Thursday, July 15, 2010

Anti-Gay Policies Made Sense in '97: More Socarides Memos

Former Clinton Advisor Richard Socarides

As a lawsuit brought by the Log Cabin Republicans that challenges the military’s Don’t Ask, Don't Tell policy opened on July 13 in a federal court in San Diego, Richard Socarides, a former advisor on gay issues in the Clinton White House, told the Associated Press that the defense of the policy by the Obama administration was nonsensical.

“On the one hand, [President Barack Obama] has said he's working hard to stop these discharges,” Socarides said. “And on the other hand, the Justice Department is spending taxpayer dollars defending their ongoing right to kick people out.”

What must also be nonsensical then is that, as Gay City News reported, Socarides aided the Clinton administration in deflecting criticism of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell by drafting presidential debate talking points in 1996 that advised President Clinton to dodge the issue. Socarides continued to aid the White House on that issue into 1997.

In February of that year, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a group that assists lesbian and gay servicemembers, was preparing to release a report showing that discharges under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell had increased by 42 percent since the policy was implemented. White House staff contacted the Pentagon to head off “any combative language” and Socarides told people at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue what to say.

“The policy was intended to provide an opportunity for continued service to those willing to abide by the new policy,” Socarides wrote in a February 25, 1997 memo titled “Draft Talking Points: SLDN Report on Gays in the Military” that was downloaded from the Clinton Library. “While we have not had an opportunity to review the report, the allegation that the policy is not being implemented fairly, if true, is quite troubling.”

Socarides noted that then Defense Secretary William Cohen had “instructed his staff to investigate the allegations and any other relevant information to determine what is happening” and that “Secretary Cohen has indicated that violations of either the letter or the spirit of the policy will not be tolerated and the President, of course, concurs in this judgment.”

With appearances on cable TV, quotes in the mainstream press, and a recent editorial in the Wall Street Journal, Socarides is a leading critic of the Obama administration who whips the current White House for failing to undo the policies that Socarides’ former boss put in place.

This nonsensical posture does not end there. Just as Socarides drafted 1996 talking points that defended Clinton’s support for the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 legislation that barred the federal government from recognizing same sex marriages and allowed state governments to do the same, he aided Clinton in responding to a 1997 announcement from the Democratic National Committee that it would begin providing health benefits to the domestic partners of its employees.

In a May 14, 1997 memo titled, “Talking Points: DNC/Domestic Partner (Health Care) Benefits for Same Sex Partners,” Socarides wrote that businesses and non-profit organizations had the option of providing such benefits. What the DNC did was its business.

“Decisions relating to employee benefits are made by the Chairman and senior DNC management,” Socarides wrote. “The White House was made aware of the policy change at a staff level.”

And the president’s position on such benefits?

“The President is aware that many communities and institutions are considering whether basic benefits can be provided outside the context of traditional marriage,” Socarides wrote. “The challenge in addressing these issues is to remain sensitive to the values of our communities while preserving the fundamental right to live free from unjustified discrimination.”

Roughly two months later, Socarides issued another set of talking points on domestic partner benefits that recommended neutrality.

“While I'm sympathetic to many of the concerns raised, I think we will have to moniter (sic) for a time how these policies work in practice and take a hard look at what's happening in the private sector and in communities which have instituted such policies,” Socarides wrote in a July 21, 1997 memo titled “Domestic Partner Proposed Talking Points.”

Nonsensical indeed.

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