How the White House strategy on DADT ‘backfired’ — with some help from bloggers and activists

Posted on 18 Oct 2010 at 8:44am

Politico’s Josh Gerstein has an examination of the White House approach to the repeal of DADT — and how the White House screwed it up. I think Gerstein captured it quite well. The White House let Robert Gates call the shots. And, whoever agreed to the drawn out process, whether it was Jim Messina or the President himself, didn’t think through the political consequences of waiting. And, no one factored in the Log Cabin Republicans lawsuit. It also seems clear that at least some groups, most likely HRC and CAP, but not SLDN or Servicemembers United, went along with the White House strategy. Apparently, none of the so-called “leaders” thought through the political ramifications. And, they all underestimated the activism of LGBT blogs and GetEQUAL:

What the White House’s slow-but-steady approach failed to anticipate was the rise of online activism by repeal advocates and the impatience those advocates would show based on polls indicating as many as 75 percent of Americans support “don’t ask” repeal.

While many organized gay groups deferred to a greater or lesser extent to the White House’s strategy and timeline, bloggers like John Aravosis and in-your-face protesters like Dan Choi did not. The online activists and upstart groups never bought into the wait-for-the-Pentagon approach, even after Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, presented historic testimony in February endorsing an end to “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

And after Democrats began to suffer electoral defeats earlier this year in New Jersey, Virginia and Massachusetts, gay advocates began to fear that Obama’s plan to defer legislation on the subject to 2011 might doom the repeal effort altogether if Republicans took one or both chambers of Congress.

“We started to worry it’s not going to get done if we don’t get it wrapped up this year,” said Alex Nicholson of Servicemembers United.

This is one key point:

The White House’s Plan A involved a Pentagon study for release in December 2010, followed by legislation thereafter.

The President said in the State of the Union that he was going to work to repeal DADT “this year.” But, that didn’t really mean it would be accomplished “this year.” Not at all. But, some of us realized that next year would be impossible given the unfolding political situation.

Bottom line: It’s a mess. There’s a hearing on the DOJ’s request for a stay today at 2:30 PM PT in Judge Phillips’ court. That process still has to play out. And, we’ll hear a lot about the lame duck session. But, unless the President does become “actively involved,” as promised by Robert Gibbs, it won’t happen. Plus, Obama has to make sure Robert Gates approves. Gates is in charge here.




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