Tragic intransigence

    Back in September, when we last visited the issue (it should be a non-issue) of open gay service in the military, Senate Republicans were adhering as always to their intolerant convictions, in defiance of the American mainstream. That month, they predictably ensured, by the usual parliamentary manuevers, that there would be no Senate repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the stay-in-the-closet policy that has already triggered the discharge of 13,000 gays who were serving their country.Senate Republicans said at the time that, before taking action and repealing DADT as the House has already done, they wanted to wait until the Pentagon completed its study on whether open gay service could be feasibly implemented. Well, guess what. The Pentagon released the study yesterday. It found that most military people would be comfortable serving with those who are known to be gay; therefore, the study concludes that open gay service can be feasibly implemented. But now the Senate Republicans don’t like that, either. They’re still positioning themselves to resist the kind of common-sense policy that has already been implemented by every single founding member of NATO except Turkey (and us). One gets the feeling that Senate Republicans couldn’t be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century until every last homophobe in America signs on.The senatorial wing of the No party is hewing to its reactionary stance despite the fact that, in the new study, 69 percent of all surveyed military personnel believe they already serve with gays, and that 92 percent of those personnel say it hasn’t been a problem. The No senators are standing firm despite the fact that open gay service has already been endorsed by, among others, chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mike Mullen, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, retired Gen. Colin Powell, former Joint Chiefs chairman John Shalikashvili (who said in 2007 that openly-serving gays “would not undermine the efficacy of the armed forces”), and the authors of the new study, Pentagon chief legal counsel Jeh Johnson and Gen. Carter Ham, commander of the U.S. Army in Europe.Naturally, there is some resistance within the military to open gay service – particularly from the Marines. But Gates said yesterday, “Part of this is a question of unfamiliarity, part of it is stereotypes, and part of it is just inherent resistance to change when you don’t know what’s on the other side.” And, as he also pointed out, there was similar initial resistance within the British military when that nation reformed its policy a decade ago, and there were widespread predictions of mass desertions and chaos in the ranks. None of that happened; today, the open-service British policy is a given.And for anyone interested in historical perspective, consider what happened in 1948 when Harry Truman moved to integrate the military. The heavily southern officer corps warned that recruitment and morale would suffer, and that many soldiers would refuse to re-enlist rather than bunk in the same room with black guys. It’s safe to say that, if the Pentagon had conducted a survey at the time, the percentage of service personnel voicing comfort about serving with blacks would have been far lower than the current percentage that’s comfortable serving with gays. But Truman’s executive order stood, and the military complied.Clearly, Senate Republicans want to drag their feet until early next year, when their ranks will be enhanced and they can therefore effectively kill repeal. The sole apparent flicker of hope is that the tiny cadre of Republican moderates might decide that it’s nuts to stand so far removed from the mainstream; after all, the latest nonpartisan Pew poll reports that Americans favor open gay service by a 2-1 margin (58 percent to 27 percent), and Gallup in September put support for open service at 70 percent. But, as I wrote here Monday about Olympia Snowe, Republican moderates these days live in terror of facing primary challenges from the right.Hence, the tragic intransigence – tragic, in particular for all the outed gays who have been drummed out of the military at a time when we need them most. And who better to help us navigate this intransigence than that mavericky independent turned right-wing weathervane, John McCain? He’s the ultimate No metaphor.In 2006, he said that if military leaders came out for open gay service, “then I think we ought to consider seriously changing (the policy), because those leaders in the military are the ones we give the responsibility to.” But when Joint Chiefs chairman Mullen endorsed open gay service in February 2009, calling it “the right thing to do,” McCain insisted: “I’m not changing my position.”Later in 2009, McCain said: “The reason why I supported the (gays in the closet) policy to start with (in 1993) is because Gen. Colin Powell…strongly recommended we adopt this policy. I have not heard Gen. Powell reverse position.” But this past winter, Powell reversed position, stating that “attitudes and circumstances have changed.” McCain’s “reason” disappeared, but he still didn’t change.Then this year he said he wanted to wait for the Pentagon study. But, by mid-November, having gotten wind of what the study would say, he signaled in advance that he would not be happy with the study’s conclusions; as he said on Meet the Press, “We need to have hearings, we need to examine it to look at whether it’s the kind of study that we wanted.” (Note my italicized emphasis. And, of course, a slate of hearings on the study would kick the can into next year.)And now that the study has been released – a study that surveyed 255,000 service members and military family members – McCain is shifting his goal posts yet again. Now he’s complaining that the survey asked the wrong question, that instead of asking whether the service people would be comfortable with open service, it should have asked whether they favored open service. Pentagon chief Gates slam-dunked that complaint yesterday, when he said that civilian leaders are responsible for setting policy, not the troops – but that troop input about implementation was crucial.McCain topped himself this past Sunday, on CNN, when he bridled at press questions about his stance on open gay service. He sneered, “I understand the point of view by the majority of the media.” Oh, this is just an agenda issue for “the media”? The real issue is that he and his brethren choose not to understand the point of view of the majority of Americans – and, courtesy of the Pentagon study, the point of view of the military majority.It’s no longer enough to say that McCain is the ultimate Republican metaphor. He is, politically speaking, a remnant of whatever he once was. A husk.

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