Republicans hate social engineering, unless they’re doing it.
Wishing they had the power to repeal the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and get back to the repressed “Mad Men” world they crave, some conservative lawmakers grumpily quizzed upbeat military brass recently.
“We’re starting to try to conform the military to a behavior, and I remember going through the military, we took behaviors and we formed it to the military,” said Rep. Allen West of Florida, warning ominously (and weirdly) that “this could be the camel getting his nose under the tent.”
The House Armed Services subcommittee hearing was led by Joe Wilson, the oh-so-subtle Republican congressman from South Carolina famous for yelling “You lie!” at President Barack Obama.
Two top Pentagon officials testified that the transition was going swimmingly, yet Republicans scoffed. Rep. Austin Scott of Georgia demanded the price tag. Clifford Stanley, an under secretary of defense, replied that the training materials cost only $10,000.
Scott harrumphed, “If something was done at DOD for $10,000, I would like to know what it was.” He said that hundreds of thousands had been spent training a soldier in his district to disarm IED’s, but the soldier wouldn’t re-enlist because of the “social policy.”
The Democrat Chellie Pingree of Maine jumped in to note that the cost of purging gays between 2004 and 2009 was $193.3 million: “It’s not only unconscionable … but the costs are horrendous.”
Scott persisted in looking for trouble, even after Vice Adm. William Gortney, director of the joint staff, said the Pentagon had seen no problems so far.
The congressman asked the admiral if he had ever dismissed anyone. Gortney said he had dismissed a young sailor who acknowledged being gay after “don’t ask, don’t tell” first passed.
“Did you discharge him from the service because he was gay?” Scott asked. “Or because he violated the standard of conduct?”
“Because he was gay,” Gortney said.
“He did not violate the standard of conduct before he was dismissed?” Scott pressed.
“He did not,” Gortney said.
“Well,” Scott said, once more at a loss, “that’s not the answer I thought you would give, to be honest with you.”
Gortney assured him there were “very few cases” of gays’ being dismissed for violating the standard of conduct.
After the Republican rout in November, the story line took hold that because of the recession and Tea Partiers’ fervent focus on the debt as a moral matter, divisive social issues were going on the back burner. But lo and behold, social issues have roared back. Many in the Tea Party have joined that chain-smoking, cocktail-quaffing Mad Man John Boehner in the martini party to put a retro focus on wedge issues, from gays to abortion.
Like Boehner, who complained that Democratic leaders were “snuffing out the America that I grew up in,” some Tea Partiers are jumping in a time machine. They can’t stop themselves from linking social issues to the budget.
Whether it’s upholding the Defense of Marriage Act, trying to defund Planned Parenthood, or aiming cuts at the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Endowment for the Arts, NPR and even AARP, House Republicans are in a lather that occludes their pledges to monomaniacally work on the economy.
When Mitch Daniels, the Indiana governor and Republican presidential aspirant, dared to urge his party to “mute” social issues, he was smacked.
The snowball of social rage will speed up as we head toward 2012, given that the Iowa caucuses are dominated by social conservatives.
Because independent voters considered Obama too partisan in his debut, they shifted their loyalties—and swept in one of the most ideological and partisan Republican caucuses in history. Now Obama will get back some of the independents because he seems reasonable by comparison.
One thing independents like to be independent of is government meddling in their personal lives.•
Dowd, who won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary, is a columnist on The New York Times’ Op-Ed page.