The news is plain: the lame-duck Congress, far more ambitious after its historical chastisement by the voters than it ever seemed before, is on the verge of one of the greatest social innovations in living memory. It will shortly repeal the Clinton-era policy of Don't Ask Don't Tell, thereby allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the U.S. military. What social liberals hail as a great step forward for civil rights, however, may be seen as something else entirely.
One notes, first, that the gain was not entirely honest. Like that other huge innovation in social change--Roe v. Wade--this action is not nearly so forthright as one would wish such sweeping change to be. Long after the fact, we learned that the central fact of Roe v. Wade was a lie: Ms "Roe" had not been raped, as she claimed, but at the time that claim was absolutely necessary to impart to the case a sense of emotional urgency and illustrate the gross injustice of anti-abortion laws. But the fact that the major claim turns out to have been a fabrication has left opponents of abortion bitterly dissatisfied with the ruling of the court and all the more sure of the rightness of their opposition to it.
Something similar will be true in the case of this repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell. For the central fact of this case is that it is being enacted by a Congress whose partisan liberalism was soundly repudiated in the last election: the only decent thing to do would be for this Congress to do as little as possible in deference to the overwhelming decision to strip it of its power to do anything. It is as it were a technicality that the Congress has the power at this moment to do anything at all. As they showed yesterday in the matter of the Continuing Resolution, the defeat in November should leave them with very little room to legislate, which is why they abandoned their grandiose plans and left it to the next Congress to produce a budget to fuel our government. With social engineering, however, the stakes are so high that the liberals will take their gains any way they can, even if the gains are tainted by illegitimacy. And so, rather than wait for the slow but more solid progress that would almost certainly have come their way in the wake of changing social attitudes, the social revolutionaries have once again grasped the chance of the moment in order to cause a change that society just at the moment seems not to want.
What is worse, as we have seen again and again in the legal sphere, such change will have very large consequences, which may well be one reason for passing this bill. With repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, the pro-homosexual rights lobby has gained immense momentum for the cause of homosexual marriage. The cry will shortly go up that if homosexuals are able to serve--indeed, to die for--their country, the country cannot possibly deny them their right to marry. They will now have legal standing in the most visible, honorable, and effective branch of the Federal Government, and so there can be no logic to any other branch of government, Federal or local, denying them full legal right to marry. So, as with abortion, this enormous change in social policy will be effected by technical maneuvres, not by what would be far better for the nation--a hard won and organically developed social consensus.
The sense of alienation produced in conservatives will be strengthened by the sense that compomise with other side is impossible. We would do well to remember that Don't Ask Don't Tell was itself the grand compromise. Traditionalists did not want to change the long-standing ban on homosexuals in the military; homosexuals wanted to overturn it. Don't Ask Don't Tell was a compromise that allowed both sides to split the difference: homosexuals could serve, so long as they didn't flaunt their status. That was the compromise, but the compromise for the past few years has been denounced as immoral. The only alternative, then, is not to allow compromise--to let one camp have its way entirely while the other is left with nothing. Those liberals who decry the partisan spirit in Washington would do well to remember who it was that in this instance repudiated and destroyed the compromise. They now have the policy they wanted, but they have gained it at the cost of alienating very many people who in the past had shown themselves able to work toward shared solutions. On this issue at least, it is not the traditionalists who have shown inflexibility.
Years ago, when at the 1992 Republican National Convention Pat Buchanan called for sending the National Guard to help suppress the rioting in Los Angeles in the wake of the Rodny King verdict, I was stunned to hear the liberal news anchors say that Buchanan was calling for a culture war. In truth, Buchanan (with whom Meridian Heat disagrees on any number of issues) was firing one round in a war that had been declared by the social liberals back in the 1960s, when they began vigorously to pursue policies that they knew would provoke, upset, and incite bitter reaction in the majority of the American people. Once again we witness such a move. Months from now, however, the liberal elite in the media will point out that the fault lies with those who resent the ruse; and those who, in a thoroughly discredited Congress acting on a technicality decided to pass a highly controversial bill that will have very large social consequences will be spoken of as entirely blameless. Those who object to this manner of making sausages will be dismissed as the provocateurs, while the sausage makers will wonder how anyone could possibly object to the process. As always, irony abounds in democratic politics. Sometimes, however, it is well to point those ironies out.