If one thing was evident from the recent series of protest actions over "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT), it was that the Obama administration appears to be sufficiently flustered. Many have opined that the President was simply annoyed at being repeatedly interrupted at the Los Angeles fundraiser for Senator Barbara Boxer, while others note that administration officials seem irritated by the embarrassment of having six service members and veterans chained to the gates in front of the White House. Judging by the President's response, as well as by that of his press operation, one might even surmise that this administration is just plain perturbed by having to continuously reaffirm a stance that they thought they had made abundantly clear time and time again - that the President already supports full repeal of the DADT law.
Peering slightly below the surface, however, reveals another very likely scenario. The White House has been caught off guard by the fact that the standard line on DADT that they thought would satisfy the LGBT community for 2010 (i.e., the President already supports full repeal of DADT and that it's now out of his hands) is not working. The White House seems to have calculated that the LGBT community would simply not catch on to the nuanced fact that the President can and should still put repeal language into the defense policy transmittals that the administration sends over to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees each year for recommended inclusion in the National Defense Authorization Act. But now the community - from its elites to its grassroots activists to its non-political masses - is well aware of this possibility, and it is demanding that the President act.
Indeed, it is safe to say that the LGBT community has experienced an elevation of its collective consciousness this year on DADT. Throughout 2009, and even earlier this year, the focus of the LGBT community has been on getting the President to begin publicly advocating for repeal of the DADT law. The step beyond that was to call for the President to put repeal language into his budget. However, calls for inclusion of repeal language in the "budget" were somewhat uninformed. Many with a less nuanced understanding of defense budgeting and politics have wrongly promoted the defense budget as the target vehicle for recommended repeal language, leading even such staunch advocates as Barney Frank to rightly mock such calls as misplaced. With cover like this, the White House was conveniently able to avoid acting.
What changed for the White House, however, is that the collective rhetoric of the LGBT community has changed, including its specific calls for action. As measures were taken both publicly and privately to educate LGBT activists, media, organizers, and strategists about the proper vehicle for the inclusion of repeal language (i.e., the defense policy transmittals that follow the President's budget), the community began realizing exactly what President Obama could still do to effect repeal in 2010. The façade that the President had already done all he could to make that happen has faded away.
The activists that interrupted the President's speech at the Boxer fundraiser in Los Angeles were not just calling for the President to support repeal. When the President responded as if this was all they were asking for, the activists followed up with a chorus of "Insert the language! Insert the language!" To this nuanced demand, the White House has yet to craft a sufficient response, and it is running out of time. Perhaps that's because the only sufficient response will be to comply. That, Mr. President, would be the right thing to do.
Even a win on this issue next year will be bittersweet, as the President will have unnecessarily risked the lives and livelihoods of the men and women still serving under the cloud of DADT for yet another year, and possibly more. And that, Mr. President, would be the wrong thing to do. And it will be something that the LGBT community may not be able to forgive.
Follow Alexander Nicholson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/dadt