Don't ask, don't tell. And, whatever you do, don't ask Elaine Donnelly to tell you what she thinks about gays in the military.
The House Armed Services personnel subcommittee made just such a miscalculation yesterday. Holding the first hearing in 15 years on the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, lawmakers invited a quartet of veterans to testify on the subject and also extended an invitation to Donnelly, who has been working for years to protect our fighting forces from the malign influence of women.
Donnelly treated the panel to an extraordinary exhibition of rage. She warned of "transgenders in the military." She warned that lesbians would take pictures of people in the shower. She spoke ominously of gays spreading "HIV positivity" through the ranks.
"We're talking about real consequences for real people," Donnelly proclaimed. Her written statement added warnings about "inappropriate passive/aggressive actions common in the homosexual community," the prospects of "forcible sodomy" and "exotic forms of sexual expression," and the case of "a group of black lesbians who decided to gang-assault" a fellow soldier.
At the witness table with Donnelly, retired Navy Capt. Joan Darrah, a lesbian, rolled her eyes in disbelief. Retired Marine Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, a gay man who was wounded in Iraq, looked as if he would explode.
Inadvertently, Donnelly achieved the opposite of her intended effect. Though there's no expectation that Congress will repeal "don't ask, don't tell" and allow gays to serve openly in the military, the display had the effect of increasing bipartisan sympathy for the cause.