Monday, October 12, 2009


Lots of rumbling over the weekend about DADT, marriage, and other civil rights issues after the HRC dinner and the Washington march. The best thing I've seen about it is Mark Kleiman's piece (Drum is good, too). Kleiman argues that Obama is actively working to repeal DADT:
Obama’s problem is to make the change bubble up from the services...A paper shredding the arguments for DADT, and explicitly comparing opposition to repeal to opposition to the racial integration of the armed services by Harry Truman, won a prize awarded by the Secretary of Defense and was published in the Joint Forces Quarterly. Lt. Dan Choi was invited to speak at West Point.
I think all of that is correct. What's more, I think Andrew Sullivan, who is impatient with the rate of change and composed several scathing posts over the last few days (here he uses a reader letter to make the point) knows it.

As an analyst, he knows it. As an advocate, he can't know it. As an advocate, Sullivan needs to do (within the bounds of ethical conduct) what he thinks is good for the positions he believes in. And, as an advocate, I think he's generally right: acting as if there's a major threat that Obama will sell out his supporters on DADT and the rest of the agenda does keep pressure on Obama to deliver. I don't think Obama intends to sell out anyone, or backtrack on any of his promises, but a quick trip to the good folks from the St. Petersburg Times will remind us that he made over 500 promises in the campaign. No, he doesn't want to sell out anyone, but he does constantly need to prioritize, and any group that was content to just sit around and wait for him to do what he said he would do is in grave danger of being placed on the permanent back burner.

I don't have any pithy way to conclude this...just that the line between analyst and advocate is a difficult one, one that all analysts have to negotiate, one way or another. Given that Sullivan is an inner-circle HOF blogger (at least if I had a vote), he's obviously found a solution that works for him.

On the issue -- I think Kleiman's correct about Obama, but I'm not sure that he's going to get a DADT bill through the Senate even with the support of as much of the military establishment as possible. I don't think Obama will "sell out" DADT opponents, but I do think there's a decent chance that he'll just lose; indeed, I think that's the correct interpretation of what happened in 1993. Now, Obama is a much more skilled president than Clinton was in 1993 (and he has the benefit of having seen how it played out then). It certainly helps him that public opinion has shifted substantially against the ban. Is that enough for Obama to win this fight? I don't know, but I fully agree that it's a tough one for him to take on.


  1. While I appreciate the necessity of advocacy, I worry about the hyperbolic language of betrayal that has become common when discussing DADT or even in the public option debate last August. Can it really be good to convince progressives that their major public advocate is a hopeless sell-out with no principles?

  2. This pretty much sums up my feelings exactly. I sympathize with the activist need to keep his feet to the fire, while also simultaneously getting frustrated with the activist portrayal of complicated situations as if they were a lot more simple.

    Anyways, well put.


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