President Santorum Would Do... What, Exactly About Don't Ask Don't Tell?

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Oct. 10 2011 8:50 AM

President Santorum Would Do... What, Exactly About Don't Ask Don't Tell?

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WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 07: Republican presidential candidate and former U.S .Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) addresses the Values Voter Summit, hosted by Family Research Council Action (FRC Action), 2011 October 7, 2011 in Washington, DC. All the major Republican presidential candidates are expected to speak in the annual two-day event. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

By my math, Chris Wallace spent around 30 percent of his interview with Rick Santorum testing the limits of the senator's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" stance. The interview didn't get us any closer to the heart of the question: What would a Republican president who opposes letting openly gay people serve in the military do, exactly? At the last debate, Santorum offered some nonsense about bringing back DADT but going easy on the people who'd already started serving. How? Wallace didn't get to go there.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

WALLACE: Senator, you say sexual activity has no place in the military. Heterosexuals have been open heterosexual for centuries in the military without any problems. And you talk about gays not being given, that they shouldn't be given special privilege. All of the "don't ask, don't tell" and the repeal of it does is say that they are given the same rights as everybody else has had forever.
SANTORUM: Well, the problem is, is that the sexual activity with people who are in close quarters with, who happen to be the same sex, is different than having the discussion and open about your sexual activity where there is -- you are not in that same situation. So, you are talking about injecting as I said before --
WALLACE: No, wait a minute. Are you saying, you think that homosexual gay soldiers are going to sit there and go after the male counterparts in the barracks?
SANTORUM: I didn't suggest that.
WALLACE: You said they were in close activity, a close --
SANTORUM: Well, they are in close -- they are in close quarters. They live with people. They shower with people, the whole kinds -- all the things that they are involved in living in a barracks, or living out in the field, those are issues that again, some people, you are talking about that individual person, but you're talking about the ability for people to be able to have that unit cohesion, to be able to work together in a efficient fighting way. And, obviously, and also, by the way, the affect on retention and recruitment of people to live in that environment. And yes, there are people who feel uncomfortable in that environment.
WALLACE: I want to -- I want --
SANTORUM: And as a result, it could hurt -- it could hurt our ability to retain and recruit and to put the best fighting force in place.
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Santorum's impressions of a military constantly at risk of falling prey to horniness are not based on personal experience; he didn't serve. Wallace is correct. Santorum's saying that the potential angst some soldiers could feel about some soldiers being attracted to them -- without acting on it! -- is reason enough to keep gays out.

WALLACE: Senator, if I may follow up and we are running out of the time and continuing on this conversation. You say don't inject social policy into the military. Their job is to fight and defend. They're not a social experiment. I want to put up a quote for you. "The Army is not a sociological laboratory. Experimenting with Army policy, especially in time of war would pose a danger to efficiency, disciple and moral and would result in ultimate defeat." Does that sound about right, sir?
SANTORUM: Roughly yes.
WALLACE: That's a quote from Colonel Eugene Householder who is in the Army Adjutant General's Office in 1941, arguing against racial integration in the military.
SANTORUM: I figured. I've heard similar quotes. It's very, very different. I mean, we are talking about people who are, you know, simply different because of the color of their skin, not because of activities that would cause problems for people living in those close quarters.

This is a misfire from Wallace. It's not like opponents of gays in the military have never heard this before. The fact that people in a different situation had similiar arguments isn't a reason to change a policy. The reason is very specific: Individual military personnel were unable to serve because of the law. Not segregated. They couldn't serve. Stop giving Santorum ways to escape this!

WALLACE: Senator, Colonel Householders and I read -- Senator, I read Colonel Householders' comments yesterday. Everything that you said, living in close proximity, sharing bunks and showers, being in close proximity, what -- he used exactly the same arguments you use to argue against racial integration in the military in the 1940s.
SANTORUM: Yes, I understand that, and I know the whole gay community is trying to make this the new Civil Rights Act. It's not. It's not the same. You are black by the color of your skin. You are not homosexual necessarily by -- obviously by the color of your skin or anything -- it's by a variety of things.
WALLACE: I mean, it is a fact that your biology -- obviously, it's one thing if somebody is coming on to somebody in a room, but the sheer fact that somebody is a homosexual, are you saying -- I mean, these are all volunteers. They are all defending to protect our country, sir.
SANTORUM: That's exactly the point, Chris. They are all volunteers, and they don't have to join in a place where they don't feel comfort serving with people because of that issue. And that is the problem, Chris. And look, the idea that somehow or another, that this is the equivalent, that being black and being gay is simply not true. There are all sorts of studies out there that suggest just the contrary, and there are people who were gay and lived a gay lifestyle and aren't anymore. I don't know if that's a similar situation -- I don't think that's the case with anybody that is black. So it's not the same. And I know people try to make it the same, but it is not. It is a behavioral issue, as opposed to a color of the skin issue, and that makes all the difference when it comes to serving in the military.

Look, as long as this stays on first principles, Santorum can out-debate people. The question should be more realist: If this candidate becomes president, does he reinstate some kind of policy that expels gays from the military? Santorum's answer is a muddle. What are the other candidates' answers? Is the presence of Santorum in the race allowing this question to stay boutique, so that it's wasted on a niche candidate?

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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