Thursday, January 13, 2011


Dave Weigel and Steve Benen take note of the fact that Tim Pawlenty, who desperately wants the Republican electorate to take his presidential aspirations seriously and who's been furiously tacking to the right to make that happen, has now said on the radio show of religious-right hatemonger Bryan Fischer that he'd "support reinstating" Don't Ask, Don't Tell as president. Dave and Steve agree that this is a futile gesture. (Weigel:" a wedge issue that is probably completely dead politically"; Benen: "The moment President Obama held a celebration to sign the legislation, conservatives should have realized the game was up. There was a political fight, and they lost.")

But conservatives never accept that any fight is lost -- they reserve the right to relitigate everything. Last year, most people never thought Republicans would seriously put any effort into repealing the health care law; now they're trying to do so in Congress and in the courts. Why not this, too?

Yeah, I know: the polls show that DADT repeal has tremendous support -- 77% according to a poll lpast month from The Washington Post and ABC. Well, sure -- but other polls give different results. And how often have Republicans let a little thing like public opinion slow them down? In 2004, when a GOP Congress allowed the assault weapons ban to lapse, the polls were similarly arrayed against Republicans -- in fact, a Harris poll showed that 71% of Americans favored retaining the ban. The GOP didn't care. Pro-gunners were passionate; anti-gunners weren't.

OK, this is different -- support for gay rights is only going to increase as a younger generation takes the place of older, more gay-hostile voters. Well, OK. But we seem to have been trending that way on race recently -- we did, after all, elect an African-American president, and he got a lot of white votes -- but the right has found ways to continue making fear of non-Caucasians an issue. When direct language doesn't work, there's always code.

If Republicans can't alter public opinion on this issue, I think they'll at least keep it in reserve, and not only use it to fire up the angriest throwbacks in the base, but also deploy it at opportune moments. Imagine if a scandal like Abu Ghraib or Tailhook broke out under a Democratic president. The latter was largely about (non-consensual) sex, though not gay sex; the former, at least in the opinion of pundits ranging from Charles Colson to Susan Sontag, happened because we live in a society with a lot of porn available. If a Democratic administration were the ultimate target, right-wingers would have blamed either of these on a "culture of permissiveness" that includes allowing gays to serve openly. I guarantee they'll find an opportunity in the future to play just that card.

So it's no surprise to me that Pawlenty said what he said, or that Joe "You Lie!" Wilson, the new head of the House Armed Services Committee's military personnel panel, also wants to repeal DADT. This really could become a litmus test for Republicans in the presidential race. Republicans will find some way to use it. They won't let it rest.

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