Virtual Front Page, Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I’m running late, but here’s your briefing for this evening:

  1. Move to End ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Stalls in Senate (NYT) — Another slow news day. This story sounded more definite in other versions, but the NYT just said “stalls.” They’re probably right. By the way, I read an interesting column on the subject in the WSJ this morning. Evidently, GOP senators didn’t read the piece. Or else they just couldn’t handle Reid’s unrelated shenanigans…
  2. Iranian President Defends Record (NYT) — I like the part in the story where it says Ahmadinejad rejected “the idea that Tehran deserves anything less than a gold star for its nuclear inspection record…” That Mahmoud is a card.
  3. Twitter scrambles to block worms (BBC) — This kinda freaked me out this morning. Fortunately, I was too busy to Tweet anyway, except on Ubertwitter, which was safe. I think.
  4. S.C. unemployment rose to 11% in August (CRBR) — Yet another thing voters should THINK about…
  5. Lawrence Summers to leave economic council, return to Harvard (WashPost) — Wow. He must REALLY have not liked working for Obama to go back there after they practically rode him off-campus on a rail.
  6. Gamecock great Kenny McKinley found dead (The State) — I was sadly not familiar with the young man, and this is sort of old now (having been in the paper this morning) but judging by the reaction I’ve seen all day, this tragedy is definitely still worth the front.

31 thoughts on “Virtual Front Page, Tuesday, September 21, 2010

  1. Norm Ivey

    I think the DADT issue is a good example of why so many of us who gave our time, money and votes to Obama are frustrated with him at times. In 1948 when Truman desegregated the armed forces, he did it with an executive order. Things didn’t change overnight–it took several years to bring about the changes, but at least he took responsibility for correcting an egregious wrong. Obama doesn’t need a vote from the hyper-partisans in Congress to begin the changes. He just needs a pen.

  2. Phillip

    I agree with Norm, and would go beyond that to say that this farce is exactly the kind of thing that leads many Americans to be rightly appalled at the gamesmanship and dysfunction of our government, specifically Congress and even more specifically, the Senate. (For an excellent summary of the structural problems of this branch of government, I recommend Michael Tomasky’s recent piece in the current NY Review of Books…as he says, “no institution of American government is more responsible for our inability to address pressing national problems than the Senate, and no institution is in greater need of reform.”

    http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/sep/30/specter-haunting-senate/

    Indeed, a pox on both their houses in this case: Norm’s right that DADT could have been addressed before now, even possibly within the context of Congressional approval, and certainly the Dream Act, which did have some bipartisan support in recent months. The gay community and the Hispanic/Latino community have been taken for granted and used as political pawns in this case by the Democrats and specifically Harry Reid, to these groups’ detriment. This is shoddy treatment.

    Yet not all sins are equal. These issues still have to be debated on the merits. The vast majority of Americans support repeal of DADT (much bigger consensus than something like, say, the health care reform bill), even the WSJ endorsed repeal, and in the end, NOT ONE Republican voted to allow repeal. So yes, the Democrats were playing politics, but by their unanimous opposition (in a number of cases I’m sure overriding individual members’ conscience) the Senate Republicans were not only playing politics, too, but taking a stand on the wrong side of fairness, justice, and ultimately, history.

  3. bud

    I really don’t understand Obama at all. He seems to be throwing his base under the bus in a doomed attempt to appease a handful of Republicans. Sadly this strategy continues to backfire on him. Time to pull out the pen and sign an executive order banning discrimination of gays in the military. The right will, of course, protest. But since they’re going to do that anyway at least give them something to actually protest.

  4. Brad

    Folks, Obama doesn’t have the political standing to end DADT with the stroke of a pen, and would be foolish to contemplate it.

    In an earlier time, when presidents of both parties had honorable military records — Eisenhower, JFK and the like — imposing such a profound cultural change on the military was something that they had the standing to do. Norm mentioned Truman above. While haberdasher Truman was no FDR, he at least had brought the biggest war in history to a successful close, and saved the lives of perhaps a million U.S. servicemen (and many times as many Japanese) by deciding to drop the Big One. He had standing.

