Empirical Evidence Strikes Again

Perhaps it’s just human nature – empirical evidence makes people angry. You rev up the country to believe that Saddam Hussein had something to do with those 2001 attacks – three thousand dead because of the likes of him – and then, much later, you say you never really said that, really, because it isn’t true and wasn’t true, and you never really said that, exactly, in those words – and folks get angry. Or you talk about his weapons of mass destruction, and talk of mushroom clouds and such, and then it turns out he had nothing. So you talk about how he had intentions and capabilities, but then it turns out he had no capabilities, whatever his intentions. That ticks people off. You were not only wrong – it seems as if you were jerking people around. People don’t like that. Empirical evidence appeals to most people, and now, becuase it does, you don’t.

But you can do it to yourself too. You can claim cutting taxes, or eliminating almost all of them, will result in massive increases in revenue to the government. And the empirical evidence – and common sense – shows that’s dead wrong. That’s a bummer, so you just keep saying it’s true, and you seethe at the damned evidence. You come to hate empirical evidence. This ought to be true.

Or you can say illegal immigrants are destroying our economy. That ought to be true too – but it’s not true at all. But then only economists and statisticians say that those folks really help the economy. What do they know?

Or you can say that a system of unemployment insurance, where people who have lost their jobs get help paying for food and shelter, from a pool of funds to which they have dutifully contributed, actually causes unemployment, because you’re paying people not to work. You can say cut them off and they’ll have to find work, like normal, responsible people – the system itself causes persistent high unemployment. But the painfully obvious empirical evidence is that there are no jobs out there – the economy collapsed and it has not recovered yet. There’s no work. These people are looking for work, and they’ll take most any job they can. But there’s nothing much, with five to ten applicants for every scattered remaining job. Without a system of unemployment insurance they’d go under, and what little demand there now is for goods and services would itself collapse. No one would be buying much of anything. Cutting them off would be an economic disaster. So what ought to be isn’t what is. Empirical evidence strikes again.

There are countless examples of this sort of thing – where some group of people is convinced that something is so, and must be so, and is really ticked off at the empirical evidence that isn’t so. Perhaps even human relationships are like that. John Barrymore put it nicely – “Love is the delightful interval between meeting a beautiful girl and discovering that she looks like a haddock.” The empirical evidence was always there, of course. But what a fool believes he sees – you know the song – what seems to be is always better than nothing.

But on Tuesday, November 30, empirical evidence struck again:

The Pentagon’s long-awaited report on gays in the military concludes that repealing the 17-year-old “don’t ask, don’t tell” law would present only a low risk to the armed forces’ ability to carry out their missions and that 70 percent of service members believe it would have little or no effect on their units.

The conclusions published in Tuesday’s report give a boost to President Obama and Congressional Democrats seeking to eliminate the ban before the end of the year and undercut the arguments of social conservatives and lawmakers, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who believe ending the law would harm the military as it conducts two wars.

“The risk of repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to overall military effectiveness is low,” said the report’s co-authors, Defense Department General Counsel Jeh C. Johnson and Army Gen. Carter F. Ham. While ending the ban would likely bring about “limited and isolated disruption” to unit cohesion and retention, “we do not believe this disruption will be widespread or long-lasting,” they said.

Steve Benen adds perspective:

Thanks to a series of strategic leaks, we already had a very good sense that the Pentagon’s troop survey on repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” contained good news. But there were some lingering questions about exactly how encouraging the results would be, and how strong the repeal endorsement would be from military leaders.

Benen says that by most standards, the news was even better than expected. Nearly seven in ten troops said they served alongside someone in their unit who they believed to be gay or lesbian, and ninety-two percent of them said their unit’s ability to work together was fine – no problem, and no big deal. And eighty-nine percent of Army combat units and eighty-four percent of Marine combat units said they had good or neutral experiences working with gays and lesbians. And Defense Secretary Gates, after noting the non-existent risk to military readiness, “strongly” urged the Senate to pass the pending legislation “before the end of this year.” It seems that repeal “would not be the wrenching, traumatic change that many have feared and predicted.” Sorry, but there’s no problem here. And Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, added this – “We treat people with dignity and respect in the armed forces, or we don’t last long in the armed forces: No special cases, no special treatment.” So there was no issue here.

For more details see Igor Volsky with this analysis of the highlights of the report – or read the entire report here – it’s your basic empirical evidence.

