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From the Mouths…

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Michael Goldfarb(!) asks a halfway useful question:

Assuming time is a scarce resource in the lame duck (and it is), and assuming the votes might be there for START (and they aren’t)…..would liberals rather have a fight over DADT or START?

As you would suspect, this question is loaded; there’s not necessarily a conflict between pursuing both New START and DADT repeal in the lame duck session. However, since I find it distressingly possible that Reid and Obama would accept Goldfarb’s framing (indeed, there’s a strong possibility that they’ll abandon both fights) the question is still potentially relevant.  There are several dimensions worth considering:

  1. I suspect that there’s a clear disconnect between base and elite preferences on the choice. For the Democratic base, DADT is a core social justice concern, and is part of a long term campaign to end legally sanctioned discrimination against a major constituency. To the extent that it cares, the base is pro-START, but it doesn’t care very much about the kind of foreign policy issues that START represents.  The Democratic elite cares a lot about START, both for substantive reasons and because it doesn’t involve the kind of messy activism/social justice concerns that leave the elite twitchy.
  2. The long term legislative prospects for DADT repeal are probably a touch better than those of New START.  The GOP can’t be trusted on either, of course, but defense of DADT still seems to me to be an electoral loser in the long term.  If this is the case, then from a strategic point of view pursuing START would make more immediate sense.  If New START isn’t ratified during the lame duck, I don’t see that it has much of a future.
  3. The legislative fight over DADT is only key because the Democrats have accepted basic GOP framing on the question.  The administration has the legal and executive capability to make DADT irrelevant without relying on legislation.  However, that’s not terribly helpful given that Obama has effectively rolled over on the idea of using such tools against DADT.

At this point, I’m deeply skeptical about the possibility of New START ratification.  If there’s no hope, then it makes sense to spend time and political capital on DADT, which domestically is going to be more of a winner anyway.

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