Monday, February 18, 2008

Readiness on Day One

I taste a little bile every time I hear Hillary Clinton's line about how she'll be "ready on Day One". Those of us who are gay and over 35 should recall all the excitement we felt in 1992 when Bill Clinton promised us that he was going to end the ban on gays in the military with the stroke of a pen on his first day in office. And the subsequent crashing disappointment when we realized he hadn't really thought it through, bungled the politics of it, quickly capitulated the initiative, and ultimately saddled us with the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" compromise. We thought he was our friend, and we were all angry at Sam Nunn at the time. But in retrospect, the reality is that Bill Clinton wasn't really prepared on "day one" to do what needed to be done to fulfill the promise he had made. There are really only two explanations to account for that: he was politically naïve in thinking he could end the ban with the "stroke of a pen", or he wasn't as committed to his promise as we'd like to think.

So, will Hillary Clinton be any more "ready on day one" to move on gay and lesbian issues than was her husband? How serious is she about repealing "Don't Ask Don't Tell"? Sure, when she's addressing a "friendly" audience like the Human Rights Campaign, she's outspoken about how she believes strongly that the time to end the ban is now. And she's always claiming that she knows how to get things done in Washington. Well, before 1993, the ban could have been ended by an executive order. But thanks to Bill, the ban became codified into law, and only Congress can fix it now. There's been a bill introduced in the House called the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, that has 109 co-sponsors, including some Republicans. It's just needed a champion in the Senate. Preferably one sitting on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Like, say, Senator Clinton. In fact, if she was serious about overturning the ban now, she's in the best possible position to do it, and has been for the last seven years. Clinton claims that she strongly believes the ban should be ended now, and that she knows how to get things done in Washington. Clearly, at least one of those claims is false, if not both.

All of the Democratic candidates have made statements to the Human Rights Campaign about their position on Don't Ask Don't Tell, and it's rather telling (as well as ironic) to compare the statements of Clinton and Obama. One of them is full of inspirational talk, and cites a few personal anecdotes, but is otherwise lacking in any hard policy specifics. The other one specifically cites the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, but goes beyond endorsing it to provide a multi-point plan of policy specifics to support the implementation of a repeal, including anti-harassment policies, changed protocols, and the re-accession of those previously separated. Care to guess which was which? Turns out if you want someone who really has the substance, who has thought about what a president specifically would need to do on "day one", that would be Obama.

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