    Now, to a side issue: Does anyone besides me find it intellectually… troubling… when people act as though the integration of the military and DADT are the same thing? Or when they act as though gender issues are the same as either of those?

    So many people on the left and to a lesser extent the right are so comfortable with identity politics that they buy such arguments. I do not. The considerations involved in whether to integrate the military were profoundly different from the issue of whether to, for instance, station women aboard warships. And the issue of whether women should be admitted to combat infantry is different from the DADT issue. Actually, to walk that back, the latter comparison is far closer than the former (SOME of the considerations involved in mixing the sexes and mixing gay and straight in barracks or combat conditions are similar), and yet different in important ways. (Which just goes to show that even the degrees to which these things are different are different.)

    The urge to call them the same results from the pervasive “rights” language of our modern political discourse. The primary consideration should be what we need the military to be and do, and what promotes that and/or takes away from it — not what certain individuals “get to do,” which seems to be what we obsess about.

    That was, by the way, the thing I liked about that WSJ column I linked to above. Speaking of a general who advocates repealing DADT for largely sound reasons, Bret Stephens writes: “The strength of the general’s case is that it’s not about ‘rights,’ gay or otherwise, much less whatever Lady Gaga happens to think is in the Constitution.” Amen to that.

  5. bud

    Folks, Obama doesn’t have the political standing to end DADT with the stroke of a pen, and would be foolish to contemplate it.
    -Brad

    I see this exactly 180% differently. He diminishes his political standing with his all-important base by failing to end this unpopular policy. Even folks who may agree with keeping the policy are starting to see Obama as a weak leader. It’s time to come across as a strong, decisive leader who is willing to stand up for what he believes is right. How could that hurt his political standing?

  6. bud

    Does anyone besides me find it intellectually… troubling… when people act as though the integration of the military and DADT are the same thing?
    -Brad

    Here’s a classic example of overthinking an issue. Of course these are the same thing. Virtually identical in fact. They both involve discriminatory practice against a minority. End of story.

  7. Phillip

    Brad, I understand your points, but they also immediately bring the following to mind:

    1) I’m assuming by “standing,” you mean the President’s standing with the military, not the public. Because if you’re talking about overall standing, at the point Truman signed the order, his approval rating was 40%, lower than Obama’s, and it had just climbed up there from the mid-30’s. Truman was not popular and had not yet made his big “give ’em hell Harry” ’48 electoral comeback. Plus DADT repeal has, according to polls I’ve seen, over 75% support of the public.

    And let’s not forget, our Constitution does provide for us to elect our Commander-in-Chief. Our Constitution provides for ultimate civilian command over our military. That’s all the standing any President needs. (To seek and obtain Congressional endorsement would of course be more powerful still).

    2) your argument about the first priority being what “we need the military to be and do, and what promotes that and/or takes away from it” were exactly the same arguments that once upon a time were used against integration of the armed forces. That was a time when a lot of people had different beliefs, were captive to old prejudices and misconceptions.

    We moved on then, and we’re moving on now. There were many steps forward and back then, as there are now, but the overall direction is inexorable.

    You call it the “pervasive ‘rights’ language of our modern political discourse.”

    I call it coming closer to the original promise of America. Indeed I’ll even go farther: true American exceptionalism.

  8. Brad

    Yes, Phillip (and Bud). I do refer to standing with regard to military matters. I thought I was clear about that. Making a decision about something that affects civilian life is one thing. But daring to inject oneself into fundamental issues bearing upon the culture of the military is another.

    If the president — regardless of his standing — says “hit this beach,” the Marines will always do so, no questions asked. But if a president lacking cred in military affairs tells a sailor — and the sailor’s wife — that he wants a woman to bunk next to him or some such, it’s more problematic. A wise leader stays out of such matters unless everyone knows he’s been there and done that. That’s what I was saying.

    Of course, the issue I just mentioned is moot now, having already been decided in favor of co-ed warships. (I still think it’s crazy, though, and for entirely scientific reasons: Like Jack Aubrey, I think it’s bad luck.)

  9. Kathryn Fenner

    I thought DADT was subject to some procedural detail that required Congressional action–more than a mere Executive Order.

