Feature

‘Don’t ask’: Obama plays it safe—again

The Justice Department appealed the ruling of U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Phillips, who declared “don’t ask, don’t tell” unconstitutional and ordered its enforcement halted. 

President Obama “was handed a golden opportunity” last week to finally get rid of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” said Andrew Malcolm in the Los Angeles Times. U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Phillips ordered a screeching halt to enforcement of the military’s prohibition on openly gay service members, declaring it unconstitutional. By simply doing nothing, Obama could have fulfilled his campaign pledge to repeal the 17-year-old law, which has been used to expel 13,000 service members. Instead, the Justice Department appealed the ruling, arguing that suddenly scrapping the law in wartime could adversely affect “morale, good order, and discipline.” That sounds a lot like the “specious arguments” used to justify the policy in the first place, said The New York Times in an editorial. In reality, continuing this discriminatory and backward policy will only further harm “military readiness” by forcing the expulsion of more skilled soldiers. Why wait any longer?

Patience, patience—we’re almost there, said Jonathan Capehart in The Washington Post. Going ahead with an appeal, while the law’s constitutionality is tested in court, “is the right thing to do.” The Pentagon has undertaken a thoughtful process—“instigated by the president”—of studying how openly gay soldiers will be affected when this law is repealed. If Obama stopped that process now, gay service members might come out of the closet—only to be in jeopardy if higher courts ruled against them. Obama has “pushed, prodded, and cajoled” the military leadership on this issue. It’s now up to Congress to “finish the job” by repealing the law.

It may not be that simple, said the Baltimore Sun. Most lawmakers favor repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell,” but the Senate lacks enough votes to overcome a Republican filibuster. John McCain and other Republicans say they will fight any change until the Pentagon can prove through its ongoing study that repeal of DADT won’t cause problems for military cohesion. For Obama, though, Republican intransigence makes for a lousy excuse, said Leonard Pitts Jr. in The Miami Herald. This is an issue of basic civil rights, and 53 percent of conservatives and 57 percent of churchgoers favor allowing gay soldiers to serve openly. The administration’s desire to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” in a “sensible and orderly way” is understandable, but unrealistic. “Change, like babies, has this way of coming, ready or not.”

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