic party is perverting the true ideals of the Gay Rights movement, and that the Left should learn to take patriotic gay soldiers as its role models, as conservatives “always have.”

Author: Andrew Sabl

Andrew Sabl, a political theorist, is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto. He is the author of Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics and Hume’s Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England, both from Princeton University Press. His research interests include political ethics, liberal and democratic theory, toleration, the work of David Hume, and the realist school of contemporary political thought. He is currently finishing a book for Harvard University Press titled The Uses of Hypocrisy: An Essay on Toleration. He divides his time between Toronto and Brooklyn.

6 thoughts on “Slight omission”

  1. Also note that it’s really rather unlikely ROTC will start a branch at Harvard, unless they do it just to prove a point. There’s already a ROTC station at MIT, two stops away on the Red Line, which serves cadets attending Harvard, Tufts, and Wellseley as well as MIT (and perhaps includes other schools in the area; there’s also ROTC at BU, which picks up cadets from Northeastern and BC so far as I can tell – it has to do with which of the many local schools is closest to which post). In these straightened times (not that the Pentagon is feeling the ax bite too deeply) it would be a bit wasteful to spend the money to create and staff a station at Harvard.

  2. Warren,

    As I heard it, it’s the Navy that’s opened a program at Harvard. The Army, Navy and Air Force each operate their own programs. The Marines don’t do ROTC: they have a parallel program called the Platoon Leader’s Course. It’s summers-only. Unless there’s another NROTC program in Boston, they’ll have to open a Department of Naval Science at Harvard.

  3. Harvard and Columbia are the effete ivy league schools that self loathing Weekly Standard writers want their children to attend – while pretending to be red states folks.

    The sorry ass collection of draft dodgers and laptop commandos that make up the editorial staffs of conserv. mags will still avoid puttying their children’s in harm’s way.

  4. First conservatives defended Jim Crow and talked as if the most interesting thing about the Civil Rights movement was that some of Dr. King’s friends had once been communists.

    This has an element of truth but its awfully ungenerous, considering the men at the heart of this allegation, i.e. the dixiecrats, were, at best, conservative democrats (Strom Thurmond notwithstanding). Allmost all were New Dealers and some were well within the liberal zeitgeist: Claude Pepper, William Fulbright, Robert Byrd, Al Gore, George Smathers, LBJ, etc. The latter 2 were on the shortlist for JFKs VP slot (because they were both segregationists). Most of these men endorsed Kennedy (the reminder endorsed Byrd) who won the deep south. It was this administration and its successor that did the most to label King a communist (LBJ felt betrayed about Vietnam after he switched on civil rights). As David Garrow writes:

    On October 10, 1963, U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy committed what is widely viewed as one of the most ignominious acts in modern American history: he authorized the Federal Bureau of Investigation to begin wiretapping the telephones of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Kennedy believed that one of King’s closest advisers was a top-level member of the American Communist Party, and that King had repeatedly misled Administration officials about his ongoing close ties with the man.

    Then they stopped defending segregation but fervently opposed, on ever more desperate procedural grounds, measures to end it.

    This does not sound right. The segregationists not only filibustered but voted against the 64cra, so you can’t be arguing that they are the “conservatives” in question. Perhaps you mean Goldwater, since he argued on procedural grounds (which of course is a load of crap). But he never actively supported segregation, so that can’t be it. Indeed, LBJ used Goldwater’s used his previous pro-civil rights stand against him in the south.

    The people who had the most to gain from being publically in favor of civil rights while simultaneously using procedure (mostly voting against cloture or voting against ending the filibuster) were northern liberals, who needed to appear pro-civil rights to their constituents, while simultaneously sending a dogwhistle to the south in order to maintain the democratic’s racially coercive monopoly. Ergo, in 1957, JFKL voted to send Ike’s cra to James Eastland’s racist senate judiciary committee, where it was stripped of all meaningful provisions. He then votes for the final bill and trumpets his civil rights cred in the north. James Eastland becomes an early supporter of Kennedy’s presidential campaign. Kennedy wins the south and proceeds to do less than nothing on civil rights, which is why Malcolm X said, the chickens had come home to roost.

  5. Manju,

    There’s a lot to your story, and in my book Ruling Passions I stress how conservative (but sane) Republicans like Ev Dirksen played a crucial role in getting the Civil Rights Act passed.

    But Dirksen was bitterly disappointed when, having spent years trying to get his party on the right side of this issue, and of history, Goldwater decided to wrench the party in the opposite direction. In Goldwater’s case, it may have been a matter of misguided principle (though I submit that few people who really understood and cared about segregation managed to convince themselves that banning it was indeed a violation of constitutional principle rather than a vindication of deeper principles). But other party strategists knew full well what they were doing–making a play to shift the Democratic Solid South over to the Republicans over time–and have continued to do that deliberately. Most of the New Deal segregationists you name above who stayed Democrats ended up changing their position on civil rights in fairly short order; in many cases it was clear that their embrace of segregation had always been strategic. The Southern politicians who had always liked segregation and continued to regret its demise soon became consevative *Republicans.*

    Finally, what I said is much more true if one looks at conservative ideological commentators rather than politicians. The record of the Old Right (e.g. National Review) on Civil Rights is not a proud one.

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