Obama Should End 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Himself

Anything less than decisive action on the issue makes President Obama look weak and unpresidential.

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Mr. President. Don’t ask the lame duck session of Congress to end "don't ask, don't tell." Just tell Congress that you’ll do it yourself.

The president is moving cautiously to avoid kicking up a hornet’s nest by ending the Pentagon’s policy, but in the long run, he is hurting himself more than he is helping himself politically.

Obama has been talking about ending "don't ask, don't tell" for years now, but he hasn’t been aggressive enough to back up his words with action. It reminds me that aides of President Nixon used to reassure conservatives concerned about the president’s moderate rhetoric by saying don’t look at what we say, look at what we do. So President Obama routinely criticizes the policy in public, but he orders his Department of Justice to block a federal court order to end the policy.

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The president says he doesn’t want to move without Pentagon consensus, but Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense, and Adm. Michael Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both favor the end of this discrimination.

Congress passed a law requiring its permission to end "don't ask, don't tell," but past presidents have routinely used their constitutional power as commander in chief of the armed forces to override congressional objections on military matters. Anything less than decisive action on the issue makes President Obama look weak and unpresidential. With GOP control of the House, the only way the president can get things done in the future is to use his executive authority. A good place to start is an executive order that ends the policy

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It's just a matter of time until a federal court orders the end of "don't ask, don't tell" since the policy denies gay service people their First Amendment freedom of speech rights and the equal protection of the law that they deserve under the 14th Amendment. The longer president delays the inevitable, the weaker he looks. And the last thing any president needs is to look weak. Many Americans may oppose the end of the policy, but some of these people also value strength in a president and a commander in chief more than they care about his position on a single issue. Many Americans who disagreed with Ronald Reagan on specific issues supported him because they admired his backbone.

It is just a matter of time until "don't ask, don't tell" dies the ugly death it so richly deserves. Harry Truman ended racial segregation in the armed forces with the stroke of a pen on an executive order. President Obama should do the same thing with "don't ask, don't tell."

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