The other evening, I spent some time discussing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell with Senator Joe Manchin and his wife. Democratic super donor Connie Milstein did the same.
While these kinds of conversations are privileged, I will share one comment the Senator, who was extremely open and not defensive at all in the discussion, made to me which is consistent with some of his other public comments.
Senator Manchin said that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was complicated for him and said “there were a lot of military in my state.”
As I told the Senator, I was a gay man who grew up on US military bases and had a father who served in the Air Force Office of Special Investigations — which in my dad’s time of service regularly sought out, spied on and court martialed gay members of the uniformed services. Fortunately, times have changed — and so have attitudes in military families, even those from small towns in West Virginia or in places like Bartlesville, Oklahoma.
The late Senator Robert Byrd carried no more of a burden than Senator Manchin with military folk in the State of West Virginia — which of course the anti-DADT Senator Jay Rockefeller also serves.
But what the Senator needs to know is that the notion that military families are medieval on this subject and opposed to progress is wrong. To say that the military and DoD families are less advanced, less educated, and out of sync with the rest of America is an insult to them that the Senator needs to avoid.
Hopefully, Senator Manchin will realize that this vote is one of the most significant civil rights votes in this era — and his absence will be a most terrible punctuation point to start his Senate career.
Please reconsider, speak to the military in your state, read the report the Pentagon assembled, listen to the Republican Secretary of Defense as well as to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and ask whether you are going to put West Virginia on the crest of history’s wave or put it behind progress.
West Virginia deserves to be with those who are charting a new and better future for this country.
Get this one right, Senator Manchin, and happy holidays.
— Steve Clemons