A reader writes:
Like you, I am impatient about the ban on gays, and wish the President would just change the law with a stroke of a pen. But, on reflection (months of reflection and quite a bit of disappointment), I am beginning to come around to this approach. His approach, no matter how frustrating, is essentially good governance. It forces Congress to act, which is appropriate, since they passed “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the first place. It gives the military months of time to change policy, to educate and to operate, which is important when dealing with one of the largest bureaucracies in the world. Beyond that, it makes the process distinctly apolitical, which, when I think about it, is the only way to make it stick.
I worked in Washington during the Clinton administration, and I remember the ferocity of the storm kicked up by the original attempt to change this policy. While I believe that may have lead to being un-necessarily gun-shy this time around, the more I think about it, the more I believe that Obama knows exactly what he’s doing. In fact, I believe that he has known this from the start that in order to end the ban forever, he must make the change unassailable, relentless and gradual. He has used this past year to wage two wars, to gain the trust and respect of the military, and to get a little Commander-in-Chief Mojo. Now, instead of changing the policy with a pen, which would certainly rankle some officers, he’s issuing orders, but giving time, and allowing the military to do its thing which is to study, to figure out implementation, and to get the mission plan in place.
Like I said it’s called governance. After eight years without it, I realize I’ve forgotten what it looks like and, no matter how frustrating, it feels like the right course of action. And, I’m a big gay democrat, who has wanted the ban ended for over twenty years.
Increasingly, I’m seeing this with just about everything the administration does and no matter the bumps in the road (and the periodic moments of cable-news-induced panic), I think I’m beginning to get it. Obama is governing. It’s hard work. It’s incremental. And, it’s working.
I get it too. And it took a while for me as well.
Take the HIV ban. After the Bush administration bungled the implementation and ran out of time, the Obama administration seemed to dither. They stonewalled my inquiries and took their sweet time. I realized after a while - and they were kind enough to explain to me at length off the record - that they were absolutely intent on getting every single detail right. They wanted to avoid any legal challenge to the ban's removal because of some procedural lapse or rushed move. Real lives hung in the balance, but they got it done in the end. It took a year - but it was no-drama and has taken hold. I sure hope that's an omen for the military issue.