Archive | December, 2010

DADT and Nudge Leadership

22 Dec

After 17 years, the archaic Don’t Ask Don’t Tell law was repealed today. One of the surprising victories for the Democrats in this lame duck session (waiting on START, as this is written), DADT fell under the pressures from various sides: Independent lawmakers (the ever unpredictable and formidable, Senator Lieberman), moderate Republicans, and active/retired military. This dynamic combination against a law enacted under President Clinton, after he, fearing his own political capital was at stake during the tumultous first 48 months of his presidency, buckled, was enough to push it to the president’s desk for final approval. To say that this is a victory for any party or position is only half true. This, like many other instances in our national history, is another example of pragmatic reform, and interconnected politics.


The future of the law was uncertain as of a few weeks ago. Opponents of this inherently discriminating law were afraid Obama lacked the backbone, and Democrats lacked the organization, to make their campaign promise a reality. Once more, Obama’s liberal credentials were being questioned–and during the last couple weeks, after the tax cut compromise, this alarm was beaming red.


A general sense of frustration permeated the DADT-repeal crowd, after study after study, and hearing after hearing confirmed what they already knew: the military can still function well with openly gay servicemen and women. The top military brass said this, the Pentagon said this, Secretary Gates said this…but nothing was being done. Obama looked on, and Democrats scrambled, as a seemingly momentous opportunity was drifting past us.


The tipping point might have come not from DADT opponents, but from gay marriage proponents. With the issue of legalizing same-sex couple marriages continuously bubbling up to the surface, through court battles/appeals/and the fallout of both, there is no doubt it will reach the Supreme Court within a couple of years. From this, there were two ways President Obama could’ve seen this eventual turn of events: as an opportunity or as an obstacle.


A gay marriage battle in the Supreme Court, specially during an election year, would no doubt be distracting. It would be the Brown v. Board of Education of our lifetime. This would not only substantially frame the election conversation, but it would build “camps.” The pro-gay marriage camp and the anti-gay marriage camp. Passions and forces would coalesce, and heroes would be picked and followed. If the Tea Party wave continues, it’s very probable a Tea Party favorite will be a contender for the GOP nomination and might actually become the Republican presidential candidate. At that time, the anti-gay marriage camp will have found it’s hero.


Where would this leave Obama?


If he decided to forgo a DADT repeal battle, in favor of other pressing issues (which no one can doubt he has a bevy of), he would essentially lose an opportunity to secure the vast majority of the pro-gay marriage camp’s support. He’d lose a key element of any successful campaign: a passionate core base. But he didn’t, he kept it on his desk and as a part of his priority list. Being deliberate to the bone once more, he waited until he felt it was the right time to nudge it through. He managed the process throughout, put the final wrapping, and finished the job.


Viewing it as an obstacle, Obama would’ve skipped a DADT discussion, pushed it for next year, and run the risk of having it never reach the floor ever again. His list of priorities are long and pressing enough to justify this sort of move. If he had done that, though, he’d run the risk of trailing a debate. He would be dealing with DADT, when the national conversation was on gay marriage. He would be trying to fix a crooked frame, when the entire house was being remodeled.


He would, in essence, be pulling a John McCain: in the way of historic momentum. This would not only bode ill on him, as a leader and visionary, but as a politician. “How could he not see this coming?” Fortunately, he did.


The president can now claim three uncommon and impressive achievements.


First, he presided over a very productive lame duck session of Congress, and gave bipartisanship a new jolt of vigor.


He also added another victory to his mantle that President Clinton was not able to do in his 8 years.


The third, however, might be the sweetest and most significant for America’s course through history: he nudged this generation’s civil rights movement further in the right direction. Knowing that while opening presents has to give everyone a pretty good feeling this holiday season.


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