John McCain's Angry 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Flip Flop

The fate of gays in the military depends upon McCain's magnificently mercurial ego.

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What's happening here on shedding the shackles of "don't ask, don't tell" for our gay soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen? 

Just as the Army, Navy, and Air Force are in formation to move forward, the chatty new commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James Amos, voices his opposition to lifting the policy and you think: "Who the heck asked him to tell us that?" Call me old-fashioned, but let's appoint generals who are the strong, silent type.

Don't look now, but the fate of gays in the military depends upon one man's magnificently mercurial ego. The old warrior, Sen. John McCain opposes changing the policy after a sudden change of heart; according to the Washington Post, McCain had earlier expressed a willingness to support the consensus of men and women in uniform, once the results are in. His game change has preempted the Pentagon report on this tough issue (due out December 1) which had everybody breathless with anticipation. At long last, the military brass conducted a serious survey that shows most men and women on active duty, officers, and enlisted favor lifting the ban on gays serving openly in the military.

[See where McCain gets his campaign money.]

Just as important, the establishment report found that lifting a ban would not harm readiness. The study breaks new ground, paving the way for political support, giving top cover to McCain and any Republican lawmaker that cares to join the march of progress. None has volunteered for duty, not even moderate Maine Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.  

[See who supports Collins.]

In other words, too much time was squandered on a study aimed at making a repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" more bipartisan, which was a waking dream. Or some kind of old army shell game. Such a shame in the end.

Now Washington is settled in its seats to watch a drama of Shakespearean proportions unfold as autumn gives way to winter. No better stage than the Senate for casting a hoary King Lear-esque character, I always say. McCain has learned the lines and mastered the role of a powerful elder and leader of men, mad about all the appreciation he didn't get late in life's seasons. 

McCain has already set the scene by threatening to filibuster if lifting the policy is part of the defense authorization bill, as jointly planned by President Obama, congressional majority leaders, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen. Newly re-elected McCain, well into his 70s, is coming back to the Senate with a vengeance. Usually tuned into the military powers that be, now the naval war hero is openly defying Gates, Mullen, and all the carefully laid Pentagon power point plans. Go back and study some more: That's about the size of his game plan.

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Here's where the bard comes in. A senator filibustering all night on the Senate floor is equivalent to a king raging on a heath in a storm--going from mad to madder to crossing over to the other side of mad. Said King Lear: "O that way madness lies." 

Senate Democrats would be a bit crazy if they didn't call the bluff and make McCain filibuster--let the public see what they didn't get two years ago. Yes, I do think McCain is still mad and wounded about losing to the much younger Obama on the 2008 field of battle. Well-known for his unpredictable temperament, he no longer fits the flattering term "maverick" because his political mood swings lately are beyond bewildering--on climate change as well as "don't ask, don't tell." And yet when he is in a sunny mood, everyone around him gets a tan. 

[Read more about U.S. energy policy.]

In the Oval Office as this December drama plays out, Obama too must be ready to take the stage to engage his friends and confront his foes. Frame a repeal as a universal human rights issue, not only a gay rights question. Finally, there's a tragic hero he must not play at all costs: Hamlet.

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