Senator John McCain, leader of efforts to block the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," took pains during recent Senate hearings to disavow the possibility that he might be motivated by prejudice. Senator McCain said that he is a nice guy who feels no animus towards gay men or lesbians, but that he cannot support equal treatment in 2010 because the presence of openly gay troops would undermine the military. He insists that he has nothing against gay people, yet at the same time, there is something about them that would compromise the armed forces.
There are at least five indications that Senator McCain is not telling the truth, and that his true motivation is prejudice:
(1) Shifting goalposts. Had Senator McCain consistently adhered to a single rationale for maintaining "don't ask, don't tell," this conclusion might be different. Yet he has cycled through different arguments, replacing discredited ones as soon as the facts no longer support them. The Senator once declared that when military leadership said that the ban should be repealed, he would support it. Now that the Secretary of Defense and Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have called for repeal, Senator McCain says that he didn't mean that he wanted to hear from military leadership, but rather from the Service Chiefs who report to them. Senator McCain used to explain his opposition in terms of Colin Powell's resistance, but now that Powell has moved on, the Senator no longer sees his views as a relevant reference point either.
(2) Contradictions. Senator McCain has complained that the Senate is wasting valuable time addressing "don't ask, don't tell," but at the same time he says that Congress should not take action until it holds more hearings next year (when, he knows, Republicans in the House will have a majority and be able to block repeal).
(3) Smokescreens. Senator McCain has said that the Pentagon's survey of the troops cannot be trusted because of its low response rate of 28 percent. But that's about average for web-based as well as military surveys, and response rates have nothing to do with the validity of a survey's results as long as the pool of respondents is drawn properly. In this case, the military's survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 1 percent.
(4) Cherry-picking the evidence. At the same time he calls the survey's results into question, Senator McCain emphasizes the single piece of data that appears to support his view, the fact that a high percentage of combat arms troops think that repeal would undermine their unit's cohesion. That data point should be considered, but there is a mountain of evidence which shows that these concerns can be addressed, and that they don't actually mean that repeal would undermine combat units. Senator McCain refuses to consider that evidence and doesn't even acknowledge its existence.
(5) Misrepresenting public concerns. Senator McCain said during recent Senate hearings that members of the public do not care about "don't ask, don't tell," and have not asked him to consider repealing it. But Linda Thomas, a 22-year Air Force veteran who runs an LGBT community center in Arizona, says that "McCain's claims that voters don't care about 'don't ask, don't tell,' and that he has never been asked about it, are false. I personally asked the Senator to repeal the law, and numerous other people have done so as well." Polls show that about two thirds of the country wants to repeal the ban.
Maybe all of these factors are just coincidental, but I don't think so. And U.S. troops agree with me. According to the chapter head of OutServe Arizona, "There is only one clear reason for Senator McCain's continued support of this outdated policy -- prejudice. We are human beings, we protect the United States of America, and we deserve to be treated as such." (The chapter head is an active duty military member who cannot disclose her name because of "don't ask, don't tell." OutServe is an organization of more than 1,600 active duty gay and lesbian troops.)
So if you hear Republican senators including John McCain talking about the need for more research (after 17 years), rushed deliberations (after a ten-month Pentagon study), unfair amendment processes (after two years of obstruction) or risks to unit cohesion (after 92% of troops who serve with gays said that no harm resulted), there's just one word that should pop up in your mind: prejudice.