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Obama Scores a Victory, Along With Some Vindication

Posted on Dec 21, 2010

By Eugene Robinson

President Obama must be tempted to respond to his progressive critics with a quote from the old-school rapper Kool Moe Dee: “How ya like me now?”

Repeal of the military’s bigoted and anachronistic “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays in the military—a campaign promise that seemed to be slipping out of reach—doesn’t fully mend the relationship between Obama and the Democratic Party’s liberal wing. But it’s a pretty terrific start.

Progressives needed a clear, unambiguous victory to ease the sting of those extended tax cuts for the rich. They got one Saturday with the Senate’s historic vote to end “don’t ask, don’t tell”—and Obama won vindication for the slow, patient, step-by-step approach that drove gay and lesbian activists crazy but ultimately produced a stunning result.

Administration officials believed from the beginning that getting the discriminatory policy repealed, and allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the armed forces, would require getting the Pentagon brass on board. The military leadership had to support the change, or at least accept it. Otherwise, repeal-minded members of Congress might balk at casting a vote that could be portrayed as somehow weakening America’s defense.

So the White House spent months demonstrating that Defense Secretary Robert Gates fully endorsed the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and that the service chiefs would implement the change. A key part of this painstaking strategy was the Pentagon’s 10-month study of the impact of eliminating the policy—which concluded, essentially, that there was likely to be no adverse impact at all.


Square, Site wide
The study included a military-wide survey, which found that two-thirds of service members believed ending the policy would have positive, mixed or neutral effects. Perhaps more significant was the study’s description of the experience of the British, Canadian and Australian militaries, which changed their rules and allowed gays and lesbians to serve openly. What happened? Nothing at all.

“Uniformly, these nations reported that they were aware of no units that had a degradation of cohesion or combat effectiveness, and that the presence of gay men and lesbians in combat units had not been raised as an issue by any of their units deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan,” the study reports. None of those other nations had problems with recruiting or retention, either. The change turned out to be a non-issue.

Opponents of ending “don’t ask, don’t tell,” including Sen. John McCain, had insisted that Congress not act until the Pentagon study was completed. When it finally came out, they promptly began moving the goalposts, demanding yet more hearings and testimony. It looked as if they were going to run out the clock and leave the issue for the new Congress, which will be far more conservative.

But then Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins came to the rescue.

I’ve been sharply critical of Lieberman in the past, and I suspect I’ll have occasion to be equally critical in the future. But on “don’t ask, don’t tell,” he was pure gold. Sometimes it seems as if Lieberman, who serves as an independent, delights in driving liberal Democrats crazy, but on social issues he still has a righteous sense of fairness and justice. His well-established record as a hawk on military matters gave him the credibility to push this change—and push it he did, even when all seemed lost.

And as for Collins, I’ve wondered how she can be called a “moderate” when she reliably stands with the archconservative, down-with-the-president GOP leadership in the Senate, especially on important procedural votes. But she was brave and principled on “don’t ask,” and by linking arms with Lieberman, she allowed seven other Republicans to cast their votes on the correct side of history.

Now that Congress has acted, the military will move with caution to implement the change. Judging by what has happened in other countries that took this step, however, the process will probably move much faster than anyone expects. A year from now, we’ll all be wondering what the big deal was.

For gays and lesbians currently serving in the military, this doesn’t mean they necessarily have to make public their sexuality. It just means that soon they won’t have to fear being discharged for being who they are.

And for President Obama and the left, this is an important milestone—a reminder that even in dysfunctional Washington, what Sarah Palin derided as “that hopey-changey stuff” can still produce real hope and change.

Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)
© 2010, Washington Post Writers Group

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BR549's avatar

By BR549, December 24, 2010 at 1:37 pm Link to this comment

Del Dawson, December 23 at 10:06 pm
“As much as I have admired Mr. Robinson in the past, this time I’m leaving him in that past.”

Del, Eugene’s eyes are still glossed over from election night, 2008. He’s been tuning his readership out ever since. He’s so convinced that if he continues to beat this dead horse with a stick, it’ll magically rise from the dead and take him somewhere. If he wasn’t so lazy, he’d have gotten off the beast and he might have been anywhere by now. Instead, he’ continues to wait and watch as the maggots hatch off the corpse.

