You might have wished that Barack Obama had taken a more aggressive path to overturning the military’s ban on openly gay servicemen and women. I certainly did. The president didn’t issue stop-loss orders to prevent gay soldiers from being kicked out of the military. When a federal judge ruled that the stay-in-the-closet-or-else policy was unconstitutional, Obama’s Justice Department even went to court to defend the status quo.
For two years, the president was insistent that the policy needed to be undone, not by executive or judicial fiat, but by an act of Congress. And in one of the true political surprises of the last two years, that insistence paid off. The Senate transcended the vicious partisanship that has been its defining characteristic and repealed the ban — with critical leadership provided by, of all people, Joe Lieberman and with whoda-thunkit support from Republicans John Ensign of Nevada and even Richard Burr of North Carolina.
The Senate’s historic recognition of the humanity of gay Americans represents another case where the steady, at-times maddeningly dispassionate leadership of the president has produced deep and meaningful change.
But whatever your take on the merits of Obama’s leadership style, let’s recall that the only real alternative here was President John McCain. And McCain’s bitter, small minded, and principle-free stance on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell offers a definitive reminder of what was at stake in 2008.
The Make-Believe Maverick had long said he only supported DADT because it had the backing of the military’s top brass, and would support changing the policy at their recommendation. But when the Pentagon’s civilian and military leadership threw its weight behind repeal, McCain began moving the goal posts. Suddenly, he claimed, the policy should stay in place until the soldiers themselves said they wanted it repealed — calling into question how seriously McCain ever internalized the military chain of command during his Navy days. And when the Pentagon’s own polling demonstrated that 70 percent of troops would embrace repeal? Even that did not move McCain.
With passage of the repeal assured, the former maverick retreated further into his bigoted bunker. On Saturday, he took to the floor of the Senate to call the historic advance for equality in America “a very sad day” — making outrageous claim that the distraction of openly gay service members will lead to more Marines getting their limbs blown off in Afghanistan.
It was a very sad day — but only for John McCain’s legacy. His vote placed him on the wrong side of history — again — just as firmly as did his opposition to a holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1983. History will be unkind to you, Senator McCain. Indeed: It gets worse.