Tomorrow (Wednesday the 23d) at 2 pm the Military Personnel Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee will hear testimony on whether Congress should repeal the law establishing the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. The hearing will be broadcast live on C-Span 3 as well as webcast on the Committee home page. The bill before the subcommittee is HR 1246, the Military Readiness Act, which now has a respectable 143 co-sponsors. DADT is the vestigial remnant of the firestorm that dominated the first six months of Clinton’s presidency, a political vortex fueled by a combination of the administration’s political clumsiness, then-Senator Sam Nunn’s ego, a gotcha-hungry media, and Pentagon brass horrified that this was the first issue thrown at them by (in their view) the draftdodger who was wrongly elected president. What a disaster.
SLDN and other LGBT groups which have worked on teeing up this hearing have produced so far what seems to be a textbook example of how to move your issue in Congress. They’ve satisfied the unimpeachable experts endorsement requirement – this one from 52 retired military leaders; the Palm Center at UC-Santa Barbara published a withering analysis of DADT by a General and Flag Officers Study Group; a Washington Post/ABC poll released last week showed that 75% of Americans support repealing DADT (unfortunately, there is less than half that level of support within the military); Nunn and then Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell have recently called for a "review" of the policy; and the media are running with the story. Meanwhile, the Bush Administration is ducking: the Defense Department declined to send a witness to testify tomorrow. And I think "duck" is really the right word here: witnesses will include gay vets, and who would want to have to follow that testimony with an argument that they aren’t good enough to serve?
As with most theatrical productions inside the beltway these days, this one is geared to laying the groundwork for when the Dems control the White House and beef up their numbers in Congress. (Of course I realize that an Obama presidency is not a sure thing, but barring a tragedy or an extremely ugly scandal, it is his to lose. And his victory is also – and this is key – now the expectation of the political/pundit class.) What all this means is that the DADT repeal will likely be one of the first LGBT issues that the next Congress tackles. Advocates hope that strong public support, triggered by tomorrow’s hearing and its spin-offs, will pave the way for Congress to finally repeal this compromise from hell.