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By Del Dawson, December 23, 2010 at 5:06 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

As much as I have admired Mr. Robinson in the past, this time I’m leaving him in that past.

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By taikan, December 22, 2010 at 9:52 pm Link to this comment

“Progressives needed a clear, unambiguous victory to ease the sting of those extended tax cuts for the rich.

Actually, it was Obama who needed such a victory so he can hope to win back some support from the progressives whom he has sold out so many times in his first two years in office.  If progressives have the same short attention span as most American voters, as long as Obama continues on his recent path he has a chance to win their support a second time.

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By entropy2, December 22, 2010 at 4:46 pm Link to this comment

@Devon J. Noll, MPA - Very few, if any, here are denying that this is a fine advance in human rights. What we’re taking issue with is Mr. Robinson’s happy dance and the implication that it somehow represents some sort of watershed for this corporatist president and his party.

The fact that gays and lesbians can now participate freely in the country’s imperial wars and join in the slaughter of innocents for the purpose of further enriching the elite tax-sheltered 2% is a mixed blessing, at best.

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By Devon J. Noll, MPA, December 22, 2010 at 1:02 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Mr. Robinson is right - this is a win for the LGBT community, and they understand it as such.  For President Obama, it is also a win within this voting block because it was what they wanted.

What I find amazing is the thinly-veiled homophobic reaction here.  For starters, the president could not just issue an executive order and remove DADT - it was a federal law, enacted by Congress and it could only be repealed by Congress.  That is how it works in a constitutional republic.  What many of you seem to think the president should have done was what is done in a dictatorship.  President Obama is not a dictator - he is President of the United States of America and has his ability to act independently severely limited.

Second, many here seem to think that this is no big deal.  Do any of you know what a dishonorable discharge can do you in the civilian work world?  It is like admitting on a job application that you are an ex-convict - and you stand a very slim chance of getting a job, housing, or any help for anything.  And all because of your sexual preferences which should be nobody’s business but your own.

Third, with the repeal of DADT, I personally would not want to be a gay serving under the current flock of religiously dominated homophobic military leaders we have now.  These young people will find themselves, just as the African-Americans did in Vietnam and Korea and WWII, being put at the head of the column (or front of the assault)as cannon fodder.  The religious attitudes of many of our current commanders will drive this decision, as surely as LGBT acceptance by most younger soldiers got the message across that younger people are more tolerant than older ones.

I am not a lesbian nor to the best of my knowledge do I currently have any members of this community as close friends.  Why?  No reason in particular, but mostly because it would not matter if they were, so I do not ask the sexual orientation of my friends as part of the criteria for friendship.  I have had friends in the past who were gay, and it had no affect on our friendship, and the loss of one two years ago was as painful as the loss of any other friend to sudden death. 

I grew up in a household that was, and continues to be, dominated by homophobic people, and it is their loss.  My past friends, only past because we have moved away from each geographically and in our life pursuits, have been funny, intelligent, talented, creative, and deeply patriotic.  The monsters of humanity that I have known in my life (and there have been a few) were heterosexual and less deserving of the term patriotic or decent than any of my gay or lesbian friends were.

The repeal of DADT is a major step forward in integrating into our society a group of people who should not be segregated because of who they are anymore than we should segregate people because of the color of their skin.  The thinly-veiled homophobia here that attacks the president for either not acting outside the law or for making such a big deal about this issue, as a smoke screen for the tax cut anger, seem to be more uncomfortable with the idea of gays serving in the military than the soldiers who will actually serve. 

Progressives seem to think that everything must be done yesterday, just as Tea Partiers seem to think that everyone is their enemies and they will take back a country they never lost.  Progress, real progress, takes more than 23 months - it takes years. So celebrate a success for what it is - a success.  Then continue to work on other issues.  AND FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE - STOP THINKING ABOUT EVERYONE ELSE’S SEXUAL ORIENTATION!  IT IS NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS!

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BR549's avatar

By BR549, December 22, 2010 at 10:31 am Link to this comment

Gene, Gene, Gene,
When are you going to get a clue? I can’t imagine any one of Scheer’s contributors
that gets as much derogatory feedback as you, yet you keep popping back up
ready to take a few more shots to the head. Is that determination or obstinacy? I
think the latter.

