Don’t be Naive about Obama’s Repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

The repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” or DADT, is being hailed as a signature accomplishment by Barack Obama, something akin to Truman desegregating the military. It certainly is a great moment for the gay and lesbian community and those who support them. Any time a form of discrimination is knocked down, those who are discriminated against and those of us who believe in equality win. I have been pushing the repeal of DADT since it was put into effect under Clinton. I’m elated to see it fall (albeit I am concerned about its contingent wording in the bill Obama will sign).

But let’s be honest. The homosexual community and those who support gay and lesbian rights are responsible for this victory. We must not give all or most of the credit to elites when it is the people who did the heavy lifting. The black community and its supporters appreciated Lyndon Johnson’s support of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It was a brave thing to do and ultimately destructive to the Democratic Party. But it was the civil right movement, led by such moral leaders as Martin Luther King, Jr., who deserve the credit. The gay and lesbian community and its supporters have been dedicated to overthrowing this discriminatory policy, and this victory is for the most part theirs.

Moreover, we should never give too much credit to authorities who stop perpetuating an immoral practice. Overturning segregation and, now heterosexism (though not entirely), are morally necessary acts, not favors. It’s about realizing a right, not enjoying a privilege. To be sure, Lincoln freed most slaves; but we should not treat the Emancipation Proclamation as a gift. A representative of the ruling class finally did the right thing (and this was only because he was forced to by circumstance). Therefore, we should ask ourselves exactly why Obama is signing this bill. Is there an ulterior motive underpinning Obama’s support for DADT? He is, after all, opposed to gay marriage.

Let’s be honest with ourselves. Obama would not support the repeal if the military were not encouraging him to do so. The country is now spending half of every tax dollar on the war machine. The military needs good soldiers. But the military’s discriminatory policy has made it difficult to recruit on college campuses, many of which bar groups that discriminate from using their facilities or occupying their grounds. Ending DADT makes the main justification for barring recruiters vanish. The military wants young bodies. Recruiters have to go where potential recruits are. Recruiters already work the economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. Opening up colleges and universities greatly expands the hunting grounds.

Furthermore, repealing DADT is politically useful to Obama. It gives Obama cover for the work he does for the power elite—the corporate bailouts, the wars, the surveillance and torture regimes, and a myriad of other things beneficial to the rich and detrimental to the working class and the poor. When Obama’s loyalty to progressive democratic politics is questioned (and his disloyalty to those further left confirmed), the administration and corporate media will simply trot out the repeal of DADT and say, “Well, if he is such a right winger, then why did he end DADT?”

There is little cost to Obama with DADT’s repeal. Conservatives aren’t going to vote for him anyway, and independents are ambivalent about gays in the military. The single-issue progressive Democrat is positively ecstatic over this action. In a fine display of magical thinking; it confirms his faith in his leader. In the final analysis, this repeal changes nothing about the essential truth of Obama. The president is still delivering the goods for the rich and powerful.

Don’t be naive. He didn’t do this for gays and lesbians or because he opposes inequality and discrimination. As Obama demonstrated during the campaign with Jeremiah Wright and Trinity United, he is prepared to throw under the bus any constituency in the progressive community that gets in the way of meeting the demands of the ruling class. Obama has demonstrated time and time again as president that his behavior during the campaign is standard operating procedure. Where’s card check? Where’s the public option? Where’s the repeal of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy? Why aren’t our troops home from Iraq? Why is the Guantánamo Bay detention center still open?

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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