But Benen offers the political situation:

As for the larger legislative context, remember, Senate Republicans recently refused to even allow a debate on funding U.S. troops because they wanted to wait for this report. They took a gamble, of sorts – maybe the survey results would show servicemen and women agreeing with the GOP’s anti-gay animus, thus giving the party a boost fighting pro-repeal Democrats.

The gamble failed. We now know a majority of U.S. troops, a majority of U.S. civilians, a majority of the House, a majority of the Senate, the Commander in Chief, the Secretary of Defense, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs are all ready to see DADT repeal move forward.

It’s no big deal, and tossing out fourteen thousand well-trained and useful folks over the years – including all those translators – was really dumb. So we’re left with only the politics:

If John McCain and other anti-gay senators hoped to gain some leverage, those hopes were in vain. They’ve run out of excuses. It’s time for the Senate to do the right and decent thing.

Remember, Democrats only need two Republicans – literally, just two – to break ranks. These GOP senators, if they exist, don’t even have to vote for the spending bill that includes the DADT provision; they just need to let the Senate vote up or own. If this report doesn’t lead two Republicans to drop the nonsense, nothing will.

Maybe nothing will, as John McCain will now dig in, as Josh Marshall discusses here:

John McCain is trying to find his way toward a rationale for continuing to oppose the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell even though he’d previously suggested he’s open to repeal in principle and would vote for it if the Pentagon found that it could be done without damaging military readiness. McCain is now arguing that all he cares about are the views of the four service chiefs, especially those of the Commandant of the Marine Corps, rather the President, the Secretary of Defense or even the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Adm. Mullen — arguing in a rather strained fashion that even the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is “not directly in charge of the troops.”

That’s odd, but McCain is saying this:

I’m paying attention to the commandant of the Marine Corps. I’m paying attention to the other three service chiefs who have serious concerns. They are the four guys who are directly in charge. In all due respect, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is not directly in charge of the troops. The Secretary of Defense is a political appointee who’s never been in the military. And the president, obviously, has had no background or experience in the military whatsoever. It was a campaign pledge to the gay and lesbian community.

Josh Marshall:

The constitutional logic is strained. And there’s a lot of trash talk. But note that he says that Secretary Gates lacks credibility to make this decision in part because he’s “never been in the military.”

But that’s false:

Gates definitely did serve in the military, in addition to being a career veteran of the CIA. … Gates’ bio at the Pentagon website says he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force in 1967. According to Thomas Powers, he did two years in the Air Force at Whiteman Air Force Base (part of Strategic Air Command) in Missouri giving intelligence briefings to ICBM missile crews.

And Marshall says it’s something else:

It’s sort of sleazy pulling rank in this manner, claiming that no one who hasn’t served in the military themselves can speak to this issue or even claiming that the senior uniformed officer in the US military has no standing to speak about it. But as long as you’re going to play this card you might as well have your facts right.

But one of Andrew Sullivan’s readers adds this perspective:

Watching clips of John McCain move the goal posts again on DADT repeal, and listening to my teen age kids react to what he is saying, has made it clear to me why DADT repeal is held up by the Senate. It is a perfect illustration of the generational shift that has taken place regarding acceptance of gays and lesbians in general.

My kids are 16 and 18. While my wife and I are progressive, we sent our kids to a Catholic High School in Dallas, Texas so they get plenty of exposure to conservative thinkers. Nevertheless, they and all of their friends simply cannot understand why anyone would be “freaked out” by letting gays and lesbians serve in the military. It seems as ridiculous to them as forcing “coloreds” to drink from separate water fountains.

It seems things have changed over time:

My kids aren’t gay, and they don’t really understand being sexually attracted to a member of the same sex. But they think it is private, and the result of the way god made people, so let them be because they aren’t hurting anyone. They all know gay kids because, thankfully, they are no longer afraid to “come out”. Teenagers all understand that no one would “choose” to be gay and face the hysterical ranting of the far right. They laugh at older people who say that soldiers would be afraid of being “targeted” by a “homo” as complete nonsense.

On the other hand, John McCain is 74 years old. People who are his age and served in the military have a very different perspective. When they were in the military, being gay would have been viewed as shameful and perverted. Many people that age still think that. Senators, given the bubbles they live in, don’t realize how much things have changed. When McCain was saying that he wanted to “hear what the soldiers had to say” he was certain they would be against repeal – because he would have been uncomfortable serving with gay soldiers.

