President Obama loves adding more things to his agenda.
Perhaps like someone afflicted with attention deficit disorder, he becomes so easily distracted that he is mentally or physiologically compelled to seek out new challenges -- regardless of whether old ones have been resolved. Thursday, he went to Copenhagen to put in a personal -- and expensive -- appeal for Chicago's bid to get the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. By noon Friday, he and the world will know whether he was successful -- or whether a trip to Europe during a politically-charged health-care fight, national economic woes and military headaches half a world away turned out to be a waste of time.
Well, if it's distractions the president needs, there's a doozy on the horizon. It looks like the issue that caused Bill Clinton to stumble out of the gate early in his presidency is getting ready to be back on the front-burner: Gays in the military. An essay from an esteemed military journal -- the official periodical of the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- argues cogently for overturning the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. The essay won the Secretary of Defense National Security Essay Competition this year.
On the political side, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is personally urging Obama to show "leadership" in overturning the policy (though Reid could launch an overturn himself -- he does run the Senate after all). But considering this is a campaign promise of the president's, Obama can't completely duck it. However, exactly when would he dare venture into such waters. The combination of high spending and the overhaul of health care has caused Obama to appear as a menacing figure in the eyes of many -- the "SOCIALISM" posters for example.
When an essay can be written assessing/analyzing/advocating a military coup against the administration, it becomes clear there's a lot of steam in the paranoid fever swamps. Social conservatives will get upset regardless of when Obama tries to overturn the policy. The question is at what time would the broad middle be least likely to oppose it? Or would the middle oppose overturning DADT at all? One thing seems very clear. It would be the height of foolishness to do this now, before Congress has finished with health care.
The political reality remains the same: If he introduces it after health-care, but before the end of the year, he faces a brutal battle in the House and the Senate right after New Year's. Would he want to do that going into the midterm elections -- when conservatives are already fired up?
But if he waits until after the 2010 elections, he arguably will have fewer Democrats upon whom he can try to squeeze supportive votes out of. Indeed, Democrats could lose anywhere between 20 and 40 seats. That smaller majority of Democrats (they will keep the majority) won't be inclined to take up gays in the military. The Senate might not even be any filibuster-proof anymore.
All political signals point to holding back on overturning "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." On the other hand, if you're a distracted president, you might decide to do it anyway, simply because you need the thrill -- or the fix.