During two days of hearings that were sometimes so frustrating I began to refer to them as “don’t ask, don’t yell (at C-SPAN),” some players stood out for their clarity, integrity, leadership, and sheer toughness. For these bracing displays of intelligence and spine, I hereby grant the following awards:
The Straight Shooter goes to Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his vice chairman, Gen. James Cartwright. The former for making no bones about the fact that LGBT people have always and will always serve in the military, citing his own experience from 1968 onward. And for smacking down the first wave of the our-combat-troops-feel-funny-about-this arguments with admirable cool, saying, “There is no gray area here. We treat each other with respect, or we find another place to work. Period. Leadership matters most.” Cartwright, a Marine, kept opponents on the defensive by continually reminding them of the vast statistical gap between combat troops who didn’t think they had served with LGBT people (over half of whom perceived that there would be problems with repeal) and those who knew they had -- approval ratings in the Army and Marines are 89 percent and 84 percent, respectively.
To Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin, the Keeping the Heat On Award: Levin was strong throughout, but his most delicious moment came when Gen. Casey, chief of the Armed Services, gravely opined that there were things that “wouldn’t get done” if the troops and their commanders had to deal with no longer expelling LGBT service members during a time of war. Levin pressed (“What things?”), and Casey folded, incapable of mentioning a single specific example.
To Sen. Mark Udall, the "For the Record" Award. In this stunning sequence, Udall goes down the line of all the service chiefs, and forces them to go on record -- twice -- supporting repeal. First he has them agree that Secretary of Defense Gates’ assurance that he won’t certify the repeal until “everything has been done to get ready” alleviates their concerns. Then, in a brilliant turn that makes the service chiefs’ responses a referendum on their own leadership, he asks: “If we change this policy can your branch and the U.S. military make it work?” Their unanimous positive answers make for satisfying viewing -- and one of the only parts of these hearings you’ll want to watch over and over again.
And finally, the Surprise the Hell Out of Me award goes to Sen. Joe Lieberman. In addition to turning in a smart, sober, unpendantic peformance during both days of the hearing, Lieberman was the only participant to mention that the 14,000 service members discharged under DADT include a large number of people with special skills -- proof that the current policy hurts unit cohesion and effectiveness.
-- Nancy Goldstein