Your Thoughts On Truman, Obama And Gays In the Military

By Matthew Cooper

Yesterday, I noted that the Obama administration could learn a thing or two from Harry Truman's 1948 executive order integrating the military. Readers rightly noted that I left out some important variables. First, Truman didn't rush to integrate. He took office in 1945 and waited until 1948 to do the deed. Second, Obama needs congressional approval to overturn the don't-ask-don't-tell policy, and I implied that it was his prerogative alone. That's not quite right.

On the first point, I don't think it diminishes Truman's political courage or risk taking to note that he waited until 1948 to integrate the military, a far harder task than faces Obama given the virulence of Jim Crow. It's true that there were political benefits to the integration order that helped Truman win the votes of blacks who had migrated north to states where they weren't largely prevented from voting, such as Illinois. But overall it was a gamble of astonishing proportions in an election year and far riskier than anything Obama is thus far avoiding. Truman's position helped lead to the Strom Thurmond/segregationist walkout from the party. No Democrat in Congress is going to bolt over this.

On the legislative versus stroke-of-a-pen question, yes, Obama needs congressional approval to vanquish don't-ask-don't-tell entirely, but he could end the discharges tomorrow, as one reader notes, through executive actions. The details are here.

What do you think? How big are the political risks to Obama if he follows through this summer on ending don't-ask-don't-tell. I think they're minimal.

I thank everyone for their comments and encourage more.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2009/07/your-thoughts-on-truman-obama-and-gays-in-the-military/20458/