It’s a matter of that damned new empirical evidence:

You can tell by watching McCain that it is simply inconceivable to that 74 year old military man that gays and lesbians would be accepted by soldiers. It just doesn’t compute. He can’t process that information because it is so different from his world view. When he gets a survey that tells him that such acceptance has occurred, he can’t believe it; it must be wrong. Most of the men in the Senate are much closer to McCain’s age than to the age of the average soldier serving today. What we are seeing is what happens when cultural norms change and “the old folks don’t like it.”

But Sullivan isn’t exactly buying that:

Alas, I don’t actually believe that in McCain’s case. McCain knows and has worked with and relied upon openly gay people in his own staff. His disgusting posturing on this question now is not, in my view, out of conviction but out of calculation. He got re-elected by veering to the far right and junking much of what he once believed in. He is also clearly consumed with bitterness and hatred of the president who so humiliated him in his disastrous campaign. He is lashing out. And he is contemptible for it.

Yep, all sorts of empirical evidence that you’re dead wrong can make you bitter and angry and ready to lash out. The vote tally in the last presidential election will do. And you remember that congressman with his “You Lie!” outburst during Obama’s speech to a joint session of Congress last year – that would be Joe Wilson, Republican, South Carolina, a hero at Fox News for a few weeks. Now Wilson is calling for comprehensive oversight of the Pentagon’s study showing that repealing DADT won’t damage military readiness. It’s his way of shouting the same sort of thing again. And you know how that will go. Two plus two equals four. You Lie! No, two plus two actually equals four. You Lie! Those House oversight hearings should be interesting.

But David Kurtz is pretty impressed with Gates:

Bob Gates’ abilities as a masterful bureaucrat and Washington shapeshifter have rarely been on more public display than in his just-completed press conference. He was expected to unveil a Pentagon review of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell that would clear the way for repeal, but Gates took it a step further with a clarion call to Congress to repeal DADT before the end of the year or else the federal courts might do it by what he called “judicial fiat.”

It was classic Gates: a combination of finesse and sharp elbows. He framed the issue starkly: repeal DADT in an orderly way with enough time for me to implement it, and I can pull this off without jeopardizing our military readiness – or you can leave it to the courts which is “my greatest fear” and which guarantees a disruptive transition that could damage the military.

He offered the choice of stability v. unpredictability, an argument dear to Republican hearts. The topper: What could be worse to leaning congressional Republicans than abdicating their power and control to those dreaded activist judges?

With one big heave, Gates has thrown this issue back into Congress’ lap and tried to box in persuadable Republicans. It’s a remarkable move.

Of course Andrew Sullivan just calls it a breath of sane air:

Anyone who doubts the professionalism of today’s military would do well to read the Pentagon Report on DADT. First, it’s a massive undertaking, involving hundreds of thousands of responses, 95 face-to-face meetings, and a range of views from everyone who might be affected. It’s one of the most impressive reports I’ve ever read from a government agency.

It’s also extremely calm and fair. If you’ve been in the thick of this debate as long as I have, you’ll know how rare that is. The tone is empirical, and judicious. It does not gloss over some serious objections – such as moral and religious ones – and grapples directly with some of the more emotive issues, such as sharing showers or sleeping quarters. It feels in no way skewed or prejudged.

And the report is absolutely clear that straight service members by large majorities have few problems with openly gay service members.

These folks have fought or worked alongside gay men and women already, and that changes things:

Again: when you know someone is gay, all the fears and stereotypes tend to evaporate. This is not a surprise. The men and women of the US military are among the finest in the land; they want to do the job at hand, not deepen social division or posture politically. They are not bigots. I note one colorful quote from a special-ops fighter: “We have a gay guy [in the unit]. He’s big, he’s mean, and he kills lots of bad guys. No one cared that he was gay.”

And why would they?

And Sullivan also notes the inherent conservatism of many gay service members:

The last thing they would want to do is make a fuss about their orientation. The overwhelming majority will stay largely closeted in the workplace and battlefield – not out of fear but because it is irrelevant, and they are discreet kinds of people. Rand found that “even if Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell were repealed, only 15% of gay and lesbian Service members would like to have their sexual orientation known to everyone in their unit.”

What would be the point? There is a job to do. You do the job and you do it well. And Sullivan, who is gay, sees what might come next:

Yes, there are higher fears among some combat troops and Marines. But here’s one thing I didn’t know: the British military showed far higher resistance to allowing openly gay service members in advance, but realized after the change that it was a massive non-event. Now, the British military recruits at gay pride parades.

Many of these remarkable people are already risking or devoting their lives for the rest of us. This is about respecting them, in my view, and the professionalism and honor of those heterosexuals who serve alongside them and always have.

But Sullivan is most taken by this passage from the report:

In communications with gay and lesbian current and former Service members, we repeatedly heard a patriotic desire to serve and defend the Nation, subject to the same rules as everyone else. In the words of one gay Service member, repeal would simply “take a knife out of my back…. You have no idea what it is like to have to serve in silence.” Most said they did not desire special treatment, to use the military for social experimentation, or to advance a social agenda… From them, we heard expressed many of the same values that we heard over and over again from Service members at large – love of country, honor, respect, integrity, and service over self. We simply cannot square the reality of these people with the perceptions about “open” service.


And as country we should not either. If we are to ask young men and women to fight for us in distant places against terrible enemies, we owe it to all of them to take the knife out of their back. It is right; it is just; it is patriotic; and it is so overdue.

That’s nice, but there are the politics, as David Kurtz explains:

Gates message to Republicans in Congress was pick your poison: You can repeal this policy in a way that lets us implement it with minimal disruption or you can fail to act and the courts will act by “judicial fiat” forcing the Pentagon to react with no time to prepare, which Gates said was his “greatest fear.”

And see Kevin Drum:

It turns out that although 30% of respondents think that repealing DADT would affect their unit’s ability to train well together (a number that shows up pretty consistently on every question about the effect of repeal), only 10% think it would affect their own readiness and only 20% think it would affect their ability to train well. In other words, there’s pretty good reason to think that even the 30% number is overstated. It seems to include a fair number of people who are assuming that DADT repeal would have a negative effect on other people even though it wouldn’t have a negative effect on them. My guess is that a lot of this is reaction to a small number of vocal traditionalists, which makes opposition to repeal seem like a bigger deal than it is.

And see Adam Serwer:

Aside from the fact that allowing gays and lesbians to serve is far less divisive than racial integration of the military was at the time of its implementation, the report notes that opposition to allowing open service was far higher in countries like Israel and the UK prior to their abolishing discrimination against gays and lesbians. So while opponents are likely to use the relatively higher numbers related to the predictions of combat troops to stall repeal, the report bolsters the arguments of repeal advocates who say that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly won’t harm the military. The question now is whether or not the few Republican Senators who have indicated they might support repeal will have the courage to act now that the empirical basis for opposition to DADT repeal has been completely obliterated.

And as for the empirical basis for opposition being completely obliterated, see the statistician Brain McCabe:

When the policy was established, none of the three positions had majority support among Americans. Forty-four percent supported open service, 37 opposed any service, and 19 percent supported allowing gay men and lesbians to serve only if they did not reveal their sexual orientation. Today, one position has emerged as the clear preference of the majority of Americans. Seventy-five percent of Americans support open service, 17 oppose any service, and only 8 percent support the compromise position of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

In 1993, “don’t ask, don’t tell” offered a compromise for a public deeply divided on the issue of gay men and lesbians serving the military. Today, though, that compromise position – the status quo, enshrined in the policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell” – would seem to hold very little support among the American public.

Of course in spite of all that McCain might well prevail. He’s not big on empirical evidence of much of anything – consider his selection of Sarah Plain as his running mate, where empirical evidence of her qualifications and temperament and abilities wasn’t even sought. But there is an outside chance this could be the end of this nonsense about gays who want to serve their country being told that if they want to do that then they’d better shut up or lie about who they are. God knows there’s a lot of other nonsense, and dangerous nonsense, to attend to. Maybe this one can be settled and we can move to the important stuff, as this never have should been an issue in the first place.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
This entry was posted in DADT, Gays in the Military, John McCain, McCain versus the Facts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Empirical Evidence Strikes Again

  1. Richard T says:

    Commenting from the UK on the first part of your posting on empirical evidence, I know we have some pretty filthy tories and loons of our own (mostly foaming mouthed europhobes actually who wish to copy your country’s insurance based health provisions inter alia) but with everything pointing against them, why do a plurality of voters in the USA vote for these politicians in what seems self evident self destruction?

    • Alan says:

      It’s a puzzle, isn’t it? Here’s an operating theory. The populace is in pain, so they want to inflict pain. Burn it all down.

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