The gap between politics and the national interest was never greater than during last week's Senate hearing about the Defense Department survey on repeal of ''Don't Ask, Don't Tell.''
John McCain, ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, was intransigent in the face of appeals from Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, who were backed by a large majority of servicemembers indicating they would have little trouble adjusting to an end of the military gay ban. In his opening statement, McCain said:
''I am troubled by the fact that this report only represents the input of 28 percent of the force who received the questionnaire. … Sixty-seven percent of Marines and nearly 58 percent of Army soldiers in combat units believe that repeal of the law would have negative consequences on unit cohesion. … Additionally, I am concerned about the impact of a rush to repeal when even this survey has found that such a significant number of our servicemembers feel that it would negatively impact military effectiveness.''
These comments reflect ignorance of survey methodology and cherry-picking of data. The 28 percent response rate is comparable to other military surveys. As the Palm Center notes, a survey's reliability depends on sampling strategy, not sample size. The margin of error in this case is plus or minus one percentage point. This survey follows more than 20 others, all supporting the conclusion that open service by gay men and lesbians is not the threat to unit cohesion, good order and discipline that the ban's defenders maintain. Misgivings in the ranks are concentrated among those who do not know a gay or lesbian servicemember. As for a ''rush to repeal,'' it is far too late for that.
Palm Center Director Aaron Belkin was blunt: ''Why can't the Republicans just be honest? They don't care what is good for the military. They don't care about what the secretary of defense says. They don't care about what the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says. They don't care about the data. They don't care about methodology. They don't care about process. They care about one thing and one thing only: prejudice.''
Yes, Sens. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) stated support for repeal; but the party whose slogan in 2008 was ''Country First'' has so persistently put defeat of Democrats before all else that it delayed renewal of an arms reduction treaty proposed by Ronald Reagan.
The stalling tactics on DADT repeal encourage the worst element. On Nov. 22, Army veteran Joseph A. Rehyansky wrote on The Daily Caller news site that one solution to the DADT dilemma was to ''get the distaff part of our homosexual population off our collective 'Broke Back,' thus giving straight male GIs a fair shot at converting lesbians and bringing them into the mainstream.'' After deleting this offensive passage, editor Peter Tucci nonetheless defended it by saying it was a joke. Corrective rape of lesbians, haha!
Such jokes are funnier to men who feel entitled never to have the tables turned on them. The prospect of official acceptance of gay and lesbian servicemembers is indeed a threat to their straight male privilege; it just has nothing to do with the claimed reasons for the ban. When obstructionists made the desperate complaint that the legendarily tough Marines cannot handle a gay guy sleeping in the next bunk, the joke was on them.
Sooner or later, through the courts if not Congress, these outdated warriors with their outworn prejudices will find themselves out in the cold. But later is looking likelier, as the lame-duck session ticks away while the upper chamber fires blanks.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at email@example.com.