The Public Policy

Do Ask, Do Tell

Congressional Democrats blow the lid off the culture war lockbox.

By 8.11.09

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Congressional liberals' misplaced priorities again were on display last month as Democratic lawmakers ramped up efforts to repeal the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy prohibiting homosexuals from serving openly in the armed services.

True, the economy is in shambles, the federal government is mired in deficits, two wars are ongoing in the Middle East, unemployment continues to spike, and your next-door neighbor might be a terrorist. That won't stop Democrats from trying to blow the lid off the culture war lockbox, which has remained mostly closed since the administration changeover in January.

Congress is reportedly set to reignite debate over "don't ask, don't tell" this fall. President Barack Obama supports rescinding the policy but has been reticent to back it aggressively -- understandably so, preoccupied as he is with remarking health care and reshaping the United States into a command economy.

His allies in Congress aren't so patient. Michigan Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has agreed to hold hearings on the policy this September. It would be the first Senate review since former President Bill Clinton approved the policy in 1993.

Levin's committee will likely topple "don't ask, don't tell" when it comes up in two months, and the full Senate might follow suit. Supporting the policy has become nearly untenable politically since the left has successfully cast the issue as one of civil rights rather than common sense.

But truth be told, the ban is about as common sense as you can get. Unless they negatively impact operations or are illegal, the private sexual practices of individuals should remain just that -- private. Neither, however, should they be flaunted.

The current policy fulfills this twin goal by barring commanding officers from seeking information on soldiers' sexual practices unless and barring soldiers from disclosing their sexual orientation in a way that might disrupt military operations.

Back when Clinton approved the policy, it was considered a compromise between the two extremes: keeping the armed services straight only, or allowing homosexuals to serve openly. Today, it remains a neutral policy that balances the pitfalls of discussing sexual orientation in a military setting with permitting homosexuals to serve.

Regardless of the policy's merits, however, now is not the time to reopen debate. The federal deficit is expected to reach $1.8 trillion this year. Thanks to bailouts and stimulus packages from both Republican and Democratic executives, inflation is set to skyrocket. Unemployment stands at 9.4 percent, and economists predict it might hit double digits before the recovery begins. Given the situation, Congress should have more important priorities than debating "don't ask, don't tell."

In reality, many Democratic congressmen, preoccupied with the health care overhaul and thoughts of defending their seats in 2010, would rather leave contentious social issues on the table for now, including the "don't ask" policy. Opening yet another cultural rift, when so many economic rifts are already open and getting wider, could cost the Democrats more political capital, or at least divert attention from their economic goals.

But as evidenced by recent events, Obama's leftist social base won't allow inaction on their pet issues much longer. They've grown aggravated since the president took office in January. They thought he would champion their issues right out of the gate. For the most part, he hasn't.

Obama's principal goal, no doubt, is to avoid blowing too much political capital on lower-rung issues. Conservatives shouldn't put stock in his reticence, though. Unlike the base of his party, Obama has to prioritize and plan with the mid-term elections in view. He's spending his political capital on destroying private health care and growing the size of government to unprecedented levels. He can afford to put off his social agenda to another day. But that day will come, sooner rather than later.

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About the Author
David N. Bass is a journalist who writes from the Old North State. Follow him on Twitter.