A semi-analytic rant about DADT …

So, the senate, in a gesture of grand backwardness, has blocked legislation that would have overturned “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Despite a general consensus among high military officials and the Obama administration that it’s a needless, anachronistic policy worth ceremoniously sloughing off, 40 senate Republicans decided that … well, they just aren’t comfortable with queers calling themselves queer in the military. Or else they just don’t want the Democrats passing any bills at any cost. Anyway, if you’re gay and in the military, you still can’t tell anybody. And you sure as hell still can’t get married.

But maybe I oversimplify. I wanted to gain a better scope on this issue before writing about it, so I tracked down this New York Times op-ed piece, titled “Don’t Change ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” by former Air Force chief of staff Merrill McPeak. It ran earlier this year in anticipation of the debate that’s come up. A well-written little piece. It made me think. Think, but not agree.

McPeak makes the claim that having self-identifying gays around will “weaken the warrior culture at a time when we have a fight on our hands.” Maybe he’s right. But I don’t care. I don’t care because soldiers are still American citizens, and anyone willing to commit to that life deserves the decency of basic human rights. Right? Right.

What does McPeak say to this? “So why should exclusion of gay people rise to the status of a civil-rights issue, when denying entry to, say, unmarried individuals with sole custody of dependents under 18, does not?”

Why indeed?

Interesting enthymematic claim: Excluding single parents from military service does not count as a breach of civil rights; therefore, neither does excluding gays. That’s like saying that cinderblocks are not fruit, and therefore neither are pomegranates – there’s just no viable connection between item A and item B, and the claim made of item B is just batty. Unless … unless, he means to suggest that being gay is a lifestyle choice just like being a single parent (sort of) is, and that matters of lifestyle choice are exempt from civil rights. That’s the warrant – it has to be.

Should I be surprised? It’s amazing to me how often that very warrant is invoked in order to deny gays their civil rights. I have a theory that a lot of anti-gay spokespeople have gotten pretty good at avoiding actually saying that being gay is a choice, since that assertion is wrong, but rather insinuating it like McPeak does above – assertive roundabout lying, let’s call it. It’s nasty, it’s malicious, and it needs to stop – especially when employed to accost an armed service member. I mean, Come on! as Gob Bluth would say. Imagine if we went around insinuating that black people had chosen to be black and that there was something immoral in that choice. Wrong, and doubly wrong.

That’s another thing … even if homosexuality were a choice, so what? That would be immoral … why? Because of some uncontextualized vaguery from Leviticus, the how-to manual that proscribes the consumption of shellfish? I guess that’s another discussion to be had. One unpleasantness at a time …

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3 Responses to A semi-analytic rant about DADT …

  1. Jim Porter says:

    Your point about the “unstated warrant” is a really important one, I think. Certain arguments work because they rely on the audience to provide the missing presupposition — which, if the presupposition were actually made explicit, would emerge clearly as bias, prejudice, and/or inaccuracy. To rebut such arguments, it is important to make the move, as you do, to out the unstated warrant and then to show how it is faulty, biased, ignorant.

    Question: Does making that move actually change any minds? When you get into the realm of critiquing the structure of arguments you’ve already lost 99% of the public audience. Maybe the better move is the “more speech” approach rather than the “critique of speech” approach: that is, provide a counter-narrative with counter assumptions. Probably the best move at all strategically is the multimodal approach: Do both.

  2. Ben says:

    Agreed, Jim. Oddly enough, though, I think this is a rhetorical battle that the good guys have been winning.

    Have a look at this: http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/30/public-opinion-on-dont-ask-dont-tell/

    Public opinion is really on the side of repealing DADT at this point, which suggests to me that the progressive narrative with its sexual-orientation-qualifies-as-civil-rights warrant has been winning out. Problem here, then, is the obstinacy of the Republican bloc of the senate.

  3. mwatts1280 says:

    The thing that gets me is how so much of the language that supports DADT essentially says, “Please don’t challenge our homosocial relationships!” without explicitly saying “homosocial”–clearly because there’s that “homo” part of the word. As someone who spent a year reading/editing war memoirs, let me just say–I never knew how gay a place the military was until I read over and over again stories of male cameraderie that had so much innuendo… It’s ok when it’s just innuendo, though, right? As long as it remains unspoken, all is cool. Therefore gay members are free to serve as long as they don’t give voice to what is already there, men loving men in lots of super complex ways. I suppose that once the military allowed women in it was only a matter of time… What shall John McCain (eventually) do when DADT finally is repealed?

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