12/10/2010 01:36 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Truman Didn't Ask, He Just Told

The Senate vote vote on a measure which could have put an end to the "Don't Ask. Don't Tell" policy immediately brought to mind the 1948 decision by President Harry S. Truman to desegregate the U.S. military.

(The Truman Library offers a comprehensive overview of the 1948 Desegregation decision).

Here is how Truman opened his Executive Order in July 1948:

WHEREAS it is essential that there be maintained in the armed services of the United States the highest standards of democracy, with equality of treatment and opportunity for all those who serve in our country's defense: NOW THEREFORE, by virtue of the authority vested in me as President of the United States, by the Constitution and the statutes of the United States, and as Commander in Chief of the armed services, it is hereby ordered as follows: 1. It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin. This policy shall be put into effect as rapidly as possible, having due regard to the time required to effectuate any necessary changes without impairing efficiency or morale.

Truman's decision took years to be fully implemented. It was resisted inside the Pentagon and in Congress. But it was politically daring. The country overwhelmingly approved of a segregated military.

Yet Truman's bold, brave decision -- which did not require Congressional action -- was a giant step in the civil rights movement. With one Executive Order, he brought belief and optimism to black Americans and those who sought racial justice, both inside and outside the armed forces. It would be years before the courts and Congress caught up to Truman's principled stand. This was Presidential leadership in action. This was "Hope" and this was "Change." Sudden. Dramatic. Uncompromising.

In response to the Senate defeat of the measure repealing "Don't Ask. Don't Tell," President Obama mustered a statement saying he was "extremely disappointed." So are a great many people who voted for him.