A new champion on DADT repeal

A NEW CHAMPION ON DADT REPEAL…. Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.) has been the lead sponsor of a House bill to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, but with Tauscher leaving Congress for Obama’s State Department, Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.) is reportedly prepared to step up as the bill’s new champion.

It’s no surprise why proponents of the bill would want Murphy, who is a respected Democratic voice on military matters. In addition to serving two deployments in Bosnia and in Baghdad, Murphy was awarded a Bronze Star and his unit earned the Presidential Unit Citation. He is also a former West Point professor and an ex-military attorney.

With a record like that, it would seemingly be difficult for conservatives — especially conservatives who didn’t serve in the military — to blast Murphy as someone who doesn’t understand issues like unit cohesion.

But there’s also an unfortunate reality: it won’t matter. Murphy may be a decorated hero and respected lawmaker, but conservative Republicans who care more about hating gays than national security will be unmoved. For them, this is about a culture war, not military readiness, fairness, or respect for those who volunteer to wear the uniform.

I’ve been reading Nathaniel Frank’s “Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America” — which is excellent, by the way — and while it makes clear that there is no legitimate defense for banning able-bodied, patriotic Americans from serving their country, it also reminds me that for conservative activists and policy makers, reason, evidence, and common sense are largely irrelevant in this debate.

Newsweek‘s Anna Quindlen had a good column on this in the new issue:

In January of this year alone, the Army fired 11 soldiers under the policy, including a military-police officer and a health-care specialist. Dozens of Arabic-language translators have been thrown out of the service as well, including one whose captain’s evaluation began: “Exceptional leader.” In the meantime, to meet recruitment quotas, special waivers have been issued to allow the enlistment of hundreds of convicted felons, including arsonists and burglars. One man who had repeatedly beaten his wife was accused of beating prisoners in Iraq; another, who stabbed an Iraqi private with a bayonet, had been accused of assault as a civilian.

The absurdity of this is so overwhelming that even many of those who once supported the policy have turned against it. Former Republican senator Alan Simpson wrote, “We need every ablebodied smart patriot to help us win this war,” and retired General Shalikashvili called for the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” saying it was important to “consider the evidence that has emerged” against a ban on gay service members. But overwhelming evidence has existed for decades that allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly has no effect on military mission or efficiency. Time after time, respected think tanks and governmental departments have been asked to study the issue, and time after time the result has been buried by military leaders who preferred mythology to data.

Some members of Congress have recently suggested an “in-depth study” of this issue. All they need do is read Frank’s book to see that it has been studied to death. The existing policy is a blot on the reputation of the U.S. armed forces, since it suggests that while the Australians, the Canadians, the Israelis, the British and service members from 20 other countries that have jettisoned gay bans can overcome individual differences, Americans cannot.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said about a week ago that he’d prefer to push this issue “down the road a little bit.” Given the right-wing hysteria surrounding his budget restructuring proposal, Gates probably figures he can only handle one apoplectic response at a time.

If Congress, and Rep. Murphy, can pick up the slack, maybe the nation can end this absurd policy once and for all.

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