Noble: Ask first, then tell

On Tuesday, the National Defense Authorization Act stalled in the Senate. Democrats are crying foul and have vowed to bring it back in November. Republicans, voting as a bloc, filibustered the bill largely based on the provision that would have repealed the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

But ultimately, the problem is not whether “don’t ask, don’t tell” should be repealed or whether Congress is the right body through which to change the policy. Yesterday, the problem was that “don’t ask, don’t tell” was put on bill in the first place.

As university students, we are accustomed to asking questions — indeed, we frequently ask questions more quickly than we get answers. We value good scholarship, the practice of meticulous research coupled with the exercise of sound judgment, we believe, can bring us to that “right” answer, or at least, an honest evaluation of the facts. Suspending judgment until one receives all the facts is the essence of our court system that presumes even the most thuggish criminals innocent until proven guilty. In our society, those who rush to conclusions are considered judgmental — a clichéd judgment in of itself.

Perhaps the greatest irony of this intellectual disposition, however, is the eagerness with which we, without skipping a beat, set it aside in the name of immediacy and ostensibly, justice. There are some instances, of course, where our knowledge is finite, and we cannot and should not delay judgment. There are some times when the hour of decision strikes that we need to have made a choice, otherwise one will be made for us.

Some tell us this message about national security: We must act now to prevent a terrorist attack. Others use this reasoning to justify government spending during an economic crisis: We need this stimulus now or unemployment will continue to rise. Whether we support or oppose these claims depends upon the direction we lean politically, but the common thread is a tendency to debate the merits of these claims in a life or death framework.

This is not always a bad thing. Sometimes we must take a chance on what we believe is right, provided we are prepared to grapple with what former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld once referred to as “unknown unknowns.” Indeed, we are often required to approach policy choices in much the same way we raise children, about which my grandmother once told my mother: “You do the best you can.”

But other times, our impatience gets the better of us. And on Tuesday — when the Senate considered (and the Republicans filibustered) the repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy — it did. Even if the Senate repeal had passed, the House and Senate versions were reconciled quickly and President Obama signed the bill (though he has already threatened to veto due to certain weapons provisions), “don’t ask, don’t tell” would remain on the books until December when the Pentagon completed its study exploring the effects the repeal would have on the readiness of our armed forces.

It might be bad manners to say so, but what’s the big deal? Why couldn’t Democrats wait to consider the repeal until the Department of Defense review was released, if everyone was planning to wait for it anyway?

Getting the report before taking up the issue would have not hurt the case for the repeal; instead a repeal could be backed with assurance straight from the country’s top defense officials that removing “don’t ask, don’t tell” would not make the military less effective.

Rushing to a decision on the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” now was to stir up unnecessary controversy in a chamber already criticized for its partisanship, prevent other important measures from passing and take the focus off providing our military with the resources to keep America strong, safe and secure — what bill was intended for originally.

Both sides of the aisle should keep an open mind to the results of the Pentagon’s study. And when it is released, both sides should carefully read and consider it. As constituents, we should demand that our politicians have a little patience. After all, if we have made up our minds before the study is released, why did we even bother wasting the resources to conduct such a study in the first place?

Provided the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” does not jeopardize the mission and strength of our military, we would be right to put the question of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal on the table again.

But until then, we should not equate prudence with close-mindedness, for in the case of the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,”prudence is a sign of an open mind. As midterm elections approach, politically calculated stunts to energize segments of the electorate may not surprise us. But when these stunts delay the passage of legislation aimed at providing our brave women and men in uniform with the resources necessary to defend our country, we should be deeply concerned.


  • FailBoat

    I always enjoy a column by Ms. Noble – I think her reasonable even if she is incorrect, and I think she misses the mark here.

    Ms. Noble and I would likely agree that progressives (and Obama) are beset with the instinct to constantly appeal to “the fierce urgency of now”. In other words, we *must* pass this now. This is an emergency. No time to lose. The time for debate is over. Action is required now. Discussion is obstructionism. Political procedure is just slowing us down. Ideology is a political stunt. Every reasonable person wants this. There is a consensus. The Republicans must be on the take. They’re racist. You’re racist. Bigots, every one of you. Why do you hate America?

    The problem is that Ms. Noble falls into this same trap when she writes about “stunts” that “delay the passage of legislation”… that she deems essential.

    It is precisely this sort of thinking that turns conservatives into Big Government Republicans. No one should assume that their political opponents are doing anything other than fighting for what they think is right or fair. To assume otherwise is to assume that they are unworthy of debate and should be steamrolled in the name of the Fierce Urgency of Now.

  • Redbob

    Please DO note that the Republican votes in opposition to this bill were not sufficient to stop it, they were NOT the required 41; to reach that point required that a number of Dimocrats also voted against it.
    Including Harry Reid…