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Dick Cheney: Gay Rights Champion | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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Dick Cheney: Gay Rights Champion

Former Vice President Dick Cheney, who has never been as comfortable fighting the culture wars as most conservatives, has endorsed the repeal of the Pentagon's failed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" experiment.

This is rather a big deal. Cheney may not be a military man himself -- he diligently collected five deferments while avoiding the draft during the Vietnam War, famously declaring that he had "other priorities -- but he is a former Secretary of Defense who them took work as the top executive of one of the country's primary defense contractors. That makes him about as central a player in the military-industrial complex as you'll find.

So what does Cheney say about the push to scrap the rules that allowed gays and lesbians to serve in the military so long as they remained, for all intents and purposes, closeted?

Deferring to the counsel of members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who have argued for the repeal of the separate-but-not-quite-equal rules for gay, lesbian and bisexual soldiers, Cheney said on ABC News' "This Week": "When the Chiefs come forward and say, ‘We think we can do it,' then that strikes me that it's time to reconsider the policy."

Cheney explained that, "Twenty years ago the military was a strong advocate of Don't Ask Don't Tell when I was the Secretary of Defense. I think things have changed significantly since then."

Now, with current and retired commanders saying they think the military can function admirably with openly gay and lesbian troops -- and, in fact, that America needs the skills and commitment that gays and lesbians bring to military service -- Cheney allowed as how: "I'm reluctant to second-guess the military in this regard."

But this was not a grudging acceptance of the shift in sentiment on the part of the military brass.

Cheney kept talking. And he made a significant break with social conservatives who reject the notion of social progress.

"My guess is the policy will be changed," said the former vice president.

When asked if he thought that was a good thing, Cheney responded not with griping or hemming and hawing but by declaring -- correctly -- that: "The society has moved on," the former vice president said. "It's partly a generational question."

Cheney's right. Three-quarters of Americans surveyed for a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, declared their support openly gay people serving in the military. That's up from under 50 percent in the mid-1990s, when the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy was developed.

Cheney's acknowledgement of the reality that society has moved on puts him in a more progressive position on this issue than the Obama administration.

How's that?

The president's national security adviser, retired Marine Gen. James Jones, appearing Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union" was more cautious than Cheney, saying that the policy "has to evolve with the social norms of what is acceptable and what is not."

While Obama says the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy is unjust, his aides are talking about a very slow process of eliminating it.

They plan to wait for completion of a study on how to eliminate the ban.

How long will that take? "a complete repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy is probably years away," according to the Associated Press.

Years away?

C'mon, when Dick Cheney's outflanking the Obama White House on the left, it's time to scrap the caution and do the right thing.

There's no reason for more delays. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" should be scrapped. Now.

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