Don’t Ask For Definite Details About Don’t Tell, The Dance Continues

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If only it was all as simple as “Yes,” the word that Robert Gibbs offered last year, in response to a question about whether or not President Obama would end the policy of banning gays and lesbians from openly serving in the military. Ever since that one word, the answer White House has grown, into something more like, “Yes, but we need to get Congress to vote on the changes, and to do that we need the military brass to support the changes, and so far they have been mostly saying, ‘Wait a minute, we need time, we are fighting two wars,’ so something will happen but no one knows just when.”

Now the dance of Don’t Ask is again heating up. In a short span of a couple weeks, we have a blizzard of data points with arrows in all sorts of directions: 

–Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, who heads the Armed Services Committee, says Obama will mention Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in his State of the Union address. It’s not yet clear what this means. There is a long tradition of Presidents mentioning things in the big speech to take the pressure off of actually doing something about them. If Obama sets a deadline, it might signal he is serious.

–The gay rights base, long one of the least satisfied liberal constituencies,  is continuing to agitate. A former Bill Clinton aide on this issue, Richard Socarides, in a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, fires another shot, saying Obama may be emboldening Ugandan bigots and showing preference for terrorists over men who love other men:

What is especially troubling, however, is Mr. Obama’s oversensitivity to a dwindling minority of bigots on this issue. Hundreds of military careers have been destroyed on his watch for no valid reason. The country has been deprived of the talents of these service members and has wasted millions of dollars on their training.

Many wonder when their president will show the same kind of concern for the constitutional rights of gay American service members as he has for enemy combatants held at Guantanamo Bay. Many wonder what the administration’s willingness to treat gay Americans as second-class citizens says to Uganda and other countries that are considering laws that would subject gays to imprisonment and even death.

–The Joint Chiefs of Staff, not a group known to leak, is apparently fighting back, with a memo being leaked to the Associated Press from Admiral Mike Mullen’s legal counsel. “Now is not the time,” it reads. “The importance of winning the wars we are in, along with the stress on the force, our body of knowledge and the number of unknowns, demand that we act with deliberation.”

–The gay rights lobby has been leaking word of its own urgent “closed door” meetings to discuss the issue. As the Advocate reports,

Participants declined to discuss specific strategy with The Advocate but said they mulled over how LGBT leaders would proceed if the White House decided to make a strong push for repeal or, alternatively, if it took a pass on the issue this year.

One source said LGBT leaders had sent “strong signals” to the White House that they want repeal to happen this year and that there would be “repercussions” if it did not. The source would not say what form those repercussions might take.

Some attendees expressed guarded optimism during the meeting because many in the room had “been guaranteed that this is a priority for the president” — some by President Obama himself and others by some of his top advisers. But one source weighed that against the fact that health reform was also a top priority for the administration and its passage has not gone smoothly. “There’s an awful lot of distance between something a president says and actually making it come to light,” said the source.

–Polls show improving prospects for repeal. Per CNN,

A Gallup poll conducted in June of 2009 found that 69 percent of adult respondents favor allowing openly gay men and lesbian women to serve in the U.S. military, up six percentage points from November, 2004.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll conducted December 19-21 found that 81 percent of respondents believe openly gay people should be allowed to serve in the U.S. military, while 17 percent said they shouldn’t. That poll’s margin of error was plus-or-minus 3 percentage points.

–Meanwhile, it is not yet clear when exactly Levin will hold hearings on the issue–though he promises soon. Nor is it clear that the House will include Don’t Ask repeal in this year’s Defense Appropriations bill. Stay tuned.