While the war crimes controversy continues and questions linger over Barack Obama’s willingness to allow such crimes to be investigated, he is planning a major change that should please civil libertarians: he will reportedly rescind the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy put into place by Bill Clinton. The policy has always been viewed as classic Clintonesque: not fighting on the principle and adopting a murky standard that satisfied no one. The result has been ridiculous cases where military investigators respond to spite claims of homosexuality, often discharging decorated soldiers and sailors. Incoming White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs appears to have jumped the gun and is now trying to rollback on the story.
The strange thing is how the announcement was made. It was an aside comment from incoming White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. Gibbs was almost glib on such a major policy change and it is not clear that this is how they intended to roll out the change. The statement came in an exchange with members of the public who sent in questions that were answered on YouTube. Gibbs was asked: “Thadeus of Lansing, Mich., asks, ‘Is the new administration going to get rid of the “don’t ask, don’t tell policy?'” Gibbs responds: “Thadeus, you don’t hear a politician give a one-word answer much. But it’s, ‘Yes.'”
That seems a bit curious for such a change. Usually, the White House will leak the story to prepare the ground, lining up allies to support the change to control the message. Instead, Gibbs unleashed a response from the right before the ground was ready. The Obama team has now gone into radio silence after Gibbs appears to have backtracked by saying it may have to wait. It appears that Thadeus still won’t hear many one-word answers from a politician.
It is a rather poor start for a new Administration in terms of tactics but a great start in terms of principle.