    That said, the brass likes repealing it–how come suddenly the Republicans and others like Brad, who normally fall all over themselves deferring to the military leadership, are questioning its wisdom?

  10. Doug Ross

    I agree with bud and phillip. The military is hiding behind tradition versus logic in order to maintain a discriminatory practice. If you want to keep women out of combat due to physical limitations, fine. But to purposefully require soldiers to lie about their sexual preference in order to serve seems to be hypocrisy in the highest degree when dealing with an organization that is supposed to be based on honor and defending the rights of Americans.

    Also agree with bud on Obama’s perception as a weak President. Candidate Obama was supposed to be this visionary agent of change. President Obama hasn’t been able to do anything approaching the hype. He has proven to be not a whole lot different than George Bush – party first, nation second.

    The way the health care bill was handled may have damaged his Presidency beyond repair. Instead of telling Reid and Pelosi to create a simple bill that helped the most people with the most pressing needs, he let it spin out of control into just another lobbyist payoff. And just wait a couple months when the new insurance coverage costs come out for 2011. If there is a big hike, his approval ratings will tank.

  11. Brad

    And the thing is, all this cultural stuff is so unnecessary. Usually, anyway.

    There’s a rational reason why women play roles in the military they didn’t play in the past: With an all-volunteer force, we couldn’t fill the billets without them. (If we instituted a draft, however, that need would disappear — the services would have their pick of the strongest, healthiest, smartest young males, an embarrassment of riches. And yet many would absurdly posit that a draft should be gender-neutral, because they think in terms of Kulturkampf and “rights” instead of in terms of the exigencies of the military.)

    That’s why advocates of repealing DADT are right when they speak in terms of the waste of enforcing the policy, or the negative impact on getting the troops we need.

    But painting it as some sort of fundamental rights issue — a realization of the promise of America or whatever — obscures the important considerations.

    We speak of “discrimination” as though it were BY DEFINITION a bad thing. But an effective military necessarily discriminates (especially when there’s a draft, which is why it’s called the Selective Service). You choose the recruits who best meet the needs, and send them where command authority has decided you need them to be. I’ve always resented that I could not serve because of my stupid asthma. I could argue all day why that is wrongheaded, why I could contribute much in spite of it. But I also understand that if the military gets to choose someone between who has to carry around an inhaler and someone who does not, they’ll choose the one who’s never had that flaw.

    The issue, rationally considered, isn’t whether the military should discriminate. It’s where to draw the lines.

  12. Doug Ross

    Read Sebastian Junger’s new book “War” about his time spent embedded with an Army platoon in Afghanistan. You might find the parts where the soldiers who have been on the front lines without any female companionship handle their “needs” interesting. You’re allowed to get away with a lot of behaviors that would get you fired in any other job.

    DADT exists not because of how gays may behave but because the military can’t trust heterosexual soldiers to control their homophobia.

  13. Karen McLeod

    Brad, To an extent, I kinda, half way agree with you. If a woman is in a job, she should be physically and mentally able to perform it. For example, if she’s in the infantry, she should be able to pick up and carry weighty objects for a fair distance. Arguably she should be able to carry/drag a wounded fellow soldier out of harm’s way. If she can’t do the work she shouldn’t have the job. Most women couldn’t do those tasks. Some can. If she’s a fighter pilot those tasks don’t apply. And hey, a (female) friend and I walked across the top of Spain (the Camino de Santiago). We stayed the nights in alburges. Many were simply huge,open rooms stuffed with as many bunk beds as they could hold. And unisex bathrooms. I met many men and women as we walked, and to my knowledge none were physically assaulted, sexually or otherwise, while walking the trail. I can’t speak to verbally–there were too many languages I didn’t understand.

    With homosexuality, the same test should hold true. If they can do the job, they should be able to claim the job. Since DNDT presumably allowed homosexuals in (they just couldn’t tell anyone) the main problem would be prejudice, not ability to do the job. That puts it on a par with integration, in that there, also, the problem was prejudice.

