Beyond False Choices: Risk-Takers, Doers, Makers of Things

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Sixteen years ago, the new President Bill Clinton began his first term dogged by gays in the military. A Federal District court had ordered the Navy to reinstate a gay officer only a few days after Clinton won the election, forcing him to confront his campaign promise of lifting the gay ban before he had even taken office.

In this respect, President Barack Obama is already in a better position to address the politics of military personnel than Clinton was. Already the issues he is dogged by, a "crisis" as his puts it, noting war, the economy, healthcare, schools, and energy, will require more non-partisan creativity from the start. In fact, the end of "don't ask, don't tell" will inevitably be far less political and more collaborative than its creation was 15 years ago. Not only because of the dramatic shifts in public and military opinion, but also because President Obama's rhetoric demands it.

Where Clinton said, "let us resolve to reform our politics," imagining a Spring-like renewal that might naturally unfold, Obama points the way with more specificity. He said, yesterday, "we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas," and "those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day." Not only that, but Obama addresses conflict and difference head on, extending it internationally, and pointing out that "the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things," know how to merge imagination with common purpose, and necessity with courage.

Perhaps one of the most significant elements of Obama's inaugural address when it comes to gays in the military is his revelation that choosing discrimination against a group of people for the sake of military readiness is a false choice. He says, "As for our common defense, we reject the false choice between our safety and our ideals."

By describing himself as "a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant," nor served in a desegregated military, but who nonetheless "can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath," Obama also acknowledged that American "ideals" are something we not only dream, but strive for and create.