I would hate to be in your world when reality finally sets in and you realize what
you’d been supporting all along or how much you’d been duped and played like a

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Tesla's avatar

By Tesla, December 22, 2010 at 9:17 am Link to this comment

Those that still do not “get it” that liberals,
progressives, socialists and communists (whatever the
non-triangulating, non-republicans, non-fascists are
monikered) are not going to cheer any victory that is
paid for at the rate of 100 to 1.

There can be little doubt that the tax deal was the
tool used to get the anti-citizen republican wing of
the corporatocracy to not block the repeal of DADT.

Yes, the DADT repeal is the most likely attainable
goal that could have the panache of being that
“liberal” victory granted by Mitch McConnell, but the
price is far too dear for so little.

Meanwhile the real unemployment is about 20%, home
mortgage foreclosures are far to common and we are
still involved in two bloody, violent occupations in
the Middle East.

Whoop, whoop! Way to go Idaho!

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By drewzifer, December 22, 2010 at 1:55 am Link to this comment

“Oh thank ya masta, nows I gets to be a civilian killin slave, and I gets to be gay,
thank ya sah”

Being gay, wow wow, congrats on being out of the closet and in the US military,
you are still a war criminal, you are still a wanabe Nazi, good for you, no one
cares if you are gay when you are out spraying bullets into neighborhoods so
your masters can have more oil.

All US Soldiers who are following orders, in whatever capacity, are still a part of
the death machine that is the US military. No one outside America ives a shit if
the gutless ogre spraying bullets into mosques is gay… not newsworthy. The
rest of the world is hanging up the phone now.

Grats on being out of the closet, wow, maybe the fact that you are still a bunch
of murderers will give you cause to lower your homicidal head a bit and stop
strutting around all proud, and stop patting yourselves on your cowardly, baby
killing backs, and think for a second about what being a soldier for America is
really all about: mass murder, for oil.

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By chip, December 21, 2010 at 11:45 pm Link to this comment

It was 10yrs ago that they were firing the only folks we had that could speak Arab because they were gay.

This was the only time being gay was newsworthy

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By yrwehere?, December 21, 2010 at 9:46 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Eugene, Eugene, Eugene, how sweet of you to try and spin this in a positive light. I love you reading everyone of your articles religiously, but I’m going to have to agree with the majority of commentators here, it’s hard to get too excited about this.

Who is it that said, “It is never too late to be what you might have been”? I suppose it isn’t. But I really don’t think I’ll be drinking the hope cool-aide anytime soon.

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By lepto, December 21, 2010 at 8:55 pm Link to this comment

Too little, too late.  It is a sad commentary on life in these United States, however, if DADT had any real meaning, i.e. any impact on the corporate oligarchy that runs this country, gay & lesbian men and women would be looking for a cold day in hell before DADT would be changed.

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By Conden, December 21, 2010 at 6:49 pm Link to this comment

Don’t ask don’t tell is the most cynical, pentagon-sponsored gay rights issue possible; Obama is a homophobic war criminal, last year and today; he has acheived nothing.  A disporportionately high percentage of GLBT youth are still living on the streets, pushed out by their abusive family and the homophobic, human rights ignoring society.  They don’t need the military, or right wing democrats.

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By drewzifer, December 21, 2010 at 6:12 pm Link to this comment

blah blah blah, so the fuck what if DADT has been repealed? Great, awesome,
good for you gay-soldier. Nobody gives a shit if American troops are now out of
the closet, it is not news, DADT is pure distraction from the fact that your troops
are engaged in an illegal war of aggression that has cost 100’000 Iraqi lives. FUCK
OFF with your wanabe good news story and stop bombing buses full of civilians in
Pakistan or wedding parties or whatever sick and twisted shit you enjoy making
humans endure, and then run off acting like DADT repeal is some sort of moral
victory for the USA… when you have innocent blood on your hands nobody gives a
fucking shit what your god damn sexual orientation is… so your straight and you
just tossed a grenade into a schoolhouse, big fucking deal, you are still a
bloodthirsty animal… you worthless fucking Americans just do not get that.

