Carl Levin dropped a hint earlier today about something being up on the DADT front and how the issue might pop up in the state of the union. Are we in store for a surprise announcement tomorrow? The White House would probably want to get out in front of it a day early so that news coverage the day after the speech is dominated by jobs talk instead of a minor hot-button issue:
Levin told reporters today that he has delayed plans to hold Senate hearings to examine the current “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy at the request of administration officials. Why would they want him to hold off? The officials Levin talked to said they expect the President will address the issue of homosexuals serving in the military during the State of the Union Address.
“I don’t know if it was the White House, but somebody representing them from the Pentagon said that the President was expected, they thought, to state that policy in the State of the Union and they thought it made more sense for him to state the policy and for us to have a hearing right before the policy with the people who will be defending that policy. They don’t know what it is,” said Levin, who added that he hopes any new policy is well-thought-out and that senior military leaders are on board.
Not sure if the timing’s coincidental or not, but this Journal op-ed last night by former Clinton gay rights advisor Richard Socarides ripping The One for dragging his feet on DADT was brutal. (Quote: “Many wonder when their president will show the same kind of concern for the constitutional rights of gay American service members as he has for enemy combatants held at Guantanamo Bay.”) Also maybe coincidental: This Politico piece talking up how seriously Obama takes his duties as commander-in-chief, right down to taking lessons on how to properly deliver a military salute, which might have been fed to them by White House aides eager to blunt some of the criticism he’ll take for being “anti-military” or whatever if in fact he’s about to make this move.
The politics of it are a no-brainer. He desperately needs to throw the left a bone, especially if Reid and Pelosi are about to choke on ObamaCare, and this is one of the easiest he could throw them. Not only did he order the surge in Afghanistan, bolstering his hawkish credentials, but DADT actually polls badly among the public. A WaPo/ABC survey taken two years ago showed three-quarters of the public support letting gays serve; a Quinnipiac poll taken last year had narrower numbers but still a heavy majority in favor of repealing the policy — 56/37, including 50/43 among voters with family in the military. He’s got plenty of political cover, in other words. In fact, I wonder if the big reason Obama has held back on this until now (and, maybe, on gay marriage) is precisely because he’s thinking strategically and wants to be able to toss it out there when he most needs a boost from his base. This ought to do it.