Should Obama End DADT with a Stroke of a Pen?

In a word, no.

There's some chatter in our comments on another post (the author of which I believe disagrees with me on this post!) about whether Obama does indeed have the right to end DADT by executive fiat. Even if he does have that ability, he should not do it.

As many parents and teachers learn after much heartache, compliance with a rule is much more easily won if the child can see the reason for the rule, feel the justness of it. Otherwise, you only get compliance only when supervised. Worse, simmering resentment builds, and the children will eventually lash out, in some way or another.

This is true for citizens of a polity as well, and probably has much to do with why democracies tend to be so much more stable than other forms of government. The government must respond to the will of the people in order to remain in power. When people feel as if something is forced on them, they will resent it. And a backlash will come.

I think when Obama says he is not an ideologue, he means that he is a political consequentialist (if not a moral consequentialist). He will always value a calculus of harms and benefits over rights - which demand a disregarding of harms and benefits. This is obviously a questionable position. I'm generally in favor such a stance politically, but it is of course, an arguable stance. In this case, however, I think it's warranted.

There are of course times when rights must come first, when they must be imposed on an unwilling majority. Brown v. Board of Education, for example. In that case, however, popular opinion was not nearly so close to being turned around, and a far greater number of people were having their rights more severely violated.

In this case, I think the consequentialist route is the right way to go. Yes, I do think the rights of servicemembers are currently being violated. If, however, we wait for a relatively short time, we can achieve a much more stable victory. If the military or public feels as if this decision is imposed on them by a cultural elite, they have a far greater chance of overturning the decision in the next presidential election. Servicemembers will chafe at the bit. If the decision seems as if it is coming from the military, however, it has a much, much greater chance of sticking around for good.

Relatively few people will be harmed in the short term, and greater benefits will accrue in the long term.

John McCain's statements ring much more hollow, to the military and the public, because he is contradicting Adm. Mullen rather than they would if he were contradicting President Obama.

If the military can't get it together, then yes: Obama should declare it by fiat. In the meantime, let's see if we can't get popular opinion even more behind the change.


  1. Whoaaa.....The military cannot get it together since ordered to do so and ease up the policy. Yea right, Gays have not suffered enough so never mind he can end their suffering with a stroke of his pen. An apple given to me or purchased by me continues to taste the same. The end result; it what matters to those being discriminated against. I wonder how you would feel if you were around when Truman desegregated all branches of the services. Would you be against it and want to wait for popular opinion to change? At that time, the top brass was against it as was the congress and popular opinion. They said it would demoralize all our troops and cause massive disruption and the troops morale would disappear.... all these did not occur. Truman was brave, Obama is not! Both Truman and Lincoln stayed in power after their decisions without our society disintegrating. There are times when we as a Republic (we are not a Democracy) must adhere to changes the folks we vote into power elect to do. That is the reason we continue to prosper, because we are not a democracy but a Republic. The top person in the military has called for end end to DADT. Change is warranted now and by anyone that has the guts to do it. "Relatively few people will be harmed". Elizabeth with all respect that statement is without a doubt cruel and callous. It may not effect you directly but what about that man or woman that will be tossed out on their butts without an honorable discharge because they have been exposed to who they are and denied all rights and benefits they worked for.... that's nuts. If you think service-members will chafe, the following is something for you. Interesting enough was an interview on CBS where a young gay infantry soldier in Afghanistan said his entire platoon knew he was gay and they continued to fight along side of him. Why? because he unlike those elected officials who are against DADT and have never served in the military, this young man was doing his duty. In the foxhole there are no atheists, we are all believers in God and we are all best friends of the man next to us with a rifle. Gay, Black, Yellow, White.... it does not matter. As for myself, there is no way under the sun my superiors could not have thought I was straight. So, speaking not as someone that has never served in the military but someone who served and then began my career in the VA, I can assure you when ordered to do so the military will comply.... no matter where the orders come from. That is the military way and without being there and having the experience is like the Catholic priest who counsels married couples on sex. Sure he can do it, but he really does not know what it feels like nor can he.

  2. Ironically, if it were the case that popular opinion, top brass, and congress were all against it, as in the case of desegregation, I would say he should not wait and he should declare DADT dead by fiat. Because in that case, there's no benefit to waiting. In this case, there might well be a benefit. We're almost there with top brass and public opinion.

