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Don't Ask Don't Tell: Repeal the Repeal?

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RICK SANTORUM

Two weeks after the official repeal of the Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) policy barring gays and lesbians from openly participating in the U.S. military, the big news is that there is no news. Contrary to the warnings of numerous conservative lawmakers, there was no apparent cataclysmic shock to unit cohesion, and straight service members within the U.S. military did not resign en masse. Despite these facts, most of the GOP 2012 presidential candidates remain entrenched in their stance that DADT should be reinstated.

With DADT now officially history, GOP candidates must not only move beyond talking points to clarify how a DADT 2.0 would work, but also why the policy should be resurrected.

The only recent attempt at clarification during the debate came from self-styled culture warrior and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. During the Sept. 22 GOP Presidential Debate in Florida, he stated that while his administration would repeal the repeal, gay and lesbian soldiers who come out before the new DADT went into effect would not receive pink slips.

Nevertheless, it is time for all the GOP candidates in favor of a DADT 2.0 to answer three questions.

First, what should happen to those gay and lesbian soldiers who come out in the interim period before the new DADT is passed? Again, even Santorum has acknowledged that active service members like Stephen Hill -- who courageously outed himself to the GOP candidates to ask a video question during the debate -- should be grandfathered through. (Never mind for die-hard proponents of DADT that this encourages gay and lesbian service members to come out as fast and as publicly as possible.) However, it is unclear if other GOP candidates would order the military to compile discharge lists based on the YouTube videos, magazines profiles and blog posts featuring active service members coming out following the repeal of the original DADT.

Second, although commonly glossed over, DADT was declared unconstitutional in September 2010. The judge in the case said the policy not only violated service members' due process and first amendment rights, but also had a "direct and deleterious effect" on the military. It is time to ask the GOP candidates if their administration would defend a similar policy all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court -- and, if they lost, whether they, as president, would push for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution banning gays and lesbians from serving openly in the U.S. military.

Third, what would their administration do regarding increasingly apparent contradictions related to the spirit and letter of DADT? Since the original inception of DADT in 1993, the military has definitely "asked" and investigated the sexual orientation of service members through email exchanges, third-party outings and the pervasive practice of lesbian-baiting. It is anyone's guess if a Bachmann DADT or Perry DADT would legally sanction these witch hunts. Romney's catch-all stance that it was inappropriate for the Obama administration to dump the policy when the U.S. military was engaged in military action abroad does little to illuminate his position on DADT.

Former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain, for one, deserves credit for declaring, "[The repeal] is settled at this point," following the debate. Kudos also to Texas Governor Rick Perry's campaign for -- belatedly -- calling the heckling of an active member of the U.S. armed forces "very unfortunate." Santorum also gets points for tardily condemning the booing after initially claiming to have not heard it.

Bottom line, though: no candidate during the debate dared to speak up when several members of audience literally booed marine Stephen Hill after he came out as a gay soldier to ask his question.

Overall, the fact that the majority of the GOP candidates have neither clarified nor significantly recalibrated their stances regarding DADT in the wake of its repeal shows the dangers of letting ideology trump practical, reasonable and common-sense national security policy.

According to one estimate by the Center for American Progress, DADT has cost the U.S. government $363.8 million, and it has resulted in the discharge of 14,346 soldiers since it was enacted. This, of course, includes "mission critical" roles such as pilots, Arabic translators and engineers.

Whatever the logic for originally instituting DADT, it is extremely difficult to argue that such staggering numbers have made the U.S. military stronger, more cohesive and an altogether better fighting force rather than the opposite.

Given the substantial monetary, human capital and psychological costs of a law that was at best a policy failure and at worst a counterproductive ideological experiment on the U.S. armed forces, those calling for a reinstatement of DADT must explain how they will proceed in this area.

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