Pam Spaulding

Mr. Big Dog Triangulator: DADT's legacy isn't my fault

Filed By Pam Spaulding | January 21, 2008 2:32 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Bill Clinton, Don't Ask Don't Tell, SLDN

Don't Ask, Don't Tell was used to hurt gays and lesbians in uniform, and the president who signed on to it is now laying the blame for the toll it has taken on the careers of well-trained, loyal members of the military at the door of others. (PageOneQ):

Former President Bill Clinton, while on the campaign trail for his wife, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), said that anti-gay forces made 10 USC 654, or the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, do more than he says it was meant to do.

...As Servicemembers Legal Defense Network outlines, Don't Ask has been used as a tool to gradually erode the rights of gay servicemembers, with increasing precedent being set to probe into their personal lives for purposes of "rooting out" those suspected of being gay.

Clinton, who signed Don't Ask into law in 1993, says he and then-Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Colin Powell meant for the policy only to govern gay servicemembers while they were on duty or in uniform.

Servicemembers, says Clinton, "would be free to live their lives; as long as they didn't go marching in gay rights parades or go to gay bars in uniform... In uniform... and talk about it on duty, they would be all right."

I haven't looked this up, folks, but do you remember anything about gay folks being able to go out and be out when off duty in civilian clothing when he was selling this policy? I'm certain the homophobes on the Hill would have had none of that. If Clinton wants to say his hands were tied and he was "forced" to accept DADT as compromise with a hostile Congress (the prior excusarama), that we've heard before, but it seems disingenuous to try to spin it today as he didn't think the witchhunts and discharges would be the end result of such a bone-headed policy.

As you might recall, it was Bill Clinton who told John Kerry to toss gays under the bus and support the various state marriage amendments on the ballot in 2004 in order to rope in swing voters uneasy with the thought of gays and lesbians daring to ask for the same civil rights in their relationships as those enjoyed by opposite-sex couples.

The long legacy of triangulation and the Clintons is too familiar not to make this new statement sound like another bit of Bill revisionist history going on; he says the firewall protecting the private lives of gay and lesbian service members was Colin Powell, and that when he left office, it was a bum rush to investigate and bounce homos. Watch the video here.

In semi-related news, other big-dog Dems are telling Bill Clinton to shut his pie hole instead of trying to "help" Hillary's campaign by triangulating on race.

Prominent Democrats are upset with the aggressive role that Bill Clinton is playing in the 2008 campaign, a role they believe is inappropriate for a former president and the titular head of the Democratic Party. In recent weeks, Sen. Edward Kennedy and Rep. Rahm Emanuel, both currently neutral in the Democratic contest, have told their old friend heatedly on the phone that he needs to change his tone and stop attacking Sen. Barack Obama, according to two sources familiar with the conversations who asked for anonymity because of their sensitive nature. Clinton, Kennedy and Emanuel all declined to comment.

...[T]here's concern that in hatcheting the Illinois senator and losing his temper with the news media (last week he thrashed a San Francisco TV reporter for asking about a lawsuit filed by Clinton-backing teachers union members to limit the number of Nevada caucuses), Clinton is drawing down his political capital and harming his role as a global statesman. "This is excruciating," says a member of the Clintons' circle, who asked for anonymity. "But the stakes couldn't be higher. It's worth it to tarnish himself a bit now to win the presidency."


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Let's not also forget that Bill Clinton campaigned touting his signing of DADT and DOMA in '96 as well.

We're all expendable to the Clintons. Once they have our money and our votes, they'll turn on us as soon as it becomes politically advantageous...again.

They're right - it doesn't seem all that "retired president" to have the guy going around saying the things that Hillary doesn't want to say.

Michael Bedwell | January 21, 2008 4:44 PM

As much as I agree with much of what your write, this is one instance in which, with all due respect, ya should have looked it up before writing about [emphasis mine] Don’t ASK, Don’t TELL, Don’t PURSUE policy as conceived. The subject is particularly important to me as one of my best friends was the late Leonard Matlovich, whose suit against the Air Force in 1975 was the first to make antigay military policies a national issue, though he is perhaps better known so many years later for his epitaph: “When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.”

