Saturday, August 09, 2008

Obama could force the issue on "don't ask don't tell": look deeper for the moral issues


Major media sources, including Wikipedia, indicate that Barack Obama favors ending “don’t ask don’t tell”. Wikipedia states that John McCain “has made it very clear he is 100% opposed to allowing gay or lesbian people serve openly in the armed forces and has affirmed that if elected he will stand by the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy.” One comprehensive report on the candidates appeared in The New York Times by Robin Toner, June 8, 2007, “For ‘don’t ask don’t tell’, split on party lines,” link here.

I’m not able to find a position on the issue on Barack Obama’s own website. In April 2008, ABC News had reported that Barack Obama would not make opposition to “don’t ask don’t tell” a litmus test for appointment to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (a Secretary of Defense appointment would obviously become sensitive). The ABC blog link is here.

However, it is reasonable to believe that if Barack Obama wins the election in November 2008, right now, a greater than 50-50 probability, there will be a push to end the policy that, on the surface, would seem to recall the debate in 1993 during President Clinton’s First Term. This time there may be much more ammunition to overturn it in Congress, not the least of which include the experience of foreign (especially British and Israeli military), 15 years of SLDN data on discharges, and public opinion polls that suggest favoring repeal. The public is more willing to repeal “don’t ask don’t tell” than to accept gay marriage, and I think one reason is that, even without a formal draft (although there is constant talk of it), many people see availability and “moral fitness” for military service, at least as a contingency, as a basic requirement of citizenship. That sentiment would remain even if Sen. John McCain wins the election.

As to how to lift the ban, much has been written. I wrote about it in my first book at length (1997), but the best known source that the Congress could accept is probably Rand Corporation’s massive 1993 study, already mentioned in this blog. Most sources propose codes of military professional conduct and the nuances involve. One area not well covered back in 1993 is the potential for “exposure” through the Internet, social networking sites, and search engines, But the military already needs to develop policies regarding these matters for other security reasons.

The idea that citizens have a background, implicit obligation to maintain a readiness for sharing the burden of defending freedom is still very important to me, and probably more important to many Americans than most people want to admit. This part of our moral lives is one of the reasons that I wrote the first book in 1997, and connected the arguments regarding the military ban back to McCarthy era Cold War antigay attitudes that I experienced in college, and to the moral controversy over student deferments during the Vietnam era draft The idea of the obligation to share burdens can influence many of our other areas of public policy debate today. Both candidates know that and have mentioned strong carrots for national service as a result.

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