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Why Huckabee Still Thinks The Troops Support DADT

Recently Mike Huckabee claimed that he would, as president, reinstate a ban on openly gay members of the US military, arguing that while the general public strongly supported getting rid of the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy, it's the opinions of the troops themselves that count. Liberal bloggers have pointed out that the Pentagon actually did a survey of our service members and found that a majority were fine with serving alongside openly gay troops. This data seems to confound Huckabee's argument, just like it did others' similar claim (forcing them to shift to the argument that even if the troops *in general* are OK with gays, *front line troops* and *Marines*, who are more homophobic, are the ones whose opinions really count).

This dispute is not simply one of opponents of a policy mendaciously ignoring or denying data that undercut their position. It's also about two different interpretations of what it means to listen to the "will of the people." We can call these "liberal democracy" and "perfectionist democracy."

In liberal democracy -- the model most people would cite as an explanation of how democracy works -- listening to the will of the people is simply a matter of tallying up the votes or poll responses. Each person gets an equal input, and whichever opinion is more widely held is the "will of the people." (For more momentous questions, some sort of supermajority may be required, or a closely split response may be declared inadequate to give a mandate to the majority, but the basic idea remains the same.) On the liberal model, both the general public and the military specifically seem to favor the repeal of DADT.

But when most people talk about listening to the will of the people, they're not thinking in liberal terms. They're thinking in perfectionist terms. Perfectionism, in moral/political philosophy, is the view that there is one "right way" to live. Crucially for our purposes, perfectionism is able to make distinctions between authentic and inauthentic members of "the people." People who more closely fit the model for what a "real" member of the people should be like are thus accorded more weight and listened to more closely. Indeed, vote counting is not even strictly necessary in perfectionist democracy. We ask not "what do the actual people actually think," but rather "what would an ideal authentic person think?" If the actual people disagree, that just goes to show they're inauthentic.

So let's apply this to DADT. From the point of view of people like Huckabee and McCain, there is a clear model for what a real, authentic member of the military is like. Among those traits is an adherence to a traditional heterosexual model of masculinity. Real troops are brothers on the battlefield because they seek sex only from women off the battlefield. Thus it is inconceivable that the troops could really support gay servicemembers, because gay and gay-friendly troops are by definition inauthentic.

The retreat to more specific groups of troops whose opinions really count is an attempt to get the right perfectionist conclusion through liberal means. If you can limit the population being polled to those who are more likely to be authentic, then the actual opinions of the actual people will more closely match the will of the ideal abstract authentic people.


Blogger Bill Baar said...

The Turkish Army as a We Ask, You Tell policy. There were some advantages to DADT as all the odd questions about your sex life disappeared from the Security Clearance process. I appreciated that.

5:55 PM  

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