Earlier this week, Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) introduced -- and then withdrew -- an amendment that would have prevented the military from using money to carry out Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the policy that forces military gays and lesbians to stay in the closet.
Please understand that this wasn't an amendment to repeal Don't Ask (another member is carrying that bill). Rather, Hastings was attempting to attach something to the soon-to-be-passed Defense Appropriations Act. This was always a non-starter, and he bloody well knew it, yet didn't care.
Hastings blamed his decision to withdraw on pressure from colleagues and the White House. On Wednesday night, he appeared on MSNBC to talk about this with Rachel Maddow. Her tease to the segment made clear that White House involvement would be a key part of their chat.
Indeed it was, and Maddow began with a recent clip of President Obama: "My administration is already working with the Pentagon and members of the House and the Senate on how we'll go about ending this policy, which will require an act of Congress." She then looked into the camera: "Why would the White House be putting the kibosh" on this? Fair question.
Unfortunately, it proved to be a hollow one because she never pursued it. Both host and guest bemoaned Team Obama's decision to intervene. As for the reasoning, however, Maddow didn't exactly ask Hastings, and he didn't exactly tell. Allow me.
Neither of them confronted the painfully obvious: We're in the final week of July, with major health care overhaul coming to a precarious head in various committees (or hadn't you noticed?), and a month-long recess just days away. In other words, this is a foolish time to toss Don't Ask into the mix.
Just when the president and congressional Dems have the Blue Dogs quieting down, Hastings would have them howling again.
His goal has merit, so that's not the issue. Don't Ask was always a lousy policy. A huge majority of Americans, 70 percent, want it ended, and it will be. After all, the president himself is on board, even though he hasn't gotten around to it in his first six months. Something about repairing two failed wars, saving the U.S. economy and securing health care reform seems to have demanded his attention.
The point is that when you're already up to your ass in alligators (which Obama was on Day One), it hurts to add more until the current ones get caged. As a Floridian whose district includes Lake Okeechobee, Hastings should at least know that much!
Recently, he sent a June letter to the president about Don't Ask, and apparently didn't receive the cherished coddling from either end of Pennsylvania Avenue. His bruised ego then responded, against all wisdom to the contrary, with the late July, dead-on-arrival amendment to the defense bill.
Hastings can do whatever he wants. Still, he's not being a team player when his party needs unanimity and focus to pass historic health care legislation, the centerpiece of the president's first year in office. That's why the White House deemed this an unwise moment to open contentious debate over Don't Ask.
Maddow's coverage gave us no analysis on any of this. MSNBC: "The Place For Politics." Or not.
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