Quantcast

People With Problems | The Nation

  •  
Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

Well-chosen words on music, movies and politics, with the occasional special guest.

People With Problems

Four things to look at this week.

1) “Think Again: Inequality and America’s Antiquated Politics

2) From Dissent, “Something About Christopher” 

3) From The Nation, “The Problem With Peretz“ (Let the personal abuse commence…)

4) I guest-edited the Forward’s op-ed page this week and solicited this fine (but badly titled) piece by Cabalist Matt Duss, “Some Zionist Groups Stoke Fear of Islam for Political Profit,” and Shai Held's “Daring to Dream With God.”

OK, a fifth thing, which I mentioned last week:

This Friday in New York City, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka and Working America executive director Karen Nussbaum will take part in a panel discussion on “Which Way for the Working Class? Elections 2010 and Beyond.”

They will be joined by: New York Times columnist Bob Herbert; Eric Alterman, journalist and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress; and moderator Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation.

Sponsored by Working America and the AFL-CIO, the discussion will center on the issues and viewpoints of working men and women at the tipping point and what can be done to shift the balance in the November elections and beyond. The event will take place from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the Great Hall at Cooper Union. It is free and open to the public, but please RSVP to RSVP@workingamerica.org.

Alter reviews:

The Dead's fall 1989 tour began with a couple of surprise shows at Hampton Coliseum in Virginia. They caused a lot of controversy among Deadheads as well as among the people in the community who were not that crazy about Deadheads. Now Rhino’s come forward with this really fun-looking six-CD, two-show box set. It comes packaged in a wooden replica of a cigar box (Virginia being a tobacco state dating back to colonial times), and is filled with all sorts of museum gift shop style tchotchkes, from a photo-laden historical essay to various pieces of cool memorabilia. It’s also really well recorded. I don’t know anyone who thinks the Brent Mydland years were the band’s best, but these are among the best recorded concerts of the band you’ll hear, and in addition to a terrific "Help/Slip/Frank," you get a “Hey Jude,” a “Stuck Inside of Mobile” and a really fine “Music Never Stopped” (though that is my taste--you might have different taste, assuming you’re up for the hefty investment). It won’t be out for a few weeks, but you can preorder it at the Dead’s site (oh, wait, there’s a Barton Hall 1980 show for sale there too. I was at that one. Don’t ask me anything about it, though.)

Also out is a new deluxe version of Station to Station by David Bowie, which turns out to be great. I sort of the missed the whole Bowie thing when it happened, and I find it to be really great stuff as it is so nicely rereleased. This new Legacy edition comes with the CD, of course, but also a two-CD 1976 Long Island show with nice audio. There’s no new video though, just these three CDs, a pretty decent booklet, some postcards, etc. There’s a crazily expensive deluxe edition for collectors that comes with vinyl, but at this price these three discs feel like a steal. Beware the diamond dogs.

Here’s Reed:

Don’t Ask, Just Tell

I served in the US Army alongside a gay officer.

OK, that’s a bit of a dramatic understatement, as I probably served with lots of gay officers, but in one case, I personally knew of a fellow lieutenant in my engineer battalion who was gay. It wasn’t his choice to reveal this to me and a few other junior officers, but the evidence was abundantly clear. (An ill-timed message left by a former paramour on a not-so-private voicemail machine eliminated any doubt.) This all happened in the spring of 1995, not more than a year after the military’s controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy had been implemented.

Now, this officer and I weren’t close friends, more like acquaintances, but I did have a particularly unique insight into his character. As it happened, he had previously led the exact same platoon that I was, at the time, in charge of, and from my impressions of his lasting impact there as well as the praise that former soldiers and NCOs who had been in his charge heaped upon him, he was an exemplary officer. So, when a few of us did find out he was gay, we took it upon ourselves to do absolutely nothing about it.

Don’t get me wrong, our silence wasn’t grounded in some aggrieved sense of noble opposition to the DADT policy. In fact, our choice was more of a practical, almost selfish one—if you have to go downrange, by God, you want as many good soldiers wearing the same uniform next to you as possible. Full stop. End of discussion. Depriving our battalion and, on a larger scale, the military of his skills solely because of his sexual orientation, something he had clearly demonstrated had absolutely no bearing on his performance, would have just been totally counterproductive and stupid, dangerous even. It would have been just as wrong as if this officer had been prevented from serving simply because of his skin color (he was African-American). The revelation that he was gay didn’t make him any less of a soldier, in other words; it just made him more human.

All of which is to say that Congress proved deserving of its dreadful approval ratings once again this week when forty-two senators decided to block the repeal of this costlyunpopular and obviously unnecessary military policy. Thanks to the fact that one political party now worships solely at the altar of unmitigated spite and that the other displays all the strategic cunning of a football team that punts on first and ten, what should be a legislative no-brainer instead turned into a task akin to passing a law mandating the public drowning of puppies on Christmas. While there’s a lot of blame to go around for this failure to live up to our nation’s principles, some special consideration must be paid to a few of the more gutless members of the “world’s greatest deliberative body.”