    Lincoln waited three years after his election for the Emancipation Proclamation, precisely because he wanted it to reflect popular opinion. Lincoln is the paradigm case of consequentialist politician.

    I did not mean to be callous. I meant that relatively few would be harmed by waiting a year, compared to how many would be harmed if the policy gets reversed at the next GOP presidency. Then, many more people would be harmed than would be in the next year.

    We have a chance to make this ruling more stable and more likely to stick. We should do it.

  3. I guess we will disagree on this one. Even one soldier discharged with a DD after serving honorably sucks. That person, being one of the relatively few... I wonder if you could look them in the eye and say that's OK it was for the greater good. Is dodging a bullet or mortar or IUD and then being kicked out for the greater good? The next president could repeal it, but that would cause complete chaos and I could live with that can of worms. Even Sarah Palin would not be that stupid. Your arguments do not hold water. It is like withholding medicine because it was not approved for a certain disease by the FDA and hoping some day they would approve it, after all it may be for the greater good. By the way, The preliminary Emancipation Proclamation of Sept. 22, 1862, (One year after his election) bore this military justification, as did all of Lincoln's racial measures, including especially his decision in the final proclamation of Jan. 1, 1863, (Two years after his election) to accept blacks in the army. By 1864, Democrats and Republicans differed clearly in their platforms on the race issue: Lincoln's endorsed the 13TH Amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery. Lincoln went against such a great portion of our country, yet he still signed it even though the economic turmoil he would cause and was aware, would ultimately split the country. Under your theory he should have waited until we were all in favor of freedom for all. Glad I was not a black person waiting for you to make the decision based on your theories. :)

  4. Sorry, he waited a year and a half. Even though he was opposed to slavery all along. Why do you suppose that was?

    Also, he specifically waited until the North had won some victories before issuing the proclamation. Not because he didn't think it was right until then. But because he knew the public would be more in favor (i.e., the Northern public) if they'd had some military victories.

    The country had split before he took office. He waited until he thought it would go over with the North.

    Look, I don't think public opinion is sacrosanct. If most people were in favor of rape, rape shouldn't be legal.

    The ONLY reason I think we should wait for public opinion is not because it is always right. It is because I believe it is likely that fewer gay people will have their rights violated if we do.

  5. But the whole point is he simply can't do what you people are suggesting, the most he can do is not enforce it, only Congress can repeal a statute, and the statute exists. I have no problem, in fact I support not enforcing the law through active measures, but the law will remain on the books waiting for the next Republican President to enforce it.

    And Uncle Jim, Truman signed his order in 1948, but desegregation didn't happen until the Korean war was in full swing and the military knew they needed the bodies. It is not as quite cut and dry as his signing the order and all was right, besides, there was no explicit statute mandating segregation (it simply was never considered to have been necessary), and the Southern Senators did their best to try to pass one

    I say take a stand and try to repeal the Law, let Republicans in the Senate filibuster (and make them do a real one, not a procedural one) I doubt all 40 Republican Senators are going to want to go down that route, I am confident a few will realize they are against basic rights and won't want to tarnish their names doing so.

    Repeal, repeal, repeal the statute. Full rights now and forever on, no temporary measures as the solution.


  6. Gee, Why in the world would I feel like I am pissing into the Atlantic Ocean in hopes of turning it yellow? Here's the answer: GOP Senators Seek to Bring D.C. Gay Marriage to a Vote
    Several Republican lawmakers, led by Sen. Bob Bennett (Utah), introduced a bill on Tuesday to stop D.C. from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples until residents have had a chance to vote on it. DADT repeal with a stroke of the pen is crumbs, but at least it is edible!

  7. For the record, I am currently satisfied with the approach Obama is taking to DADT.

  8. Again Uncle Jim, it is not repeal. It is a temporary fix, I have no problem with temporary fixes provided that Democrats don't take it as an excuse not to repeal the statute. And, lets face it, that is probably very likely given how gutless Dem. Congressmen are. If crumbs are all we can get, then I say yes, issue the order and dare the next Republican President to rescind it, but all in all, I would rather go with the permanent solution of repeal.