Friday, October 15, 2010

More on Obama and DADT

Here (via Jane Hamsher with video) is Obama’s answer to a question about Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell at the MTV Town Hall (my emphasis):
“I have said very clearly, including in a State of the Union Address, that I am against Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and that we’re going to end this policy. That’s point number one. Point number two, the difference between my position right now and Harry Truman’s, is that Congress explicitly passed a law that took away the power of the executive branch to end this policy unilaterally. So this is not a situation in which, with the stroke of a pen, I can simply end the policy.

"Now having said that, what I have been able to do is for the first time get the Chairman of the Joint Chief’s of Staff, Mike Mullen, to say he thinks the policy should end. The Secretary of Defense has said he recognizes that the policy needs to change. And we, I believe, have enough votes in the Senate to remove to go ahead and remove this constraint on me as the House has already done so that I can go ahead and end it.

"Now we recently had a Supreme Court — a district court case — that said DADT is un constitutional. I agree with the basic principle that anybody who wants to serve in our armed forces, and make sacrifices on our behalf, on behalf of our national security, anybody should be able to serve. And they shouldn’t have to lie about who hey are in order to serve.

“And so we are moving in the direction of ending this policy. It has to be done in a way that is orderly because we are involved in a war right now. But this is not a question of whether the policy will end. This policy will end, and it will end on my watch.

“But I do have an obligation to make sure that I’m following some of the rules. I can’t simply ignore laws that are out there. I have to work to make sure they are changed.”
This is, to put it kindly, a little misleading. It wouldn’t even take a stroke of Obama’s pen to end DADT. All he’d have to do is refrain from appealing the District Court order enjoining its enforcement. If the District Court was right, that wouldn’t be "ignoring" the law, it would following it to the letter. Obama's making sense only on the assumption that the District Court's mistaken about DADT’s constitutionality.  But he's doing his best to leave the impression that he agrees with the court.

It’s worth asking why a guy who is as well-verse in the law and chooses his words as carefully as Obama, is working so hard not to be straightforward when, as I argued here, straightforwardness is a matter of civic responsibility. What’s so hard about saying that DADT is both constitutional and immoral?

I can think of only two plausible answers: (1) Obama doesn’t really believe in DADT’s unconstitutionality, but pretends to because he doesn’t want to mobilize social conservatives during an election season by acting on his best understanding of the Constitution; or (2) Obama really believes that DADT’s constitutional, but doesn’t want to excite the distrust from liberals who don’t recognize the possibility that a law as immoral as DADT could be constitutional.  Neither answer inspires confidence.

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