At a campaign rally on Saturday, former President Bill Clinton made an astonishing statement about America’s military. You can watch the clip here or read below:
One of the things the decider-in-chief has to do is decide whether he’s going to bring this country together across all its diversity or let it drift apart. Look at how much stronger the American military is because it is less racist, less sexist and less homophobic and we’re just looking for people who can do the job.
Let me get this right: Bill Clinton believes that President Obama has made the military less racist, less sexist, and less homophobic during his four years in Washington. This statement—by extension—specifically implies that the military was, and is, a racist, sexist, and homophobic institution. Does this historical indictment apply only to the George W. Bush administration . . . or does his timeline extend to the 1990s when, wait, Clinton was the “decider-in-chief”? Probably not . . . but I digress.
My guess is that Clinton’s comment was an allusion to Obama’s repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — which, if you have your facts straight, was never a Department of Defense policy to begin with. In fact, as Clinton might remember, that policy was enacted by Congress in 1993 and signed into law by, wait, him. Clinton is therefore saying that Obama has freed the military from a supposed homophobia imposed by none other than himself.
As for racism, wasn’t it Clinton who inherited a military that included the first African-American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff? Do you think Colin Powell believes he was leading an inherently racist organization? Must we remind the former president that it was the United States military that was one of the first major integrated institutions in this country—an institution that had to build schools on its bases so that the children of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines serving without regard to race or creed could attend integrated schools. Must we remind him that it was members of the U.S. military that stood strong in the chaos of the 1950s and 1960s, as schools and universities were integrated across the country.
The hypocrisy continues with sexism. Leaving aside the obvious jokes about cigars and interns, one might also point to Clinton’s 1994 policy “excluding women from units at the level of battalion and below that engage in direct ground combat.” Regardless of what you think about women serving in infantry units, it’s clear that during Clinton’s presidency, he restricted the options of women to serve in any role they please. To this end, I’m not sure what Obama has done to right this wrong, considering the same limitations apply today.
As it is, serving members of the U.S. military who uphold their oaths to defend the Constitution of the United States — the greatest instrument of freedom the world has known — preserve the former president’s right to make stunningly ignorant statements about an institution which, after eight years of service as commander-in-chief, he clearly knows nothing about.
The larger question is — will President Obama disavow the statement? Does he believe our military has been racist, sexist, and homophobic? If so, the burden of proof is on him to explain why? If not, why would he tolerate a former Democratic president — and top campaign surrogate — saying it? Veterans across this country would love an answer.