Monday, February 22, 2010

Great column from James Kirchick about Senator Lieberman and "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

On 'ask,' Lieberman answers the call: An exclusive chat about Don't Ask, Don't Tell

New York Daily News
Monday, February 22nd 2010

WASHINGTON - Just when you thought Joe Lieberman couldn't frustrate and perplex liberals any further, he is going off to become chief sponsor of the most significant piece of socially progressive legislation that Congress will deal with this year.

Next week, the Connecticut senator will announce that he's taking the lead on repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the 1993 law that prohibits gay people from serving openly in the armed forces. Since implementation of the statute nearly 20 years ago, the military has discharged some 14,000 qualified men and women, many of them serving in critical jobs like Arabic and Persian translation.

It's an unconscionable policy, as it forces individuals willing to die for their country to lie to their comrades and lowers the overall quality of our fighting force.

In recent years, Lieberman has provided no end of frustration to the American left, which views him as a traitor for his outspoken support of the Iraq war, his decision to endorse Sen. John McCain for President in 2008 and his objections to some early provisions of the Senate health care bill. For his heresies, Lieberman has been demonized like few other contemporary political figures.

Now that he's taking such a public stand on a core liberal issue, will the left be able to get over its aversion to the iconoclast in their midst and recognize that Lieberman isn't just the ideal person to front for this effort - given his popularity with Republicans and the trust he has earned from senior military officials - but that he's genuinely sincere in his motivations?

The reasons why Lieberman, who was asked by the White House and gay rights groups to sponsor the legislation, would choose this battle are not hard to divine. Indeed, they strike at the heart of the political tradition of which he is the lonely standard-bearer: Social progressivism married with foreign policy hawkishness.

In an exclusive interview with the Daily News, Lieberman told me that his commitment to repealing DADT is twofold. First, allowing gays to serve openly fulfills the bedrock American promise of providing citizens with "an equal opportunity to do whatever job their talents and sense of purpose and motivations lead them to want to do - including military service." Second, and no less important for a lawmaker whose commitment to national security the Pentagon can't doubt, is that "When you artificially limit the pool of people who can enlist then you are diminishing military effectiveness."

Lieberman disputes the claim that allowing gay people to serve openly would cause havoc within the ranks. Indeed, to argue that belittles the maturity of our soldiers.

“My own experience as a member of the Armed Services Committee, visiting our troops on bases here in this country and abroad, particularly in war zones, the most remarkable quality you'll find is unit cohesion," he told me. "What matters is not the gender of the other person in your unit or the color or the religion or in this case the sexual orientation. It's whether that person is a good soldier you can depend on. And that's why I think it's going to work."

Like the Cold Warriors of yesteryear, who rightly said that America couldn't win the hearts and minds of people abroad as long as it discriminated against black citizens at home, Lieberman argues that allowing gays to serve is a core American value that will earn us international respect.

"I see this as an extension, the next step of the civil rights movement," he says.

And - this is me speaking - can one think of a better way for homosexual-hating, diversity-fearing Islamofascists to bite the dust than at the hands of openly gay American Marines?

Despite recent polling which shows overwhelming support for lifting the ban, Lieberman does not predict an easy fight. Even McCain, Lieberman's good friend and ally, is opposed, stating: "At a time when our armed forces are fighting and sacrificing on the battlefield, now is not the time to abandon the policy."

Sarah Palin echoed the line: "I don't think so right now. ... And I say that because there are other things to be worried about right now with the military."

That doesn't deter Lieberman, who has a reputation for stubbornness and who promises to "work as hard as I have on anything that's been important to me as a senator." It's probably wishful thinking given their habitual vituperation, but now that Joe Lieberman is spearheading one of their signature causes, perhaps liberals will come to appreciate the man they've loved to loathe.

1 comment:

  1. Bravo Joe for showing leadership at this crtical moment! We urge you not to listen to those in the Pentagon, nor those in the gay community who have curiously chosen to surrender to them, regarding their unsupportable demand for a year or more to "study" the issue based soley around the assumption that integration more quickly would cause havoc within the ranks...a proposition you so eloquently have already shot down.

    In the interest of quickly passing time before the 2011 budget must be authorized and the midterm elections, I urge you to borrow the well-worked out language of the House repeal bill, particularly that part which would allow them no more than six months, which gay organizations have, heretofore, fought for:


    (a) In General- Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Defense shall revise Department of Defense regulations, and shall issue such new regulations as may be necessary, to implement section 656 of title 10, United States Code, as added by section 4(a). The Secretary of Defense shall further direct the Secretary of each military department to revise regulations of that military department in accordance with section 656 of title 10, United States Code, as added by section 4(a), not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act."

    More than anything else, implementation would involve simply inserting "sexual orientation" into the vast, decades-old network of non-discrimination policies and programs currently enforced from the highest level in the Pentagon to the smallest and farthest-flung military outpost around the world along with "race, color, gender, and religious affiliation."

    Nothing in the testimony of Secty. Gates PROVES they NEED more time than that [and the new Palm Center study reinforces it]. He only proposed reasking questions that have already been repeatedly answered as well as asking a question for which there is no precedent: "Troops, what d'y'all think?" My Marine cousin was not asked what he thought about being sent to Afghanistan last month. And he was only given five days to "get used to the idea." The only thing giving the Pentagon another six months or more to delay implementation would accomplish [in addition to, as you say, belittling "the maturity of our soldiers"] is hundreds more gay servicemembers kicked to the curb—both an injustice and, in the words of the President last June, furthering weakening our national security.

    As then 27-yr. old veteran and now your Senate colleague John Kerry famously asked Congress in 1971:

    " do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

    And this mistake, as you know, is far older than Don't Ask, Don't Tell which is essentially just old wine in a new bottle. How absurd it is that Arab linquist LT. Dan Choi who has been recommended for discharge simply because he is gay wasn't even born yet when the first gay servicemember outed himself to fight the ban 35 years ago: my late friend T. SGT. Leonard Matlovich who famously said, "When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a disharge for loving one."

    In that vein, I also humbly urge you to name your repeal bill for Leonard Matlovich in the same spirit as the hate crimes bill was named for Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr.

    Thank you again!

    Michael Bedwell