It is hard for me to believe that every single Republican in the Senate believes that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is a legitimate policy. Every single Republican participated in the filibuster of its repeal this last week. No one broke rank.
Republicans seem to be much better at this than Democrats. Their political culture defers to authority, a pattern that is much more emblematic of conservative than progressive culture and politics. Daddy knows best, I guess.
Democrats are easily frightened, easily divided, highly skittish. They can be like a deer in the headlights. They get confused about who their constituency is. It’s like, which way is the wind blowing today? Caucus solidarity doesn’t come naturally to them, which is odd when you think about it, given that there is much more of an acknowledgment of the power of collective action (like unions). Instead, they squabble with everyone, especially with each other, in public. Republicans, not on your life. They stick together.
Coming from a parliamentary democracy, Canada, I can kind of respect this. We have party solidarity. You do not vote independently in parliament. You vote with your caucus. You have frequent closed door caucus meetings. This is where you express your opinions about proposed legislation and battle it out. I’ve heard it gets pretty heated. What’s said in caucus stays in caucus. But once you leave that closed door session, you support your party’s position and vote in a block. This means that you can pretty much predict what the vote on any piece of legislation is going to be. You watch what the party leader says to the press, and that will tell you how his or her block will vote. There are few surprises in Parliament, unless a party intentionally hides how it will vote.
This can be very frustrating. It can feel very disempowering at times to the electorate. You can express your opinion to your elected Member of Parliament and never get any indication as to how he or she spoke for your interests. But it is very handy at getting things done.
There was only one vote I can recall where party members were allowed to vote their conscience, and that was legislation about same sex marriage. Many LGBTQ persons found that very insulting. To have party solidarity enforced for every issue and then set aside for this? Weren’t we worth more? What is normal in the U.S. was highly unusual in Canada, and it felt like it.
It was fascinating to see this American approach play out in Canada. Lobbying groups were quickly established, donations solicited, and lobbyists found their way through MPs offices. We’d never seen anything like it before. I think many of us were really uncomfortable. It felt so chaotic. There was nothing clean or clear about it. Fortunately the vote turned in our favor.
Here that jockeying is normal and expected, so party solidarity has a sinister heavy handed feel to it.
I am absolutely certain that within the Republican caucus there was at least one libertarian Republican who sees DADT as big government at it’s worst. That one person, and there were probably more, voted against their conscience in support of party solidarity when they have the right and the expectation that they should vote their conscience. They have a right and they squandered it to stay in the good graces of a hardening base and the old boy network.
Who are they really serving? How can they live with themselves, having betrayed their own conscience? All it would have taken was one vote.
What this proves, once again, is that the civil rights of the minority are rarely protected by the majority. It will be the courts who declare DADT dead in the water. The Democrats didn’t have the stomach for it. Neither did one single Republican.