Back in the day, when he was still interested in positioning himself as a Republican moderate, Senator John McCain used to say that he was not necessarily opposed per se to repealing America’s so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law — which forbids homosexuals from serving openly in the US armed forces — only that he felt it personally inappropriate for a measly politician like him to initiate such a reform. If the army leadership came to him and said, “Senator, repeal it,” however, then obviously he’d get cracking right away. Such respect for the military has Senator McCain.
Problem is, the military leadership did come to him and say just that. Earlier this year, during Senate hearings on the future of DADT, Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense, Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and General David Petraeus, commander of the Afghanistan war and former commander of the Iraq war, all testified that the ban on openly gay servicemen had outlived its usefulness, and should be abolished, post-haste.
That’s all well and good for you guys to say, said McCain, who was fighting a tough primary battle for reelection, but now I want to hear from the soldiers. Asking the troops on the ground for their opinion on military policy seems to contradict the rigid hierarchy governing military service, but whatever. The Pentagon commissioned a massive survey of how individual soldiers would react to a theoretical DADT repeal, and the results, revealed to the Armed Services Committee — which McCain is head Republican on — were fairly mild.
Obviously some of the manly-men in the US armed forces don’t like the idea of showering next to gays, etc, but such views remain a minority. 70% of all servicemen interviewed said they think overturning DADT will have a neutral-to-positive effect on troop morale and cohesion, and 80 to 90% of soldiers who had actually served alongside a fellow officer known to be gay stated that their coworker’s sexuality had little effect on anything.
McCain is still not satisfied, however, and will still not support a repeal — and most Senate Republicans seem to be following his lead. Using increasingly tortured logic, the Senator has raised vague concerns about the Pentagon survey’s “methodology,” and some of the polling data from the Marines (who have emerged as the least gay-accepting faction of the armed forces). But holding up a policy reform on these grounds is obviously a long ways removed from respecting the wishes of the “military leadership.”
It’d be nice to believe there is actually some high principle motivating the GOP’s constant stonewalling on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” that goes beyond mere pandering to a voter base that is personally distressful of homosexuality. But the evidence is becoming scarce.