The Republicans have given up on their don’t-ask-don’t-tell fig leaf position on gays in the military, but I don’t know why the Democrats would let them sneak away from it so easily.
This is a gift: The GOP is firmly identified with a position that most of the country, leading military figures,
and lots of people in uniform
find absurd, obsolete, and offensive.
So how come the Democrats aren’t branding the GOP in every reference and every venue as the party of DADT—the party, moreover, of malevolent, insensitive, reactionary gay bashing?
This is an easy one. The Republicans would like to walk away from this issue, but they can’t disavow it. The country may have undergone a renaissance of sexual-identity sensitivity (not least of all because everybody’s got a gay relative), but the GOP base is still virulently anti-gay. Put on the spot, even the most reconstructed Republican will continue to say these weird, dopey, incredibly awkward, swatting-at-flies sort of things about gays. And it isn’t hard to find old-school Republicans who will reliably slide right back into the most belligerent, comical, from-another-planet, I-haven’t-had-sex-in-forty-years-but-here’s-what-I-think-about-homos, sounding stuff.
A couple of years ago, at a hardcore conservative conference, I heard the National Review’s
Rich Lowry argue that the GOP was going to go down the drain on this issue—he was specifically talking abut gay marriage—that the country was ever-more-steadfastly distancing itself from the hardcore Republican view; indeed, that the family values argument had pretty much come to include the gays.
But the Democrats themselves are pretty retro. They, too, seem to believe that the country is still a dark, moronic, sexually stratified place and best not to raise the issue too loudly. They’re grateful the Republicans seem suddenly uptight about gay-baiting, and they're all too happy to take advantage of this sudden reticence—but not willing to throw it back in their faces.
This may well be because Democrats are also uncomfortable—more uncomfortable than most people in the country—with the gay thing.
But this is giving up an incredible opportunity.
Gays in the military, many of whom over the last decade have become dead gays, is a perfect issue. A beautiful piece of triangulation. If Republicans oppose gays in uniform
, as they have to do, they not only sound like everybody’s mean-spirited and batty grandfather—there is nothing that says old like gay-phobia—but they find themselves peculiarly opposing the war effort.
This war—these wars!
—should be good for something
. And here it is: Gay soldiers are good soldiers (as well as dead ones), and, if the Democrats weren’t so chicken shit, they could make the Republicans out to be so stubborn, angry, and hopeless that their bigotry outweighs their patriotism.
More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.