Most experts on the current policy are affiliated with the overall marvelous group that was formed exclusively to overturn it and assist those who were victimized by it in the interim, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. In a 1998 [?] report, then SLDN co-executive directors Michelle Beneke and Dixon Osburn wrote, emphasis mine:

“The promises to stop asking, pursuits and harassment in 1993 were clear. General Colin Powell stated in 1993: ‘We will not witch hunt. We will not chase. We will not seek to learn orientation’. Senator Sam Nunn, former Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said, ‘I do not believe we should have sex squads prying into the private lives of our service members’. President Clinton pledged that the policy would provide for ‘a decent regard for the legitimate privacy and associational rights of all service members’. Then Senator, now Secretary of Defense, William Cohen, expressed a similar understanding of the policy when he asked then DoD General Counsel Jamie Gorelick whether the ‘small amount of privacy under the current policy was intended to prevent the military from prying into people's private lives’. Gorelick answered with a resounding ‘yes’.

The reason underlying continued violations of ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Pursue’ is a lack of commitment from top military and civilian authorities. Military leaders have not communicated to the field the policy's limits to gay investigations or ITS INTENT TO END PRYING INTO SERVICE MEMBERS' PRIVATE LIVES. The lack of commitment is reflected by: (1) The absence of clear and thorough guidance or training on investigative limits; (2) heavy-handed and increasingly intrusive investigative tactics against suspected gays, including coercion and fishing expeditions; (3) no recourse or redress for service members asked, pursued or harassed; and (4) a lack of accountability for those who violate current policy. The result is a climate in many commands where ‘anything goes’ in the pursuit of suspected gay personnel.”

While there is reason to condemn the Clinton Administration for failure to correct this, the belief that Clinton could have won a showdown with Congress over creating the policy is nonsense. Similarly, the belief that DADTDP was, in itself, worse than preceding antigay military policies is willful ignorance. IF he "bragged about it" in 1996, as Rebecca claims, conceptually he had a right to.

According to the expert on their history, the late Allen Berube, between the beginning of WWII and the late 80s, some 100,000 gays and lesbians had been discharged—long before any of us had even heard of Bill Clinton. Neither do the highest NUMBER of discharges in any given year under DADTDP match the highest numbers in some years under earlier policies. PERCENTAGES in some years might be higher but such math is affected by a smaller overall military force.

Nevertheless, the larger point remains that ANY form of limitation on the admission and retention of out gays in the military will be abused for the same reasons they were a decade ago as reported by SLDN: institutional homophobia. And like statistics on gay bashing in the civilian community, expression of it can ebb and flow whenever the amount of public discussion of gay equality does, except, just as discharges themselves go down, when the military is strapped for bodies as they are now with Iraq.

But the ULTIMATE point is that rather than rehashing history, let alone rewriting it, we are all better served by paying attention to the fact that ALL Democratic candidates for President support DADTDP complete repeal and no viable Republican candidate does. Let us move on.

CANNON FODDER YES, MARRIAGE NO! Ah come on guys and gals. Remember that line in a old song, "You're old enough to kill but not for voting." Only a fool would want to fight for a country that denies them and their people rights.But then the world is full of fools and those who pull the fools strings sure can convince the fool that it feels good.

Thank you Michael Bedwell for that heartfelt apologia for DADT and the Clintons. Leland Francis, if you remember, actually claimed that DADT and DOMA were FAVORS that Clinton did for us. He had to stop posting because of terminal embarrassment. Both of you are dead wrong on this question.

Here are the facts.

The authors of DADT were Bill Clinton of Arkansas and Sam Nunn of Georgia, unreconstructed Dixiecrats. At the time Bill was in trouble with the bigots and running as far and as fast as he could to escape being thought of as a ‘queer lover’. Clinton and Nunn, miserable excuses for ‘leaders’, immediately caved in to the coalition of superstitious cult leaders, bigoted military brass and Republicans.

They enacted what is clearly and plainly a bigoted act. That’s why we oppose it, Michael, because it’s a bigoted law crafted by bigots and enacted by a huge bipartisan bigoted majority. GLBT soldiers have been killed and beaten because of the permissive bigotry of this law. The wretched post mortem excuse that the Democrats didn’t expect the military brass to be bigots is implausible even to shills for the Democrats. DADT was a stab in the back from the same party that gave us NAFTA, deregulation, opposition to socialized medicine, union busting, and immigrant bashing. and the rape of ENDA and who conveniently let the Mathew Sheppard Hate Crimes Bill die so it wouldn’t be an issue in 2008. And let’s not forget their other stab in the back, DOMA.

You claim that all the Democratic candidates for President are for repealing DADT but that doesn’t mean squat. Their party has been in power since 2006 and everything they’ve done is a stab in the back. They raped ENDA, refused to repeal ENDA because they’re pigheadedly opposed to samesex marriage and conveniently let the Mathew Sheppard Hate Crimes Bill die so it wouldn’t be an issue in 2008. And let’s not forget their other stab in the back, DOMA. Nobody even bothers to ask them to repeal that.

