A funny thing happened after Adm. Mike Mullen
: A curious silence befell much of the right. If this were a Sherlock Holmes story, it would be the case of the attack dogs that did not bark.
John McCain, commandeering the spotlight as usual, did fulminate against the repeal
of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” But the press focus on McCain, the crazy man in Washington’s attic, was misleading. His yapping was an exception, not the rule.
Many of his Republican colleagues said little or nothing. The right’s noise machine was on mute. The Fox News report on Mullen’s testimony was fair and balanced — and brief. The network dropped the subject entirely in the Hannity-O’Reilly hothouse of prime time that night. Only ratings-desperate CNN gave a fleeting platform to the old homophobic clichés. Michael O’Hanlon, an “expert” from the Brookings Institution, speculated
that “18-year-old, old-fashioned, testosterone-laden” soldiers who are “tough guys” might object to those practicing “alternative forms of lifestyle,” which he apparently views as weak and testosterone-deficient. His only prominent ally was the Family Research Council, which issued an inevitable “action alert” demanding a stop to “the sexualization of our military
The occasional outliers notwithstanding, why did such a hush greet Mullen on Capitol Hill? The answer begins with the simple fact that a large majority of voters — between 61 percent
and 75 percent
depending on the poll — now share his point of view. Most Americans recognize that being gay is not a “lifestyle” but an immutable identity, and that outlawing discrimination against gay people who want to serve their country is, as the admiral said, “the right thing to do.”
Mullen’s heartfelt, plain-spoken testimony
gave perfect expression to the nation’s own slow but inexorable progress on the issue. He said he had “served with homosexuals since 1968” and that his views had evolved “cumulatively” and “personally” ever since. So it has gone for many other Americans in all walks of life. As more gay people have come out — a process that accelerated once the modern gay rights movement emerged from the Stonewall riots of 1969 — so more heterosexuals have learned that they have gay relatives, friends, neighbors, teachers and co-workers. It is hard to deny our own fundamental rights to those we know, admire and love.
But that’s not the whole explanation for the scant pushback in Washington to Mullen and his partner in change, Defense Secretary Robert Gates. There is also a potent political subtext. To a degree unimaginable as recently as 2004 — when Karl Rove and George W. Bush ran a national campaign exploiting fear of gay people — there is now little political advantage to spewing homophobia. Indeed, anti-gay animus is far more likely to repel voters than attract them. This equation was visibly eating at Orrin Hatch, the Republican senator from Utah, as he vamped nervously with Andrea Mitchell of MSNBC last week
, trying to duck any discernible stand on Mullen’s testimony. On only one point was he crystal clear: “I just plain do not believe in prejudice of any kind.”