The Dumbest Paragraph You'll Read on Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

You'll be shocked to learn it comes from Bill Kristol. Outraged that President Obama would offer a moral justification for removing the ban on gay Americans serving in the military, Kristol writes this:

Here is contemporary liberalism in a nutshell: No need to consider costs as well as benefits. No acknowledgment of competing goods or coexisting rights. No appreciation of the constraints of public sentiment or the challenges of organizational complexity. No sense that not every part of society can be treated dogmatically according to certain simple propositions. Just the assertion that something must be done because it is in some abstract way "the right thing."

I realize there's an impulse to say about a statement that you disagreed with, "This one statement is the entirety of the opposing ideology! In a nutshell!" I've probably said something similar myself at some point. But let's take this bit of ridiculousness piece by piece.

1. "No need to consider costs as well as benefits." What are the costs of allowing gay Americans to serve? Kristol doesn't actually say. Perhaps he felt no need to consider them! But seriously, what are they, Bill? He might mention the old standby, "unit cohesion," which in practice means that homophobic straight soldiers won't like serving with gay soldiers. I'm sure that's true. But if the prejudices of some were sufficient reason to ban certain groups from serving, then our military probably wouldn't have enough members to function.

2. "No appreciation of the constraints of public sentiment or the challenges of organizational complexity." Public sentiment left Kristol behind a long time ago. Polls today find that between two-thirds and three-quarters of the American public think the ban should be lifted (see my column today for links). As for "the challenges of organizational complexity," Kristol doesn't explain what that means either. But the armed forces deal with the challenges of organizational complexity every day. If someone said, "We can't deliver food to the troops in Iraq -- that presents challenges of organizational complexity!", you'd reply that it would be best to figure out the nature of the challenge, and then accomplish the task. That's what the military does.

3. "No sense that not every part of society can be treated dogmatically according to certain simple propositions." While it's true that the military differs from other sectors of society in many ways, it's hard to see why Kristol sees this kind of discrimination as distinct from the kinds of discrimination he finds unacceptable (as with all of these assertions, he provides no supporting evidence or explanation). If it's "treating the military dogmatically" to say that we won't accept discrimination in the armed forces, would Kristol be opposed to a move to re-segregate the military, or bar black soldiers from attaining a rank higher than, say, captain? If the only reason not to do so is the "simple proposition" that discrimination is wrong, why be so dogmatic?

4. "Just the assertion that something must be done because it is in some abstract way 'the right thing.'" Kristol seems to be under the impression that the only justification anyone in the administration has offered for removing the ban is these three words. But of course, there are lots of reasons, and they aren't abstract at all. There's the resources the military spends on rooting out gay service members and the loss of those service members' talents, for starters. But discrimination isn't just wrong "in some abstract way," any more than freedom is good "in some abstract way" or justice is worthwhile "in some abstract way." Principles are what we build our society on, and they cease being abstract once we apply them. Ask Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach, a highly decorated 18-year veteran of the Air Force, whether discrimination is "abstract" to him as he faces discharge from the military to which he devoted his career and for which he has risked his life.

If this is the best argument in support of DADT that conservative punditry's leading light can come up with, getting rid of it should be a piece of cake. And fortunately, today people like Kristol will have a much harder time hiding behind the military brass than they did in 1993. While there will certainly be officers wanting to keep the ban, one person the ban supporters won't be able to count on is Adm. Mike Mullen, Chair of the Joint Chiefs, who gave some moving testimony today:

"It is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do," Mullen said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

"We have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens. For me, personally, it comes down to integrity — theirs as individuals and ours as institutions," Mullen added.

Those Joint Chiefs, with their impractical liberalism!

-- Paul Waldman

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