Opinion

Commentary: The high price of 'