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As Politico reports, political analysts warn that the issue could “galvanize social conservatives and other political opponents, strain the new president’s relations with the military, and force him to squander valuable political capital that is needed on more pressing matters, particularly his economic agenda.”
Gay activists counter that Mr. Obama has reached out to the military far more effectively than Mr. Clinton. As Politico notes, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network is pushing hard for a repeal, potentially as part of the fiscal year 2010 defense authorization bill likely sent to lawmakers in April.
The White House has said it wants a study of the impact of gays serving openly in the military, a process that could last a year, according to according to Logo's Web site 365 Gay. Sen. Ted Kennedy is reportedly working on a Senate bill to repeal the ban and seeking a Republican co-sponsor.
It is precisely the sort of knife fight no president wants to get into, especially in his first 100 days. But it seems that President Barack Obama is about to get dragged down the same dark alley as Bill Clinton when he was forced to confront the highly charged issue of gays in the military early in his term.
On Monday, buoyed by a stronger Democratic majority in Congress, Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher (D-Calif.) will introduce legislation to overturn the ban against homosexuals serving openly in the military, a Tauscher aide said.
Clinton’s handling of the issue was widely condemned, and the entire fiasco became a textbook example of the sort of avoid-at-all-cost political controversy that can seriously undermine a new president. For Clinton, it knocked him off message, sapped him of auathority, damaged his popularity ratings and left him with a reputation for being wishy-washy that stuck.
And it left the military with a policy that no one really likes — the “don’t ask, don’t tell” regulation that allows gays to serve in the military, as long as they don’t flout their homosexuality.
The issue is risky for Obama, too, political analysts said, threatening to galvanize social conservatives and other political opponents, strain the new president’s relations with the military, and force him to squander valuable political capital that is needed on more pressing matters, particularly his economic agenda.
“American voters may feel better about the idea of openly gay soldiers and sailors, but that doesn’t mean the process of trying to change the policy doesn’t have enormous political risks for Obama,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. He added that the president won’t be nearly as pleased about the issue coming up now as gay rights groups — or conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh — will be.
“It will give conservatives something to rally around,” he said.
But gay rights activists contend the situation will be different for Obama, primarily because the new president has reached out to the military in ways that Clinton never did. They are pushing hard for Obama to move quickly on the issue so he can play offense on the debate, rather than be forced into a defensive posture.