  14. bud

    But painting it as some sort of fundamental rights issue — a realization of the promise of America or whatever — obscures the important considerations.
    -Brad

    How in the world can you make such a statement?????????????????? America is great BECAUSE OF FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS not because of concerns about the sensibilities of a bunch of old soldiers. The military is overly bloated and could certainly stand a bit of willowing out and it stands to reason that if the willowing out is done by getting rid of the bigots and homophobes the readiness of the military would be enhanced.

    But even IF the effectiveness of the military was to be impaired slightly in the short to medium run our national security would ultimately be enhanced by demonstrating to the world that we are a nation of principal; a nation that respects everyone in all walks of life. It would show the world that we are willing to risk short-term vulnerability for long-term justice.

    As a great nation we cannot constantly be fearful of making the right decision in the face of a perceived threat or because folks might look or act different. We must never forfeit what is great about America for the expediency of the moment and certainly not for some enigmatic goal of perfecting the fighting effectiveness of our military. That would be the height of folly and indeed would be counter-productive.

    Obama should act decisively NOW to do what is right. It’s the American way and it would illustrate for all the world to see that America really does stand on principal.

  15. Brad

    Well, we’re just never going to agree. That’s because my interlocutors insist on seeing military service as a “right” when it’s another thing entirely.

    People don’t have a RIGHT to be soldiers. It’s a RESPONSIBILITY of citizenship. That’s a bit obscured by the fact that we don’t have a draft. With an all-volunteer military, the responsibility is a little harder to express, but ultimately it is about whether you give something to the country, not about whether the country will give something to you. (It’s a little like the concept of callings within the Catholic Church. Some of us are called to get married and have kids. Some of us are called to be priests. And I think we can agree that it would be wise to discriminate a LOT more carefully than we have about who gets to be a priest — can’t we? In fact, with the dramatic drop in “vocations” in our self-centered times — most of us seem to live to serve ourselves, not God — you have an example of an institution with an unfortunate disinclination to ask all the questions it should when someone wants to be a priest. Or so it would seem, anyway.)

    It’s not about what you GET TO DO. And remember, DADT does not bar homosexuals from service (I think of it as a sensible compromise that is a vast improvement over the wasteful witch hunts that preceded it, although I’m certainly not wedded to it if the military is ready to try something else). This issue, in fact, is not about whether gay people “get to serve” in the military. It’s about what most gay rights issues are about — whether the larger society will actively affirm and approve of homosexuality, rather than merely tolerating it. Whether this or same-sex “marriage,” that’s what the debate has been about for the past decade or two.

    And personally, I’m weary of the subject. The Kulturkampf just wastes so much energy that could be better used otherwise. I just didn’t have a better candidate for a lede story yesterday evening. Not much else was happening.

  16. Brad

    Oh, by the way, if you want an earful about the nonsense that preceded DADT, ask Cindi Scoppe.

    When she was a reporter in the late 80s, I sent her down to Parris Island to cover the NIS investigation of lesbian Marines. Not one of her favorite assignments. Now THAT was ridiculous. Of course, as is my wont, I offended the ideologically sensitive folk in the newsroom by observing at the time, “The Navy should make up its mind. If you’re going to let women into the Marines, don’t you WANT them to be as butch as possible?”

    Hey, I thought it was funny. Not everyone did. I run into that a lot.

  17. Doug Ross

    “People don’t have a RIGHT to be soldiers. It’s a RESPONSIBILITY of citizenship.”

    Should we prevent people from voting if they are openly gay? I know we can’t ASK them before they go in the voting booth.

    Oh, and some people are called to be priests and still “have” kids. And they get to remain in their service usually.

  18. Karen McLeod

    Brad, really crass jokes about blacks (or Italians, or Jews, or kathlicks, or “lace curtain Irish”) used to be considered “funny” also. If they can do the job, and they volunteer, they should be able to enlist. Otherwise it is simple job discrimination. We overcame prejudice before; we can again.