You say lets move on and I agree – let’s move away from the parties of war, union busting and bigotry - teh Democrats and Republicans are proven enemies.

Actually, Bill, I remember DADT as Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Pursue too. I recollect Powell and everyone claiming that there wouldn't be witch hunts to figure out sexuality and it would only happen if two guys got caught in bed together, for example.

The problem happens when you have a soldier who puts up a picture of his boyfriend. That's "telling" and while not "being" gay, does constitute a statement of queerness that the military can use while not really "being" gay... My God - that was convoluted even for me...

Bottom line though? Clinton still signed it and that is one of the worst stains on his presidency - even more than the one on the little blue dress.

Michael Bedwell is largely on-target here.

In truth, yes, there were some inaccuracies in what President Clinton said last week. It has never been the case that, under the law, you simply had to avoid being 'out' while in uniform. In reality, being out to anyone, at anytime, is grounds for dismissal. (You can go to a gay bar, technically, but can't tell anyone you're gay while you are there, or do anything that would lead anyone to believe you are gay. How's that for absurd?!) The law, in truth, practically prevents any gay American, who is out to anyone in anyway, from serving in the military. That has always been the case.

(There's a good synopsis of how the law has been implemented in SLDN's 10th anniversary report on DA, DT.)

I think we can all agree that, whatever the intention behind the law at its inception, 14 years have shown that it doesn't work for anyone: service members, the military or the public interest.

Which is why Michael's last point is so important: It's time to look forward, not backward.

All 3 candidates, including Senator Clinton, have pledged to support repeal. Given the frequency and intensity of those pledges, it would be exceptionally difficult for any of the 3 to back away if elected.

Clinton, Edwards and Obama have all acknowledged the law doesn't work, and Bill Clinton himself has said as much as well.

Now, the job is to get rid of the law, and elect a commander-in-chief who will work with Congress to do just that, as all three leading Democratics have promised to do.

Was DA, DT ever a good law? No. Was President Clinton's remark here entirely accurate? No. But has Senator Clinton been completely supportive in efforts to repeal the law? Yes. And, as Michael points out, that's where our attention should be focused now.

Bill Perdue | January 23, 2008 1:15 AM

Steve, Bedwell tries to turn history on its head. He says that DOMA and DADT were good for us. And he repeats it over and over hoping that someone somewhere will believe him. DOMA and DADT, like most of the laws from the Clinton era, are disasters. Like all Democratic (sic) and Republican politicians the Clintons are on the make. They entered politics to get rich and were wildly successful at amassing money thru donations, especially while pardoning wealthy criminals their last two weeks in office.

Our main objection to the Democrats and the even more corrupted Republicans is not their sleaze, but their equally predictable and persistent rightist politics. I'm glad they're promising to do away with the bigot law DADT but elections are not about a single issue. And the real; question is why didn't the Congressional Democrats (sic) repeal it months ago? Is it because most Democrats support still DADT or because most of them are too cowardly to oppose it during an election year? And is that related to them being too gutless to repeal DOMA, defund the war, impeach Bush or convene an International War Crimes Tribunal? What explains their bipartisan rape of ENDA and why did they allow the Mathew Sheppard Hate Crimes bill to lapse in an election year?

The Clintons, with large bipartisan support, deregulated banks and corporations and that powering a very serious economic crisis. They and the Republicans oppose socialized medicine. Clintons NAFTA and union busting coincided with his yanking the safety net for unemployed and underpaid working people. They didn’t reform welfare, they blew it to smithereens. And every hour and ten minutes he signed a new tax cut for the rich.

If DADT is repealed then as Richard says it’s a case of “CANNON FODDER YES, MARRIAGE NO! “ We do not need more GLBT youth mauled and killed to help the Texas oil pirate rape Iraq. And we certainly don’t want GLBT youth forced to train and arm the US supported jihadist death squads who hunt down and kill GLBT folk in Iraq. If the war spreads and a draft is instituted then we need to demand full civil rights and liberties for GLBT folk trapped in the military.


We do not need to elect a commander in chief who supports the war, busts unions and snuggles up with bigots . Those are our enemies and voting for them is suicide. The way to move on is to move AWAY them and create our own fighting movement. UnitedENDA, the US Labor Party and the efforts of the AFL-CIO affiliated Coalition of Black Trade Unionists to promote independent black political actions are all steps in that direction. But sadly, they are not likely to break the stranglehold of the right wing Democrats and Republicans in 2008. That will begin in earnest when the Democrats start a new wave of betrayals after the elections. Then the splintering and fracturing of American political life will accelerate. Then we can really politically move on, and over, the owners of the Democratic Party. It’ll be fun.