Once again Hillary refuses to admit an obvious mistake. During the Democratic presidential debate on Sunday, she said her husband's 'Don't Ask' policy was not a mistake and then she tried to rewrite history by spinning 'Don't Ask' as a "first step" toward gays and lesbians openly serving in the military. Just like with the war on Iraq, Hillary still doesn't get it.
'Don't Ask' has not been a benign "transition policy" as she claims. It was a cowardly political calculation that reaffirmed the military's unjust discharge policies and resulted in the dismissal of 10,870 dedicated service people since 1993. Discharges for homosexuality actually increased under 'Don't Ask' and cost taxpayers more than a quarter of a billion dollars. How can Hillary complain about the recent discharge of 55 Arab language specialists under 'Don't Ask' and not admit that the policy is a terrible mistake?
During Sunday's debate, Hillary also downplayed her husband's responsibility for 'Don't Ask' by claiming that he was hamstrung by "checks and balances" and Congressional opposition. Hillary should look to the example of Harry Truman for a lesson on presidential power and leadership.
When Harry Truman confronted intense congressional opposition to racial integration of the Armed forces in 1948, checks and balances didn't inhibit him. He asserted his constitutional power as commander-in-chief and integrated the military with an executive order. A day after Truman issued his order, Gen. Omar N. Bradley, the Army Chief of Staff, declared: "The Army will not put men of different races in the same companies." Truman did not reverse himself and knuckle under to military brass like Bill Clinton. He gave Bradley and the rest of the military officers a simple choice: obey orders and bow down to civilian authority or resign. A president should never back down to his generals the way Bill Clinton did with Colin Powel in 1993.
Truman also showed that a great president can and must defy popular opinion when it stands in the way of justice. In 1948, an election year, 63% of Americas opposed integration of the armed forces. Truman didn't follow the poll numbers; he stood up to a misinformed public and led them. Many historians credit Truman's brave leadership with providing an important boost to the nascent civil rights movement that would eventually transform America into a freer, more just, stronger nation. That is the power of presidential leadership.
Hillary should also understand that being a good leader sometimes means admitting a mistake. When presidents atone for mistake publicly -- as when Bill Clinton apologized for not intervening in Rwanda -- they send a powerful message to the public that addressing the issue is a moral imperative.
This is why when I am president I will immediately issue an apology on behalf of the federal government to each of the 100,000 service people who have been discharged because of their sexual orientation over the past several decades. I challenge all of my fellow candidates to pledge themselves that if elected, they will also issue a formal apology. I hope that we can all join together in sending an important message to the American public that the days of second-class citizenship for lesbian and gay Americans must come to an end.