Like most Americans, and nearly all liberals, I’ve long since regarded DADT-repeal as a matter of simple decency. I know that there are Americans for whom it’s a matter of simple indecency. And I’ll concede that there might be enough of those Americans serving in our military forces to raise a genuine question as to whether DADT repeal jeopardizes our national security by compromising solidarity among our fighting men and women.
But I don’t expect everybody to embrace my standards of decency and concur with my judgment that their national security worries are misplaced. That’s why we have elections. And it says something that our elected representatives have just repealed DADT even though, under Senate rules, preferences against repeal carried a lot more decision-making weight than preferences in favor of it.
That, however, isn't good enough for John McCain. I won’t add my voice to the chorus of disparagement he’s getting from the left over his stubborn opposition to DADT repeal. I’m perfectly happy to concede that any former presidential candidate who endured five years of captivity and torture as an American prisoner-of-war is entitled to our respectful attention on this matter. So I don’t buy the liberal complaint that McCain is just a sore loser who can’t get over having lost the presidency to a liberal upstart. I presume that there’s a serious idea behind his extraordinary lament about DADT’s imminent repeal from the Senate floor:
McCain has been out-voted before, so I presume that this isn’t just his way of saying that he really thinks DADT-repeal is unwise. Nor do I think he's contesting the legitimacy of the DADT decision that followed his floor speech. McCain can't be saying that it's imprudent for clueless civilians not to defer to military expertise since that's exactly what DADT-repeal supporters were doing when they took the military hierarchy at its word that DADT-repeal won’t compromise military effectiveness if it’s administered intelligently.
So what, exactly, is McCain’s beef?
Here’s the best answer I can come up with: McCain thinks it’s outrageously presumptuous of people who’ve never served in the military themselves, and know few if anyone who has, to be telling “master sergeants” and “junior officers” how to run their barracks. Non-veterans in general, and liberal non-veterans in particular, know next to nothing about the distinctive military culture that celebrates devotion to duty, honor and country over the mercenary ambitions of civilian life. So they can't fathom the extreme public-spiritedness that drives military personnel to undertake supererogatory acts of citizenship. When liberal elites make military personnel into the guinea pigs of their social experiments, they're withholding the heartfelt expressions of gratitude and respect to which our soldiers are entitled. So they shouldn't be surprised if military personnel interpret DADT repeal as an expression of ingratitude and disrespect, and start acting accordingly.
Although it all sounds pretty far-fetched to me, that’s the best sense I can make out of McCain’s remarks. I’ve always presumed that, while military volunteers are generally better citizens than I am, we still comfortably inhabit the same civic culture and aspire to serve roughly the same civic deals. But what do I know? I’m just one of those high-fiving liberals who’ve never served in the military and don’t hang out with many people who have. What if there’s something to what (I think) McCain is saying and military personnel and the rest of us are becoming civic strangers to each other? Wouldn’t that mean our thirty-five-year-old experiment with an all-voluntary army is a lot less successful than we think?