Clinton, Obama Both Get Credit on 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Repeal

Congress did the right thing in repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

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Maybe it takes a Congress undergoing post-election traumatic syndrome to do the right thing and allow gays and lesbians in the military to do their jobs without the added stress of lying about who they are. Maybe it’s something about the holiday season that led lawmakers to acknowledge that there’s something very distasteful about asking people to feel ashamed about whom they love. [See a roundup of editorial cartoons about 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.]

The more alarming trend is that the anonymity of the Internet (until WikiLeaks outs everyone, anyway) has emboldened people to brag shamelessly about how many kinds of people they hate. Vitriol, bigotry and distrust of immigrants or minority groups or Muslims--all of this has become accepted ``free speech’’ by people looking to justify their ignorance and prejudice. But acknowledging love for someone of the same gender? That, for an indefensibly long time, has been banned by the U.S. military and treated with disdain by many in politics.

[Read more about national security and the military.]

Former President Clinton was excoriated for his early efforts to repeal the ban on gays in the military--not necessarily for the substance of the move, but for the politics of it. Clinton was foolish to spend early political capital on something so polarizing, critics argued, and the failed effort undermined the commander-in-chief with a skeptical military and weakened him on Capitol Hill. That’s an easy, cable-TV political analysis to make. But social change doesn’t come without an early, audacious effort to upend wrong-headed policy, and Clinton should be commended for starting the process. The fact that President Obama chose a different legislative strategy--focusing on healthcare and financial services reform first, angering gay rights activists who wanted him to throw his political weight behind eliminating the offensive 'don’t ask, don’t tell" rule for gays and lesbians in the military--doesn’t make him less committed to human rights than Clinton. Both divergent strategies were necessary to getting the policy changed--even if it took 17 years.

  • See photos of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
  • Read more about national security and the military.
  • See editorial cartoons on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"