The Politics of Dancing: “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and the Role of Moral Claims


The Politics of Dancing: “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and the Role of Moral Claims



Journal of Policy History

publication year



Battles over Don’t Ask Don't Tell we're one way that social conservatives aligned themselves with other types of conservatives and consolidated the New Right. Social Conservatives approached the issue of gays in the military with political sophistication that demonstrated awareness of the role of moral claims in public discourse. In response to social liberals who argued that the issue of gays in the military was analogous to civil rights struggles that fought against discrimination, social Conservatives reframed the debate in terms of “unit cohesion.” They relied on arguments that declared that the majority of service members in the military were opposed to homosexuality and would therefore resign or be unable to perform with gay and lesbian service members. These arguments ultimately fell apart but only after gays and lesbians came out by the thousands and launched public awareness campaigns to demonstrate their military capabilities. As Beth Bailey writes “By shifting the argument against gays in the military from moral claims to the importance of unit cohesion, social Conservatives were able to deflect charges of bigotry and prejudice, claim common ground with neoconservative Americans who are concerned about national security and military strength and find support in the court established principles of military exceptionalism. While this tactic carried the seeds of its own destruction, it gave social Conservatives 17 years of a policy that could never have won such popular and legislative support on purely moral grounds.”

education level





Leo Valdes

was created by

Bailey, Beth L.

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