In a tense and at times awkward interview with the Arizona Daily Star, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) insisted that the record retention and recruitment rates demonstrate that the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy is working and scoffed at the idea of speaking to gay troops or discharged service members about the policy. While no longer touting a discredited letter to demonstrate that the military members supported preserving DADT, McCain maintained that his personal anecdotal interactions with the troops presented a better barometer of military attitude towards DADT than the growing number of military leaders who have called for its repeal and dismissed any notions to the contrary.
When the newspaper didn’t buy McCain’s argument, the former maverick continued to harp on the policy, regurgitating the names of military leaders who support his position and demanding that he be allowed to discuss DADT. “Go ahead. I’m ready. I’m ready. I’m ready. I’m ready. I’m ready to continue our conversation on it. Okay. Seriously. Go ahead.” Some excerpts:
McCAIN: I make that determination by retention and recruitment is at an all-time high, the highest in the history of the all-volunteer force. I get that opinion because I visit with the troops all the time. I go to Iraq, I go to Afghanistan, I run into them everywhere. And of course I don’t seek out someone who is gay. Why should I? These are all men and women who are serving. Why should I, that would be nuts. I go up to men and women and I say thanks for serving. I say thank you for serving, you are great Americans, God bless you. […]
STAR: What about Adm. (Mike) Mullen’s position, though?
McCAIN: He said it was his personal opinion.
STAR: Well, he did. But he also appeared in uniform. And it’s a little hard to parse when the joint chiefs appear in front of the United States Senate committee and says “It’s my personal opinion that.”
McCAIN: What about when the commandant of the Marine Corps said he is opposed to it? What about when the chief of staff of the Army said we’ve got to go slow on this? What about when the chief of staff of the Air Force said I’m very worried about an abrupt change in policy and that we have to have a thorough review? What about all of those people? […]
STAR: There’s also been a generational shift, I think, too, in terms of what younger members say and what …
McCAIN: There may have been, there may not have been. But we need a thorough and complete review. I mean, how many times do I have to give you my opinion? If you want to have a debate about this issue, I’ll be glad to have a debate with you. I thought I came here to tell you my positions on the issues. I’m serious here. I would be glad to have an open and public debate with you on this issue. But I thought that I came here in order to tell you my positions on issues so that you can judge whether I should be re-elected or not or whatever opinions you may form. […]
McCAIN: Now, I would like to return to don’t ask, don’t tell with you and talk some more. Go ahead.
McCAIN: Go ahead. I’m ready. I’m ready. I’m ready. I’m ready. I’m ready to continue our conversation on it. Okay. Seriously. Go ahead […]
McCAIN: I’m not going to deal and hypotheticals as to what would come out. But the fact is that I want to review and then I will make a decision from there. I don’t know what the review result will say, I don’t know what they will be about. And I just have to tell you that I engage in a lot of hypotheticals. But I’m convinced that it is working and has worked well.
Do you want more? I mean, I’m serious. Until we exhaust this issue, I’d be glad to continue our conversation. I apologize for referring to it as being a debate when it was really an informative discussion.
McCain would have an easier time explaining his position on Don’t Ask, Don’t tell, if his strong support for the policy made any sense. McCain spent the last several years promising to reconsider his support for DADT if military leaders like Colin Powell changed their minds about the policy, but now that they have, he is dismissing their uncomfortable views (and the views of a majority of troops) as mere personal opinions and arguing that the policy is working — without ever bothering to ask for the input of the gay and lesbian servicemembers who are most affected by it.
During the interview, McCain acknowledged that Powell had shifted his opinion on the policy, but seemed to suggest that Powell’s decision not to characterize repeal as a civil rights issue somehow diminishes the significance of repealing the policy. “He was in favor of it, and now he’s come out … for the repeal. Yeah. I think what he said then still holds true today, that it is a different issue. I think Colin Powell wants to repeal don’t ask, don’t tell. I don’t think he views it now as a civil rights issue, though,” McCain said.