One has to admire Mitt Romney's ability to dance around all sides of an
issue without conveying even an iota of shame about how he sounds. Take
the latest example: "don't ask, don't tell."
During tonight's debate among GOP presidential candidates, Romney, who
criticized the gay ban in 1994 when he sought a Senate seat in
Massachusetts, said that his prior support for allowing gays and lesbians
to serve openly in the military was an error and he now supports
Romney may be just about the only person in America who has traveled this
particular political arc. Indeed, polls consistently show that two-thirds
of the public, including a majority of republicans, supports the repeal of
"don't ask, don't tell." Of the one-third who continue to support the
ban, I doubt there are more than a handful who favored integration back in
1994 when "don't ask, don't tell" was established.
What, in particular, caused Mitt to change his mind? Could it be the
successful experiences of nations such as Britain which lifted their gay
bans since 1994? Could it be the change in military opinion since that
time, reflected in polls of service members which now find the vast
majority of troops personally comfortable interacting with gays? Could it
be that unlike 1994, senior military leaders such as former Joint Chiefs
Chairman John Shalikashvili have now gone on record claiming the
discrimination is harming the military? Or could it be the 58 Arabic
linguists who the military has fired under "don't ask, don't tell."
Reasonable people can disagree about gays in the military, but if Romney
truly changed his mind about the issue, he should explain what, in
particular, caused him to do so.
Most likely, of course, Romney is simply pandering to the most extreme
part of his base, even if it makes him look like a flip-flopper who would
play politics with the military while advocating policies that undermine
national security. Romney could have distinguished himself from the pack
by explaining to his extreme supporters that while he is a social
conservative, there are strong national security reasons to allow gays and
lesbians to serve openly. Instead, he took the sad and easy way out.
What a textbook illustration of uninspiring leadership.
Follow Aaron Belkin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/aaronbelkin