While denouncing anti-gay bigotry may provide some moral satisfaction, in practice, Kagan’s position made things worse. As during Vietnam, there was zero chance that banning the military from campus would change its anti-gay policies. To the contrary, Harvard’s best strategy for combating homophobia would have been to enlist as many of its students in the military as possible, thus seeding the armed services with officers who hold liberal values. Instead, decades of exclusion from most Ivy League campuses has led the military to focus its recruiting efforts on the south and west, and thus bred the kind of right-leaning officer corps least likely to support allowing gays to serve openly.
My correspondent went on to argue that I was wrong to call Harvard’s ban on recruitment “anti-military” since the school’s anti-discrimination policy applied to all employers. The military just happened to be one of those that discriminated. But seeing the military as just another employer strikes me as bizarre. The military, like Congress, the courts and the presidency, is one of our defining public institutions. To question its moral legitimacy is not like questioning the moral legitimacy of General Electric. And that’s exactly what banning the military from campus does. It suggests that Harvard thinks not just that the military’s anti-gay policy is immoral (which it emphatically is) but that the institution itself is immoral. It’s like refusing to sing the national anthem because you’re upset at the Bush administration’s torture policies or refusing to salute the flag because of the way Washington responded to Hurricane Katrina. It’s a statement of profound alienation from your country, and will be received by other Americans as such. I hope Elena Kagan gets confirmed. She’s smart, young and liberal, and the court could use another woman. It’s all quite logical. But when it comes to military recruitment, I hope she apologizes. Nothing would send a better message to liberals on campus, and to the men and women in uniform who defend them. It would be terrific way to start her career on the highest court in the land.