Columns » Max Brantley

Lincoln's grace note

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The runoff between Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Lt. Gov. Bill Halter for the Democratic Senate nomination has become a tiresome and bitter spectacle of competing caricatures.

Lincoln has fared worse, polls indicate. I've thought this has partly been a result of a fractured campaign strategy that overlooked the senator's greatest strength — essential decency.

Happily, that trait was on display last week as Congress took up legislation to repeal the don't ask, don't tell policy that bans military service by openly gay people. Implementation of open service in the military would be left to the Pentagon, no sooner than February 2011. The military would first complete by Dec. 1 a study of the impact.

Public opinion polls say 75 percent of U.S. people favor military service by acknowledged homosexuals. As repeal co-sponsor U.S. Rep. Vic Snyder has noted, thousands are serving now, though they are forced to mask their identities — and pretend they don't have loved ones of the same sex at home — for fear of losing their jobs.

Republicans don't believe the polls, they believe their prejudices. They've united to make this a campaign issue, led by the erratic Sen. John McCain. Only five Republicans joined the repeal vote in the House last week. Sadly, only one Arkansan of any party was in that number, Snyder.

Republican Rep. John Boozman, naturally, continued to support discrimination against gay men and women in arms. It's hardly surprising because he also supports the legality of workplace discrimination against gay people in all jobs, from doctor to dishwasher.

More disappointing, though not surprising, were the "no" votes of U.S. Reps. Marion Berry and Mike Ross. Berry, who owes Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a repeal backer, said he just didn't know how he felt about the service of gays in the military. But he doesn't want to harm former aide Chad Causey's chances of winning election to his seat. Causey is facing a committed homophobe, Tim Wooldridge, in the runoff. Berry didn't want to give Wooldridge a wedge.

Ross said he thinks the ban on open gay service is "working." Working? Some 14,000 capable troops have been forced out of the military, sometimes only because someone snitched on their private sex life. Ross also says he prefers to defer to the military — just not to military people like Rep. Patrick Murphy, repeal sponsor and an Iraq vet, or the heroic Joint Chiefs chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, who also favors repeal.

Which brings us to Blanche Lincoln. Sen. Mark Pryor took a powder similar to Mike Ross. He won't vote for repeal until a military study is done (presumably the hope is for a study that upholds continuing discrimination). Senator Lincoln, however, said she'll vote to repeal the law, even knowing that a runoff victory will put her up against homophobe Boozman in the fall. Said Lincoln:

"Military readiness remains my top priority. I trust our military leaders to make the right decision on this issue.  I am satisfied that a workable compromise has been reached between the Pentagon and Congress that will ensure a smooth transition based on certification by military leaders that military readiness will not be affected if the policy is repealed.  I am prepared to vote for this compromise, which enables our military leadership to determine the policy on this issue moving forward."

It's decent. It's fair. It's right. Mark Pryor, Marion Berry and Mike Ross should read the words of the honorable lady from Arkansas and hang their heads in shame.

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