The War at Home

Michelangelo Signorile weighs in on 'Don't ask, don't tell.'



In lockstep with many media outlets, some Democratic political analysts also reflexively reached for an outdated script. Despite the seismic shift in public polls, with most showing more than 75% of Americans in favor of repeal, Democratic consultant Douglas Schoen wrote in The Washington Post that Obama’s promise to end DADT “may well be the right decision morally, ethically, and militarily. But it could have a dramatic and deleterious impact on Democratic fortunes in November.”

It’s a ludicrous statement, divorced from reality, and an example of what AmericaBlog’s Joe Sudbay called “political homophobia,” where politicians and analysts who claim to support gay rights nonetheless believe that fighting for gay rights will always damage political capital. It ignores the dramatic changes that in fact have occurred: The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the most senior military man in the nation, testified that repealing the law was “the right thing to do,” while a Republican senator long touted as a military authority was finally reduced to the status of an out-of-touch troglodyte. Arizona senator John McCain truly seemed caught off guard by Mullen’s passion to repeal the ban. The moment his anger flared with the respected chairman and the even-tempered Defense secretary, the political and cultural terrain shifted.

With the exception of McCain, Republicans on the committee and elsewhere seemed intent on not appearing too antigay—another sea change from 1993. Utah senator Orrin Hatch walked on eggshells, signaling in an interview with MSNBC that he was open to repeal, only to later retreat slightly from his remarks. Sarah Palin said now wasn’t the time for repeal, indicating she might be in favor of a repeal at another time. In the weeks that followed the hearing it was clear that we had entered a new era. Republicans were no longer the agenda setters on DADT.

And that’s why repeal opponents can’t be allowed the time to build opposition using a media corps primed to churn out sensational fodder. While Barney Frank and several Democratic senators called for a vote on DADT’s repeal well before a Pentagon study is complete—and before Democrats could lose congressional seats in November—the Democratic leadership and the White House were hedging, with Nancy Pelosi telling reporters she didn’t know if there would be a vote until after the midterm election. This might mean we wouldn’t get a vote for years if the Democrats lose a chamber of Congress—or even just a few key seats.

National LGBT groups need to make the argument to the White House and the Democratic leadership that fighting for something you believe in—something that has majority support, even if it is on behalf of a minority—will actually earn you votes and energize your base. But, as usual, these groups likely are too afraid of angering the White House and losing access. It’s quite possible that, after all the change we’ve seen since the early ’90s, the déjà vu many of us are experiencing could be grounded in reality. Activists thought they were so close to ending DADT—with the help of a president who courted their votes and their donations—only to see equality put off for years to come.