Why Now for DADT Repeal?

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OK, so what caused Barack Obama to change his mind and actively press for repeal of DADT this year? Offhand, I’d say there are three leading contenders:

  • Nothing changed his mind. His plan all along has been to do it this summer or next, and he was willing to stay quiet and accept the hostility of advocacy groups before this because he knew that a bit of discretion on his part offered the best chance for enacting permanent change with broad public support. This is more or less Mark Kleiman’s view.
  • Strong pressure from the gay community forced his hand. In other words, this is an example of that old FDR legend where he wants to do something, but tells his supporters they have to “go out and make me do it.” (It’s worth noting that this apocryphal story1 is pretty popular among liberals as a story, but we all sure hate it in practice.)
  • Obama (and congressional Democrats) are afraid they’re going to lose their majority in November and will then lose their chance to push this through for good.

Because I’m a milquetoast centrist sellout, I’m going to punt and say that the answer is all three. Obama really has planned to do it all along during his first term but without a more specific timetable; the pressure from gay and lefty advocacy groups helped push congressional leaders into action and they in turn pressured Obama; and there was probably some additional political calculus related to the possibility of Democrats losing their House majority in November. That’s my guess, anyway.

1At least, I assume it’s apocryphal. I managed to find a reference to it from I.F. Stone in 1969 once, but I’ve never been able to track it back any further than that.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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