Sounding “Taps” for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

The policy has no practical justification, the junior office corps doesn’t like it, and the political constellation that brought it into being no longer exists. Time to get rid of it, and split the Republican coalition in the process.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” is an anachronism. At the time that law was passed, there was overwhelming public opposition to having gays serve in the military. That has apparently turned around, with about two-thirds of voters favoring allowing gays to serve. As happened to the persecution of homosexuals within the military in previous wars, dismissals under the law have declined sharply since 2001; with a war on and bodies scarce, the services are not eager to kick people out. I’m told that sentiment among the junior officers runs strongly against DADT; it’s only the O-6’s and the generals and admirals who still mostly support it.

It’s a beautiful wedge issue for the Democrats, splitting the bigot wing of the Republicans from the imperialists, businessmen, and libertarians. John McCain in particular couldn’t vote for repeal without dishing his chances of getting the Republican nomination, or against it without damaging himself with independents.

The best thing about the issue is that there is absolutely no legitimate military justification for DADT, and everyone knows it. The RAND report on the topic &#8212 withheld from release until the law was in place because the Pentagon brass, under Colin Powell, took it on itself to defy the President on the issue, and he was too weak politically to force them into line &#8212 completely blew away the “unit cohesion” argument. Having absolutely no actual justification isn’t a fatal problem for an incumbent policy, but it does make a policy more vulnerable. And anti-gay prejudice is so much less acceptable now than it was thirteen short years ago that it will be hard to find jouranlistic defenders of the existing law even among the usual right-wing subjects.

So the problem is how to force the issue to the fore, and to a vote. With the House now being run along the lines of the Supreme Soviet, things are pretty hopeless there, but the rules of the Senate give the minority much more room to maneuver. A rider on the Defense Appropriations bill, forbidding the use of any funds appropriated in that bill or any other bill to process a service member out under DADT, would, if it became law, make DADT a dead letter.

Now all we need is someone willing to offer that amendment. Evan Bayh, who could use some shoring-up of his liberal credentials if he’s ever going to make a serious run at the Presidency, might want to think about this. So might Joe Lieberman.

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: