It was oh so fitting yesterday that the Senate Republicans’ thumbs-up vote for keeping military gays in the closet was led by that embodiment of fungible principles, John McCain. His track record on this issue is a metaphor for the party’s ongoing intolerance,
for its stubborn adherence to an anti-gay stance that the American mainstream has abandoned.
Case in point: Back in 2006, when McCain was still viewed as mavericky, he said that if our top military officials were to agree that gays should serve openly in the military, “then I think we ought to consider seriously changing it, because those leaders in the military are the ones we give the responsibility to.” But in February of this year, after our top military leader, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, endorsed open gay service and called it “the right thing to do,” McCain insisted: “I’m not changing my position.”
Case in point: In mid-2009, McCain said: “The reason why I supported the (gays in the closet) policy to start with (in 1993) is because General Colin Powell…strongly recommended we adopt this policy in the Clinton administration. I have not heard General Powell reverse (his) position.” But this past winter, Powell did reverse his position, and stated that “attitudes and circumstances have changed.” McCain’s essential reaction? Nah, Powell’s switch didn’t count, either.
Then, yesterday, after the Senate Republicans used the filibuster rule to block the repeal of the Don’t Ask,Don’t Tell closet policy, McCain sought to defend the status quo by testily informing reporters that the military does not launch probes to try and determine who might be gay: “I know the military very well…They are not seeking out people who are gay. And I don’t care what you say, and I don’t care what others say…We do not go out and see whether someone is gay or not…We do not, we do not, we do not.”
When McCain says “I know the military very well,” that’s his way of telling reporters to shut up. (He was a POW, they weren’t.) The problem is that it was a scant seven months ago when Major Mike Almy, a 13-year Air Force veteran, testified at a Senate hearing about how he was relieved of his duties after the military searched his computer files and found private emails to his same-sex partner. Care to guess who was sitting on the Senate panel, just 20 feet away, during his testimony? John McCain.
The bottom line: At a time when public support for open gay military service has reached landslide proportions – Gallup says 70 percent, a Washington Post/ABC News poll says 75 percent, a CNN poll says 78 percent – the Senate wing of the Republican party remains entrenched to the right of one of its own conservative icons, the late Sen. Barry Goldwater, who once said, “You don’t have to be straight in the military, you just have to be able to shoot straight.”
Senate Republicans yesterday cited all kinds of procedural reasons for opposing the repeal of the closet policy (a policy that has resulted in the forcible discharge of roughly 13,000 gay service members). McCain and others complained, for instance, that Democratic leader Harry Reid was playing election-season politics when he tacked the repeal provision onto the annual military funding bill.
Yet somehow the Republicans appeared to forget that when they run the Senate, they always try to festoon the military finding bill with all kinds of extra stuff. McCain himself once tried to attach a campaign finance reform provision; in 2005, GOP leader Bill Frist added a provision giving legal immunity to companies that manufacture vaccine; in 2006, Republicans added language allowing chaplains to pray in the name of Jesus at public military ceremonies, thereby undercutting Navy and Air Force religious guidelines.
In other words, yesterday’s procedural complaints were mere fig leafs, none of them large enough to obscure the Senate GOP’s reactionary behavior. The repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell won’t even kick in officially until after the Pentagon completes a year-end policy review and after military leaders certify that the policy switch won’t be disruptive – yet that careful sequence of events isn’t acceptable to the Senate Republicans, either.
The Senate will reportedly try for repeal again, after the election. But in the meantime, some of our more enlightened Republicans rightly lament what happened yesterday. The last word goes to Mark McKinnon, former political consultant for George W. Bush – and John McCain. Over to you, Mark:
“The Senate action sends a message of intolerance and intransigence on the civil rights issue of our time…Republicans constantly claim to be the party that defends the Constitution. We have no legitimate right to that claim until we get right on gay rights…It’s way past time for the GOP to get out of the Dark Ages on this fundamental issue.”