Deserving of a special “maverick” brand of opprobrium is Senator John McCain, who famously passed the buck by saying these words to Chris Matthews on Hardball not four years ago:

“But the day that the leadership of the military comes to me and says, 'Senator, we ought to change the policy,' then I think we ought to consider seriously changing it because those leaders in the military are the ones we give the responsibility to."

Now, when the military leadership of 2010 is saying exactly that, McCain’s courage has wilted under the glare of the campaign lights and he has decided to go back on his word by lying through his teeth not only about his phony objections to voting on the defense authorization in the first place but about the specific consequences of keeping DADT in place as well.

Senators Snowe and Collins from Maine also join him in the race for most inane ability to outmaneuver one’s own supposed position on the issue. Both of them say they are for repealing DADT, but when it comes time to actually doing it, well…. To be sure, Collins’s speech on the floor of the Senate Tuesday was an eloquent dismantling of the DADT policy and the myths that undergird it.  But then, at the end of her time, she says this:

Now, Mr. President, I find myself on the horns of a dilemma. I support the provisions in this bill. I debated for them; I was the sole Republican on the Committee that voted for the Lieberman-Levin language on don't ask, don't tell. I think it's the right thing to do, I think it's only fair. I think we should welcome the service of these individuals who are willing and capable of serving their country. But I cannot vote to proceed to this bill under a situation that is going to shut down debate and preclude Republican amendments. That too is not fair.

But prioritizing the Senate minority’s wish to use as many parliamentary delay tactics as they want over the right of tens of thousands of gay servicemembers to serve openly isn’t really a dilemma at all. It’s simply choosing to appease the campaign narrative of your party’s leadership instead of doing what you say you want to do. If only Collins would heed the advice given in the Senate just a bit later that same day: "Now is not the time to play politics simply because an election is looming in a few weeks."

Of course, the wise senator who said that was none other than Collins.

The reasoning behind the sudden appearance of all these flimsy excuses not to repeal DADT is a growing realization by the Republicans that once the military’s review of the policy is complete on December 1, there will be absolutely no more political cover for supporting DADT. That’s because there simply is no basis in fact for this discriminatory policy, as an exhaustive Palm Center study of more than two dozen different militaries, including Israel and Great Britain, concluded earlier this year:

Opponents raised concerns that an inclusive policy [toward homosexuals] would undermine morale, recruitment, retention, cohesion and discipline, and pointed to polls suggesting that service members would leave if bans were lifted. Yet the reality was far different from the scenario painted by opponents, and consistent research by those militaries, as well as by independent scholars and observers, found that the new policies were uniformly successful, and in many cases improved the climate in their armed forces.

But by the time the Defense Department DADT review is released this winter, it will be too late to do anything legislatively, as the new, more Republican Congress definitely won’t have nearly enough votes or any interest to repeal the law. So the party that seemingly never misses an opportunity to declare its dedication to the troops and belief in strong national security will have gotten what it wants his by refusing to listen to those same military leaders and missing a chance to improve the climate and readiness of our armed forces in the time of two ongoing wars—suck on that, Mr. President.

This is why our commander in chief has but one moral (and shrewdly political) course of action. If DADT has not been outright repealed by December 1, he should issue an executive order the very next day stopping all military discharges that would otherwise occur under the DADT policy. Though Obama can’t change the law by executive fiat, this action does fall under his authority, as a separate Palm Center study explains:

Under 10 U.S.C. § 12305 (“Authority of the President to Suspend Certain Laws Relating to Promotion, Retirement, and Separation”), Congress grants the President authority to suspend the separation of military members during any period of national emergency in which members of a reserve component are serving involuntarily on active duty. We believe that issuing such an order would be beneficial to military readiness, as it would minimize the chances of replaying a debate that is already largely settled but could still inflame the passions of some in the military. Once gay people are officially serving openly in the military, it will become clear to those with concerns about the policy change that service by openly gay personnel does not compromise unit cohesion, recruiting, retention or morale. This in turn will make it easier to secure the passage of the Military Readiness Enhancement Act (MREA) in Congress, which would repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

If this president wishes to reclaim his momentum, live up to the ideals that fueled his campaign, and simply do the right thing for our country, this is a long overdue way to achieve all three. Fifteen years after I saw firsthand the inequity behind such a policy, it’s way past time to correct it. It’s time to honor the sacrifices of those who are serving and have served, and who paid the ultimate price in defense of our nation, by letting each and every soldier, sailor, airman and marine from here on out fulfill his or her duty without having to hide his or her humanity while doing it. When asking for change doesn’t work, Mr. President, it’s time to start ordering some.

The mail:

Michael Green
Las Vegas, NV
Brother Pierce, if you are glad that anything has passed the recent Congress when Republicans were determined, for reasons involving their hatred of America and their disdain for the "otherness"—read skin color—of Barack Obama, to block all of it, thank the guy you dismiss as having taken too many punches to the head.  Harry Reid is the one who got the legislation through the Senate, and any Democrat in that body will tell you so.

Editor's Note: To contact Eric Alterman, use this form.

Before commenting, please read our Community Guidelines.