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David J. Cyr's avatar

By David J. Cyr, December 21, 2010 at 5:42 pm Link to this comment

QUOTE (Sophie Amrain):

“Good analysis, Eugene. Lots of shifting goal posts in the comment section I notice:-)

Cyr implies that all soldiers commit war crimes - a rather ridiculous assumption.”


Aggressor war is the highest of international crimes.

Under Principles II, III, IV, VI and VII of the International Law Commission: Principles of International Law Recognized in the Charter of the Nürnberg Tribunal, every person who chooses to participate in aggressor war (Crimes Against Peace) is responsible for war crimes… regardless of whether they are ever punished, or not.

With regards to America’s perpetual wars of aggression, that International Law responsibility for war crimes would rightly include all those who free-will choose to vote for those aggressor wars to be either (R) “dumb” or (D) cleverly “humanitarian” or “necessary” done.

The people in the military who have chosen to not be war criminals have either been arrested… or they’re committing acts of sabotage.

I haven’t voted for either evil, so my “goal posts” don’t shift when Democrats do it.

The massive protests of the misrepresented as being “BUSH’S WAR” crimes frequently had half a million demonstrating in the streets in various cities. The largest protest of war crimes, since Obama became Criminal-In-Chief, barely got 5,000 participating (1% as much; fewer times, in fewer places). Democrat voters make aggressor war become effectively “legal” and socially acceptable… whenever Democrats manage it.

A liberal is a person whose moral compass points North, when s/he’s MovingOn South.

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By Jim Yell, December 21, 2010 at 5:09 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I didn’t accept the arrogance of Bush/Cheney, or the law breaking of the Republicans—so why should I feel different about Obama.

Yes it is good that DADT has supposed to have been removed. As Commander In Chief he probably could have done it himself without the angst. The Republicans are still largely against removing it. This is so odd since some of our best soldiers and officers have been gay.

After the damage Obama and the Republicans, the Republocrates have done to social security this month, why would anyone feel better about Obama. He is a folding chair without any locking mechanism.

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By Mark, December 21, 2010 at 4:01 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I agree with this article completely.  There’s no doubting that President Obama’s “long view” proved to be a winner in this case.

The comments on this article reaffirm what I cannot stand about “progressives”—the inability to see the forrest for the trees and an inflexibility that rivals the Tea Party. This lame duck sessions has really opened my eyes to understand why it is only 20% of the nation will dare desribe themselves as “liberal”. What a miserable bunch…never fucking happy about anything.  The perfect pony is always the enemy of progess or good with the far left. It’s sickening.

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By pbmus1, December 21, 2010 at 2:36 pm Link to this comment

I just wanted to ask why Mr. Obama did not use his
executive powers to stop the idiocy of DADT.  Bushy used
his hundreds of times….

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RayLan's avatar

By RayLan, December 21, 2010 at 2:23 pm Link to this comment

The repeal of an absurd law like DADT that should never have been passed to begin with is pretty slim capital for singing retaliatory Rap. Eugene, the gutlessness of Obama, his absence of mettle, rests not just on this ‘too little too late’ success, but on his many fudges - the Wall Street non-Reform, Health Care non-reform etc… the many legislative jokes that actually had just enough substance to make the Right howl at the moon.

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By Inherit The Wind, December 21, 2010 at 2:05 pm Link to this comment

Not one of the Republican Senators who voted to repeal DADT is from a state that will punish him/her for that vote.

It was a tiny little sop to the President and Dems for complete capitulation on the tax bill.  But they can’t even give him the Dream Act.

Meanwhile they are pretending to oppose New Start just to make Obama sweat and waste time better spent on other issues.  When EVERY military and former GOP official and expert calling for it, the ONLY reason to oppose it is to hurt Obama.  You can’t say you hate the preamble but haven’t had time to review it at the same time.

It’s all bullshit.

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By glider, December 21, 2010 at 1:36 pm Link to this comment

Agreed, at least Obama is able to obtain the smallest of victories, and enables gays equal opportunity to participate in war atrocities.  I feel all warm inside about this scumbag POTUS.  Now stop the damn “smart war” asshole.

