Friday, June 08, 2007

Don't Ask Don't Tell About Don't Ask Don't Tell

Rudy Giuliani had no problem living in the home of a gay couple when his wife kicked him out of the house for having an affair, but in his view Don't Ask Don't Tell --- premised on the notion that men and women who daily risk life and limb from snipers and IEDs would freak out if they knew exactly which of their fellow soldiers were gay --- is working well. And anyway, as he said at the latest Republican debate: "at a time of war, you don’t make fundamental changes like this." Mitt Romney said more or the less the same thing but his sellout on this issue is slightly easier to take because the whole premise of his campaign is that he didn't really mean any of those liberal things he said and did when he was Governor of Massachusetts; he was just kowtowing to a liberal constituency then but now freed from the bluest of blue states he's a true-blue conservative. Romney's approach is something like the Saturday Night Live parody of Hillary Clinton's vote for the Iraq War: "Knowing what we know now, that you could vote against the war and still be elected president, I would never have pretended to support it."

Having just bashed three candidates for President, I'll come to the real point: This is a potentially dangerous issue for both parties.

A NY Times story today reports that a poll taken last year showed the public favoring openly gay service members in the armed forces by a 60-32 margin. Moreover, logic is overwhelmingly on the liberalization side. Excluding---indeed removing---otherwise qualified service members during wartime simply because of their sexual orientation will strike most sensible people as a reckless rather than cautious thing to do, given the stop-loss orders and extended and repeat tours. Nonetheless, positions on Don't Ask Don't Tell are not designed to appeal to most people, sensible or otherwise. Right now, they are designed to appeal to the respective bases of the two parties, but with an eye on the general election too.

And thus we come to the question that's likely to define American politics for some time: Is the Roveian strategy dead? Karl Rove showed that you could (just barely and with some help) win Presidential elections by mobilizing your base and doing your best to mislead and/or frighten swing voters. Presumably some of the Republican candidates who support Don't Ask Don't Tell do so because they actually oppose gay people serving. But the ones who are simply playing to the base on this issue aren't necessarily doing themselves damage in the general. They believe that the 32 percent of Americans who oppose openly gay service members in the armed forces care about the issue a lot more than the 60 percent who favor repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell. Moreover, because the 32 percent are older than the 60 percent, a larger fraction of them vote. (Remember MTV's "Vote or Die," or as it should have been called, "Vote or Don't"). Will this strategy work? Damned if I know. Conventional wisdom says that the 2006 midterms finally repudiated Rove's views, but then conventional wisdom also said that his strategy never should have worked in the first place.

10 comments:

Adam P. said...

Part of the issue, though, is that there are a lot of people who support repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell, but don't really care that much about it. But for others, any "pro-gay" stance is a litmus test. Just as I've met plenty of people who are pro-choice, yet support conservative members of the judiciary, there are plenty of people who oppose DADT who will not not vote for someone because they support the policy. We know how people feel on the issue yay/nay, but not on their prioritization.

Juan said...

Really? I would have thought that Bush failed at the 2006 midterms not so much because Rove’s views didn’t suceed but because of an accumulation of so many serious mistakes that not even Turd Blossom’s tricks could save the day. And I certainly would have thought that conventional wisdom would embrace the idea that in current politics winning is all about spinning.

Hey, but maybe I’m just unwise, or too cynical.

Michael C. Dorf said...

RE Juan's comment. I agree that the midterms were more a referendum on the Bush record than on the political strategy but I have heard a great many in the pundit class and even reputable political scientists say that 2006 showed the limits of the polarization strategy rather than the principle that you can't keep winning elections with an incompetent, corrupt team.

Juan said...

Michael, we agree on the substance. The only point I was trying to make – in a somewhat twisted way, I admit it – is that “conventional wisdom” is an extremely slippery (even contradictory?) term nowadays, when punditry and partisanship greatly replace the average citizen’s dose of journalism and rational analysis of hot issues. In this sense I believe that the subject you’ve chosen in this post – homosexuals in the military – is a perfect example. Having lived in other developed countries and knowing how other military deal with the matter (it's basically a non-issue – see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_orientation_and_military_service ) the only plausible explanation for don’t ask/don’t tell is the loud and vicious circle of misinformation and political gain/loss that surrounds it.

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