To a degree unimaginable as recently as 2004 — when Karl Rove and George W. Bush ran a national campaign exploiting fear of gay people — there is now little political advantage to spewing homophobia. Indeed, anti-gay animus is far more likely to repel voters than attract them. This equation was visibly eating at Orrin Hatch, the Republican senator from Utah, as he vamped nervously with Andrea Mitchell of MSNBC last week, trying to duck any discernible stand on Mullen’s testimony. On only one point was he crystal clear: “I just plain do not believe in prejudice of any kind.”I sincerely hope this is the case. But it is hard to believe such an enlightened public exists, given the Tea Party fever of this weekend. Of course, the TP types are a minority, but as we have seen in the Senate, it is relatively easy for minorities to block progress.
Anyway, it was notable that Colin Powell changed his mind, despite being a major contributor to the regrettable status quo. He presented a major challenge to civil-military relations back in the Clinton Administration by being the face of opposition to gays in the military. Now, circumstances have apparently changed for him as well. [Ironically, the NYT has a piece on movies where the hero is a rebel (Avatar, District 9), turning his back on his friends--is this Powell's role now?]
McCain aside, the most common last-ditch argument for preserving “don’t ask” heard last week, largely from Southern senators, is to protect “troop morale and cohesion.” Every known study says this argument is a canard, as do the real-life examples of the many armies with openly gay troops, including those of Canada, Britain and Israel. But the argument does carry a telling historical pedigree. When Harry Truman ordered the racial integration of the American military in 1948, Congressional opponents (then mainly Southern Democrats) embraced an antediluvian Army prediction from 1940 stating that such a change would threaten national defense by producing “situations destructive to morale.” History will sweep this bogus argument away now as it did then.Despite the existence of homophobia in the ranks (not too mention the Christian fundamentalism that seems to predominate in the US Air Force), the kids of today in the military are pretty hip:
I can tell you with certainty that if the ban were lifted tomorrow -- no year of preparation -- life would go on exactly as it did before....Life would go on. Mostly what I heard after Admiral Mullen's declaration was, "it's about time." There is no question if the military is ready -- the military is waiting.
And this is from a submariner--the case usually cite for close quarters making for gay un-friendly environments.
Back to Frank Rich:
But there can be no doubt that Mike Mullen’s powerful act of conscience last week, just as we marked the 50th anniversary of the Greensboro, N.C., lunch counter sit-in, pushed history forward. The revealing silence that followed from so many of the usual suspects was pretty golden too.Indeed.