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By Sophie Amrain, December 21, 2010 at 1:30 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Good analysis, Eugene. Lots of shifting goal posts in the comment section I notice:-)

Cyr implies that all soldiers commit war crimes - a rather ridiculous assumption. Also, he conveniently ignores that for the gays themselves it was a big deal to get the DADT repeal. It is rather condescending to tell other people what they should be interested in.

Mitchum seems to have trouble with the proper placement of “

Madisolation has not understood that an executive order can be as easily reversed as it is given. He also has not understood that it was important to get the military leadership onboard - they could drag their feet endlessly, should they wish so.

Surfnow shifts the goal posts some more. That reminds me of the old joke: Jewisch mother presents her son with two ties. He wears one the other day to please her. She looks at him and says sadly: You did not like the other one?

ardee seems not to know any of the multiple sites, where the administrations successes are listed, such as:

‘so left’ presents the full total of 0 arguments, but refers to authority (of Chris Hedges), a somewhat astonishing character trait for a supposedly left person.

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By Burnt, December 21, 2010 at 12:55 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Tax cuts vs gay soldiers. An issue of vital
importance to the long term prospects of our
democracy vs. gay soldiers. An issue with real
consequences for all of us vs. gay soldiers. A “must
have” vs a “nice to have”.

Glad you’re excited about it. I would have prefered
he caved on the gays.

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By Aaron Ortiz, December 21, 2010 at 12:35 pm Link to this comment

You said it in one word, Surfnow, “giddy”.

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By Super Lou, December 21, 2010 at 12:08 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Wow!  I’m am giddy with delight, exhilarated.  Now gays can sign up to kill brown people for US banks, corporations and the military/security complex, and corrupt foreign counterparts.

How liberating it must be.  Stars, and stripes forever, right?  If gays consider this a “victory,” the right to kill, maim and poison brown skinned foreigners with depleted uranium and other carcinogens then bless their little wicked souls.

Equal rights to murder for the Empire, strange indeed.

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David J. Cyr's avatar

By David J. Cyr, December 21, 2010 at 11:11 am Link to this comment

QUOTE (Eugene Robinson):

“Progressives needed a clear, unambiguous victory to ease the sting of those extended tax cuts for the rich. They got one Saturday with the Senate’s historic vote to end ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’—and Obama won vindication”

Now, there you have it!

The really BIG difference between a “progressive” (D) and a retrograde (R) is whether or not nasty sex gays should be given complete license to openly commit war crimes, just like good straight “Christians” do.

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By mitchum22, December 21, 2010 at 11:08 am Link to this comment

God, is this guy nauseating. The poster chump for all pseudo-prog media mouths.

“How ya like me now?” Yeah, right. So now all military gays can come out of the closet as they proceed to massacre innocents across the globe. Come to think of it: that’s “President” Oweenie in a nutshell, isn’t it?

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By madisolation, December 21, 2010 at 8:38 am Link to this comment

Oh, Eugene. Obama could have issued an executive order a long time ago. Many discharges later, DADT is repealed. I don’t understand why anyone—gay or straight—wants to serve the defense industry, but if they do, that is their right.
However, the issues I’m concerned about these days are the ones that don’t further impoverish all of us. Obama has failed miserably in that area. I refuse to listen to his pompous parroting of corporate talking points, anymore. He’s a cowardly tool, and thank goodness people are finally waking up to that fact.

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By surfnow, December 21, 2010 at 8:35 am Link to this comment

This is a joke right? This is what Eugene Robinson is so giddy about? A meaningless give-in on a completely maningless issue. Is this going to shorten the unemployment lines or end the occupation of Afghanistan or clean up the Gulf or bring back tens of millions of jobs or end the War on Drugs? Get a life,Mr.Robinson.

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By ardee, December 21, 2010 at 7:16 am Link to this comment

I hope that Mr. Robinson has not hurt himself with this enormous mental stretch. I take this as a sign of just how difficult it must be for the loyalists to find something, anything to credit to this abysmal failure of an administration.

One term and done, Mr. President.

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By knobcreekfarmer, December 21, 2010 at 6:33 am Link to this comment

i think Eugene needs to wake up - perhaps read Chris Hedges new book…

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