by Peter Smith
December 21, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Why did cultural conservatives lose the battle over “Don’t ask, don’t tell?” In 1993 a Democrat-controlled Congress overwhelmingly passed the federal law banning open homosexuals from serving in the armed forces. So what changed in the past 17 years?
Certainly a handful of Republicans had a hand in its passage. Six Republicans – Sens. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mark Kirk of Illinois, George Voinovich of Ohio, and Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine – reneged on their word to help their party block all legislation until the big item of funding the federal government was settled.
Well, promises, promises. After the 63-33 vote for cloture, repealing DADT was a fait-accompli. So two more Republicans jumped on board, Sens. John Ensign of Nevada and Richard Burr of North Carolina, making eight total GOP votes for repeal.
Eight liberal Republicans put the final nail in the coffin on DADT. Or did they?
Conservatives should hesitate before they jump to that conclusion.
In fact, just five of the eight Republicans who voted to repeal DADT have solid socially liberal positions and records on “gay rights” and abortion: Brown, Murkowski, Kirk, Collins, and Snowe.
Voinovich, however, has a social conservative record: he has a 100 percent pro-life rating from the National Right to Life Committee, and has scored high marks in the past for his votes from pro-family groups such as Family Research Council (88%, 2007-2008) and the American Family Association (100%, 2007-2008).
The Ohio senator also voted for a U.S. constitutional amendment that would define marriage as the union of a man and a woman, and thereby ban same-sex “marriage.”
Voinovich is not a typical RINO (Republican In Name Only) like the Senate ladies from Maine. Neither are Ensign and Burr. Both have high pro-life ratings, and voted to protect the traditional definition of marriage in the Constitution.
Burr explained his vote, saying that while the 1993 law was a “generationally right” policy, its repeal was “inevitable.”
Andrew Stiles at National Review Online observes in a Dec. 20 analysis of Burr’s “surprising vote” that the GOP caucus did not put up a vigorous defense of DADT. He quotes Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) admitting to NRO that repeal was “something people knew was going to happen.” Corker said he believes that if Democrats actually did have hearings, even more Republicans may have jumped on board.
These events should set off alarm bells for cultural conservatives: the message is no longer resonating the way it did in 1993.
In 1993 a Democrat-controlled Congress banned homosexuals from serving in the U.S. military. But today, a Gallup poll released on December 9 shows that two-thirds (67%) of the country have no moral conviction that banning homosexuals from the military is a just policy.
Conservative analyst John Guardiano argues at the Daily Caller that when it comes to “blame,” conservatives should look no further than themselves.
Social conservatives deserve to lose the culture war, he says, because many “pathetically inarticulate and tongue-tied” conservative leaders and journalists are failing to connect with the American people and make a persuasive case against politically and rhetorically savvy “gay rights” activists.
Guardiano lays bare the embarrassing, illogical rhetoric of the well-intentioned (but painfully wrong) Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) and the intellectual vacuity of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) to make his point.
“Instead of avoiding so-called gay rights, ‘marriage equality,’ and issues of religious liberty and federalism, conservatives need to learn to talk about these issues with the same level of political skill, dexterity and sophistication that they talk about, say, taxes and missile defense,” he says.
I agree. Ultimately, conservatives are failing on messaging. The politicians and the American people no longer get why retaining the 1993 law was either good for the troops or good for the country. Prudential reasons were not going to trump the moral conviction that DADT had to go. As far as prudence goes, the Pentagon plans to repeal DADT slowly, because the United States still is engaged in full-scale combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
For most Americans, homosexuality is a very abstract concept. A look into the details of the lifestyle and its health consequences confirms fairly quickly that homosexual behavior is physically, sexually, emotionally destructive. But Americans won’t learn that from watching sitcoms like “Will & Grace,” where two homosexuals were among the principle characters of the eight season NBC program.
Matt Lewis at Politics Daily gives credit to Hollywood for having influenced the popular imagination to accept homosexual behavior as fairly normal – basically just like heterosexual relations, except the person they love is of the same sex. (Lewis also points out that Will and Grace was very popular among Republican women.)
Lewis is right, but he could go even further: it is the breakdown of marriage, and acceptance of casual sexual relationships among heterosexuals (also depicted on TV) that has primed the popular imagination to see little substantial difference between heterosexual behavior and homosexual behavior. Once the distinction is blurred, saying homosexuals can’t serve, and homosexuals can’t marry (each other), begins to look like little more than unthinking prejudice, unworthy of a more progressive age.
Of course, social conservatives are not losing across the board. Lewis notes that social conservatives have “given ground on the gay issue, but gained it on the life issue,” pointing out that over half the country identifies itself now as pro-life.
But will the country be able to sustain a culture of life, without a culture of traditional marriage and family? I wouldn’t bet on it.