Election 2012: Will DADT Repeal be Undone
By Matt Brauer
With the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire primary in the rear view mirror, Service members again find themselves at the center of national debates over the wars, military spending, and an issue we thought was a done deal: the repeal of DADT. While Sept. 20 was a watershed mark for civil rights, it is, by no means, a settled matter in the eyes of social conservatives. In fact, many elected officials and influential Tea Party activists favor re-enacting the old policy. For example, William Temple, chairman of the Founding Fathers Tea Party, warned in May 2011 of the “effeminization” of the military and tied reinstatement of DADT to last year’s debt ceiling fight.
While the booing of a gay Soldier at a recent debate drew similar national attention, it did expose some Republicans as out-of-step on a policy change nearly 80 percent of Americans supported. Moreover, this incident also obscures a more nuanced reading of the GOP, particularly the presidential field on this issue. Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney favors open LGBT service (Surprise! He opposed it prior to repeal). And libertarian firebrand Ron Paul actually voted to repeal DADT in the house. However, their rivals for the GOP nod, Texas governor Rick Perry, former Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Sen. Rick Santorum, all favor reinstating the old policy.
While President Obama, a large a large majority of congressional Democrats, and some fair-minded Republicans championed open service, it is far from certain that they will hold both the White House and Senate, or take back the House. The Cook Political Report, which rates House and Senate races nationwide, has pointed out that redistricting due to the 2010 census has largely been a wash: of 33 redistricting maps completed as of January, reapportionment has been zero sum for both parties. More ominously, Democrats are defending 23 Senate seats and the Republicans only 10. Even the Senate race in Hawaii, long a Democratic stronghold, is a toss up this year. Congress very much remains anyone’s to take.
With the state of the race in flux and most elected Republicans against open service, the question begs to be asked: Will the next Republican president; backed by rowdy Congressional Tea Partiers reinstate DADT? It’s hard to say at this point who will control Congress, but most pundits say Democrats are facing an uphill battle to keep the White House and Senate. I already hear my Republican friends piping up: “Wait! The Tea Party and the GOP are not the same thing!” True, the Tea Party is far to the right of most Americans (and Republicans), but the reality is Speaker Boehner needs to herd Tea Party cats for important votes on other issues, and it’s possible he may have to give them more on social issues if Democrats pick up seats in November.
One might take solace in the idea that so long as there are 41 anti-DADT votes in the Senate; we should be ok. But the Democrats are famous for their lack of cohesion when in the minority (or the majority) so any DADT-reinstatement measure is likely to be horse-traded for other Democratic priorities like the yearly “doc fix” for Medicare, which covers reimbursement rates for doctors. Besides that, even a relatively moderate Republican like Romney might be tempted to reinstate the policy to satisfy a right wing clamoring for a reversal of what they see as a radical social experiment, as Sen. Santorum puts it.
Whether it’s Democrats or Republicans in power, one thing is for sure: open LGBT service in the military is still in contention by social conservatives eager to roll back equality. It’s up to each of us to stay informed and stay engaged as voters in a post-repeal era to make sure the gains of today are not tomorrow’s fallback. Now is the time to get engaged in primary elections where you live to ensure candidates who support open service make it to the general election. VOTE!