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Don’t Ask Don’t Tell: Don’t Appeal?

| October 13, 2010
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Yesterday, a California U.S. District Judge issued an injunction against the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell rules, ordering the armed services to “immediately…suspend and discontinue any investigation, or discharge” of gay and lesbian personnel. The judge, Virginia Phillips had earlier declared the policy to be unconstitutional.

So now the ball bounces out of federal court and into the court of public opinion, political calculus, and the exigencies of an impending major election. Despite a recent poll finding that 59% of Americans support repeal of  Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, which has resulted in thousands of gay and lesbian military discharges, the Obama administration has yet to announce if it will appeal the ruling and ask a higher court to re-instate the policy.

The L.A. Times’  Top of the Ticket blog summarizes the administration’s political dilemma and posits a likely short-term solution:

Don’t ask, don’t tell was totally banned by a federal judge near Los Angeles Tuesday, creating a major political predicament for Democratic President Barack Obama just 20 days before crucial midterm elections that already augured ill for his party…

Fortunately for administration political reasons, Obama has 60 days to file an appeal, a timespan that will get him past the Nov. 2 midterm elections when numerous current polls indicate his party will likely endure a shellacking in congressional elections, and possibly at state levels as well.

Appealing the court’s ruling now would anger a major element of the Democrat base, possibly adversely affecting some elections and widespread turnout. A decision not to appeal would be the easiest for the administration, which could simply abide by the court’s ruling.

That could, however, cause further damage among conservatives and many in the military who favor Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell as is. And not proceeding would shortcircuit the ongoing review within the military community. So, a decision to postpone the decision seems most likely.

Barney Frank went on Keith Olbermann’s show yesterday and suggested the administration do just that, though his reasoning was different. He wants Obama to hold off on an appeal until Congress reconvenes and the Senate has a chance to vote for repeal. (The support of at least two Republican Senators is needed to break a filibuster. Good luck with that.)

As for the response of the increasingly restless left, the San Francisco Bay Guardian may capture the mood in this editorial: “DADT ruling gives Obama an opportunity to lead.”

(I)f Obama really wants to show some courage on the issue, he would announce that he’s doing nothing – that is, choosing not to appeal the ruling and to simply let it stand – now, before the mid-term elections next month. Sure, that might involve some political risk in conservative districts, but it would also demonstrate to voters on the left that this administration is actually willing to take a stand on an issue that is important to progressives and other believers in social justice…

Obama opposes same-sex marriage, and when the Democrat’s made a showy legislative move last month to end DADT, they quickly caved in the face of a Republican filibuster, making the whole gesture seem like a meaningless election year gimmick rather than an honest effort to end a policy that has always been unconstitutional, as this judge has now ruled.

So now, it’s gut check time. Obama needs to show what kind of president he wants to be. Will he do the right thing and finally provide the bold progressive leadership this country needs right now, or will he follow Bill Clinton’s lead and cave in to his conservative critics, maintaining his popularity and winning a second term by triangulating between the left and right, but leaving the country dangerously adrift in treacherous waters.

Meanwhile, 19 Democratic senators, including Barbara Boxer, have urged the administration not to appeal the court’s order.

And by the way, while we’re on the subject, if you’ve never seen Al Franken’s emotional Senate floor speech in support of repeal, it’s definitely worth a look…

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