Don't Ask, Just Fight

| Thu Jan. 28, 2010 2:23 PM EST

Barack Obama last night:

This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are.

This was short, but it was also one of the most unequivocal things Obama said last night. And the Secretary of Defense applauded when he said it. But it's still going to be a fight to get Don't Ask Don't Tell repealed. Here's John McCain right out of the gate:

This successful policy has been in effect for over 15 years, and it is well understood and predominantly supported by our military at all levels. We have the best trained, best equipped, and most professional force in the history of our country, and the men and women in uniform are performing heroically in two wars. At a time when our armed forces are fighting and sacrificing on the battlefield, now is not the time to abandon the policy.

Shameful. But make no mistake: even after 15 years to get used to the idea, even with public opinion strongly in favor, even with the military itself slowly getting accustomed to the inevitable, this is going to be a pitched battle. And as with healthcare reform, although Obama's support will be important, it won't be decisive. What's really going to matter is whether 218 representatives and 51 senators are willing to support it. (That's assuming it gets tacked onto the defense appropriation bill, which is passed under reconciliation rules.)

Right now this seems like a very winnable fight, but that's because the pushback hasn't really started yet. But once Fox gets going, and op-eds get written, and the locker room tittering takes off, and FreedomWorks starts running TV ads, and Focus on the Family blankets their mailing list with dire fundraising letters, and disgruntled military brass start leaking — well, that's a whole different ballgame. I hope I'm wrong, but I don't think it's going to be easy. Congressional Democrats are going to need some spine to stick to their guns on this, and that's always a thin reed to count on.