Wednesday, December 22, 2010

President Obama’s Risk-Averse Leadership By Study/Commission Gets a Win

Hooray! It was a good day for President Obama. More importantly, it was a great day for the LGBT community, that deserves the lion’s share of credit for repeal of DADT despite Rachel’s amusing speech last night.

Question: Who deserves more credit for repeal of DADT — the Log Cabin Republicans or President Obama? Discuss.

In the twisty-curvy two-year timeline culminating in final repeal of DADT, events and circumstances did not always point to its inevitable repeal. Quite the contrary. Rachel, despite her best ‘aw shucks I’se wrong’ efforts, is no dope. She had a finger on this thing’s pulse and she was skeptical of its passage. Was she wrong to be skeptical?


From the outside looking in, it’s amusing to see how a presidential win gets spun in the best possible light and those aspects of the triumphalist narrative are shunted to the side in favor of the celebratory. All’s well that ends well, and the President deserves credit for having been nominally supportive of repealing DADT all along.

Obama historian Jonathan Alter gave the President backhanded credit — what I had written on this blog as Obama’s “tepid” support — for ending DADT in a recent Newsweek column:
Give some credit to the Obama White House, which angered many gay-rights activists by putting the issue on the back burner last year. As I try to explain in The Promise, Obama and chief of staff Rahm Emanuel applied a policy of "no distractions" in 2009 amid the debate over health-care reform. They also didn't want to roil relations with the Pentagon while policy toward Afghanistan was under review.

Remembering how the debate over gays in the military consumed valuable time and political capital at the beginning of the Clinton administration in 1993, the White House tried to stay focused on what was front and center.”
Hardly a ringing endorsement. I wonder how the ultra-condescending Obama-Emanuel policy of  “no distractions” in 2009 sits with DADT repeal advocates — notice that Alter, who is an Obama booster, refers to proponents of repeal as “activists.” I much prefer Jonathan as FDR historian, but highly recommend his book The Promise as essential reading for anyone trying to understand the often inscrutable Obama presidency. Jon’s bias is easily discerned while his access and inside accounts of policy formulations are invaluable.

Alter knows the President better than most of his colleagues; and his conclusion sounds about right. Indeed, the Obama White House deserves “some credit” for repeal of DADT. The festive Left’s effusive huzzahs to the Prez notwithstanding; fuzzy memory celebrating the downfall of  yet another human rights barrier is totally understandable. Even the usually shrewd Chris Hayes of the Nation suspended analytical skepticism. I’ll bet his boss Katrina didn’t, though.

One LGBT blog was underwhelmed by the President’s efforts:
There are, of course, those who should be ashamed right now. Topping the list is President Barack Obama who did as little as he could to really get this passed, and seemed reluctant to really fight for LGBT rights, but there are those who are worse.
President Obama gave a stirring speech at the repeal signing ceremony. The way he personalized the struggle and silent contributions of gays in the military through history. One couldn’t help but be moved by the President’s vivid description of a gay soldier’s act of selfless bravery during the Battle of the Bulge, saving his buddy’s life. President Obama looked like Reagan.

Curiously, though, in describing this moment the media and assorted observers lost sight of some important, even critical, context to its coming to pass. Take the Log Cabin Republicans. It was this organization of conservative Republicans who were responsible for bringing the lawsuit that resulted in a California judge declaring DADT unconstitutional. This decision came down almost exactly two months ago.

Imagine what the political landscape would have looked like absent the court striking down DADT as unconstitutional. This, despite the Obama Justice Department request that the judge stay the ruling. Her ruling stood and then was appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which granted the administration’s representations for a stay. That’s the legal background. This administration, lionized today for its checkered role in repeal of DADT, was furiously engaged in retaining the status quo.

But the handwriting was on the wall. The Pentagon and the Obama administration could no longer rely on the courts to uphold the constitutionality of  DADT. Secretary Robert Gates, a lifetime Republican government technocrat got a nice, and deserved, round of applause for his steadfast insistence and lobbying of Congress to repeal DADT. Reports of Gates fretting about Congressional foot-dragging on this issue before the new reactionary Congress takes over had a certain dissonance. Had Bob Gates suddenly become a committed progressive?

Not really. Secretary Gates was echoing deep, institutional Pentagon concerns that control of this process would be wrested away from them by the courts and by a do-nothing homophobic Congress. What most alarmed Pentagon brass and Secretary Gates was that they’d find themselves compelled by court order to implement repeal immediately. The disorderly disruption in the ranks caused by a court repeal order scared the shit out of them.

It should be noted that Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the JCS, is a genuine hero in ending DADT. When Admiral Mullen chastised Senators Graham and McCain, telling them his commitment to DADT had nothing to do with any presidential directive, the deer-in-the-headlights reaction from McCain in particular, accustomed as he was to suck-up military brass — it was a singular moment. It was an epic Gary Cooper High Noon slam by Admiral Mullen, which had progressives thinking, “gee, if only the President…”

President Obama, in his inimitable risk-averse, delegating style started the ball rolling on a two-year strategy of repealing DADT. The first year, as we have learned, would countenance no “distractions” of the cultural kind. The distractions would come instead from back-room dealmaking with corporate special interests and largely thankless legislative heavy lifting by Pelosi and Reid, as many of the President’s health care supporters walked the plank with little presidential leadership.

The President determined in meetings with the Pentagon brass what they were comfortable with, and set the schedule accordingly. Let’s do a study, they said — the ultimate bureaucrat’s answer to change and action — dragging our feet for one year. Gibby would handle the thorny questions from real journalists (as opposed to ass-kissers) like adorably cheeky Ana Marie Cox:

Naturally, the President was well aware of that lawyer’s axiom, ‘never ask a question for which you don’t know the answer’. So it was pretty well established that the study would come back with the rank-and-file saying, by wide margins, they were OK with repeal. Admiral Mullen and Gates knew this to be the case, so the President says, ‘make it happen.’

That’s pretty much it. Scheduling this thing for the end of the legislative session was a political necessity.  The President correctly calculated that nothing could be done before the midterms. Nor would he expend any political capital, for DADT or actually leading his party to repeal tax cuts for the rich. That would be too, well … Trumanesque.

Finally, like Reagan, President Obama got lucky. The court ruling was a major blow to opponents of repeal. Nor could he have omnisciently divined Traitor Joe Lieberman reinventing himself as a gay rights champion. But he was there in the end to sign repeal and take more of his share of the credit than he deserves.

PS — Rachel, Rachel … interesting how Rachel dedicated little more than a sentence or two to the Republican’s defunding of  everything passed the last two years — health care, financial reform, the Consumer Protection Agency, and on and on. She mused whimsically that now the President and Democrats must defend and protect their accomplishments. Yeah, right.

Guess what, Rachel. No funding, no NADA. Remember when you asked rhetorically, ‘who put Alan Simpson in charge of the commission looking into Social Security and other entitlements!?’ And I replied: THE PRESIDENT!

What’s next? Our “progressive” President will use his reactionary-conservative commission’s findings as political cover in the State of the Union to propose massive cuts to Social Security and other entitlement programs as his best buddies Mitch and Paul chortle away while Democrats look on in horror. Just you watch.

Hope I’m wrong. But I don’t think so.

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