There was a little-noticed article in the New York Times yesterday entitled “Repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Faces Struggle in Congress.” It was probably little-noticed because it had a familiar, dispiriting aftertaste: of course it faced a struggle—it’s a popular, just policy opposed intensely by rank-and-file Republicans and some elites (apparently top military brass, Chiefs of Staff aside, favor the status quo just as they did the last time around), and given the Senate’s obstinacy, this formula is enough to stop policy from going through.
The real question that ought to be asked is why this needs to be an issue for Congress to consider at all: the last time we were considering an issue of discrimination in the military, Truman just changed things with the stroke of a pen with an executive order—and desegregation in the military ended. If anything, Truman’s action was considerably riskier than a hypothetical Obama executive order would be: racism and Jim Crow were far more virulent then than homophobia is now.
So why can’t Obama do it? I haven’t heard the subject discussed much, and so if I have to guess, it’s because Obama values whatever tenuous relationships he has with the military, which has spent quite a bit of time undermining his administration (see: run up to Afghanistan escalation) and foot-dragging on the subject of allowing gays to serve openly (just wait until this review is done! It’ll happen…eventually!). At a certain point, I think you have to accept that the military just won’t be particularly cooperative and do what’s best, which just about everyone agrees is allowing gays to serve openly.