    Meanwhile, I don’t know about the rest of you, but one reason I voted for Mr. Obama was because he was a sane, calm, positive voice in a maelstrom of vicious insanity. He continues to act as if the other side deserves respect (and as humans, they do). The idea that he should just force his way through, is one of the major faults I find being committed by republicans right now. I like a president who can behave with reason, rather than out of pure partisan fervor. If those clowns on both sides in the house and senate would take off the make-up and act like adults again, we’d have responsible government. Meanwhile the job of president does not involve playing “daddy” to a bunch of irresponsible, would-be bullies. While I kinda wish it was, I’d rather have a president who led by example, rather than one rolling in the muck with the rest involved in the current political free-for-all. Maybe, some day, these yahoos will grow up, or we’ll elect adults to serve as legislators.

  19. Karen McLeod

    And BTW, if the previous post makes me sound like I’m getting fed up with the current politica milieu, it’s because I am.

  20. bud

    Brad, do you want to retain DADT or are you just being a bit contrarian? There are really 3 issues here:

    1. Readiness. The evidence from militaires around the world suggest readiness is unaffected by allowing openly gay men and women into the military. Plus, we are losing highly qualified individuals on account of the current policy. Seems like the readiness issue favors repeal. The old soldiers who resist do so because of tradition. Sometimes traditions need changing.

    2. Rights as a citizen. Even though Brad won’t acknowledge this I find it critically important that we allow all citizens to participate in the defense of our country. It’s appalling to me that this aspect can be so cavalierly dismissed.

    3. Politics. This concerns Obama. Politically I believe he would enhance his standing with the American people by getting rid of the policy via Executive order. Sure it would be best to do so with the consent of congress but given that a majority in congress just voted for repeal I don’t see how it would be bad politically to support majority rule.

  21. Kathryn Fenner

    Brad Brad Brad [sigh]

    I agree with you that the best should serve. It’s just that who *is* the best is sometimes obscured by prejudices like “butch” and the like. We don’t need to make arbitrary distinctions prejudicially–judging ahead of time. Some women are taller (ahem) than many men; some men are weaker than some women. We don’t need to exclude people categorically on irrelevant categories.

    Like take asthmatics: I probably don’t want one as an infantryman, but as a code breaker? Sure, why not? If Alan Turing had been outed, would we have won WW II?

    and the brass wants to get rid of DADT.

    and people are outed by others, and thus subject to blackmail or just simply the waste of resources….plenty of people who were very gifted, highly trained officers who were discreet.

  22. Brad

    So you’re saying what? That Turing had asthma?

    Bud, I’m inclined to keep DADT, but it’s not a hugely important thing to me. And yeah, I’m being contrarian, because the way we speak about a lot of issues, in flat ways that lead to the polarization of our politics, bugs me.

    I push back against libertarians who see a new “right” everywhere they turn because I think it’s an excessive, extreme way of putting something. In this country, once you say something is a “right,” you are trying to shut down discussion of other considerations. And the other considerations should be discussed.

    For instance, y’all know that I’m for single-payer. But not because I consider health care to be a “right.” I think it’s a rational way to order society. I think it would eliminate a problem — a lot of problems, actually — and that it is a positive good to see that people get good health care if you can figure out how to provide it. I also think it would liberate our economy if people could work at their passions instead of clinging to bad-fit jobs (or merely safe, comfortable jobs) for the benefits.

    It simply makes sense to eliminate all the for-profit intermediaries that stand between us and our doctors. It’s not about “rights;” it’s about what makes sense if we want our country to be a good place to live.

    Ditto with DADT. If, as Kathryn says, “the brass wants to get rid of DADT,” cool. If they really want to, and it’s not just what one or two generals say when when they’re testifying before Congress with the Secretary of Defense sitting next to them — a situation in which, to use a Tom Wolfe phrase from The Right Stuff, a wise career officer keeps a salute stapled to his forehead.

    I don’t know. But it’s not a simple, slam-dunk issue. Nothing about sexuality and how society deals with it is.

    For instance, some of my friends here like to believe that embracing the latest right invented by an interest group is a sign of unalloyed progress, a reflection of inevitable movement in a single direction by a species that is consistently evolving toward being better and better all the time.

    Uh-uh. It’s not that simple.

    Frankly after 56 years of being straight (like a Woody Allen character once confided, I don’t think I HAD a latency period), heterosexuality is still a big mystery to me. I’m astounded by the mechanisms that cause us to have such urges.

    Back when I was a kid, quite frankly, I didn’t really believe homosexuality existed. It just seemed so unlikely, so unimaginable. Some guys wanna do WHAT? No way. I thought it was a made-up thing that existed only as an insult for young people already confused and insecure about sexuality to fling at each other. Like “your mother wears Army boots” — you’re not literally making an observation about the other person’s mother’s footwear. Or “Go f___ yourself” — you don’t expect it to actually happen.

    But as I grew older and had gay friends, and they communicated in various ways that THEY weren’t kidding; this was for real, I thought about it and realized that HETEROsexuality, as a fundamental force in our characters, seems equally unlikely. I mean, why would I be so attracted to women and their bodies even when I was too young to know anything about what that was all about? How could I want to do something I had never heard of, or thought of?

    Actually, I know the answer to WHY — it’s essential to reproduction, whether you think in terms of God’s commandment to go forth and multiply or an evolutionary imperative or both. Organisms with this urge had offspring; those without it did not.

    What mystifies me is HOW that works, and all the complexities involved.

    Show me a naked woman, and you boggle my mind (and not just for physiological reasons). I behold eternity, and the immediacy of the moment, promised pleasures, guilt, excitement, freedom, responsibility, the irresistible continuum of Life, God and man and Satan and Darwin, Eve, Wisdom and ultimate foolishness, something that is very adult and yet all about little babies. And on and on. It is the very ESSENCE of complexity, and simplicity at the same time.

    That is more than enough to puzzle me for the rest of my life; I’m certainly not going to presume to tell you what homosexuality is, because I don’t get that at ALL.

    And don’t tell me that society’s ways of dealing with sexuality are simple, that they’re all this way or all that way.

    I know better.

  23. bud

    Ok. Not sure how that fits in with DADT but Brad does have some interesting, if off-the-wall, observations here.

  24. Brad

    But seriously, my point was, “don’t tell me that society’s ways of dealing with sexuality are simple, that they’re all this way or all that way,” that it’s simply about rights or readiness, or whatever.

    It’s complicated.

  25. Kathryn Fenner

    and yes, it’s complicated–so stop trying to oversimplify by banning one sexual orientation or sex ab initio.

    And you are banning it when you make people hide their partners if and only if those partners are of the same sex.

  26. scout

    So Brad, how come sometimes you’re blue and sometimes not?

    But anyway, you said,”It’s a RESPONSIBILITY of citizenship. …. ultimately it is about whether you give something to the country, not about whether the country will give something to you.”

    I agree with that, but I still kind of think that argues for being rid of DADT. I have a gay friend who posted this article on his facebook page in the past few days:

    “http://atwar.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/09/20/gay-service-members-discuss-dont-ask-dont-tell/?src=twt&twt=nytimes”

    These peoples’ stories make some very compelling points. I think they would agree with your assessment up there as well, and argue that they want to fulfill that responsibility and give their whole selves to their country, but they aren’t allowed to give their whole selves, and as much as they want that to work – it’s just not psychologically feasible. It messes people up, which ultimately weakens the service they are able to give their country.

    I agree with Karen that prejudice is the problem. If they can do the job, they should be allowed to. I also fear that Doug may be correct in saying “DADT exists not because of how gays may behave but because the military can’t trust heterosexual soldiers to control their homophobia.”

    I believe our military would ultimately be stronger if gays served openly for two reasons – I think the quality of their service would be stronger without the undercurrent of psychological turmoil, and I think the rest of the military working through it’s prejudice would produce a healthier more cohesive force.

    I do recognize that you can’t just snap your fingers and make it so though. I totally get Brad’s point that Obama needs to approach this the way he has because he doesn’t have the military standing to do otherwise. I also get that the purpose of the military needs to be considered foremost. You can’t just ram this through if the manner you do it in renders the military, even temporarily, dysfunctional. But I do think finding ways to work through the prejudice and get rid of DADT is the right thing to do. I don’t know the exact how of it, but I believe there are ways to implement changes that will work through the prejudice and keep the military functional. I trust Obama and Gates to find them.

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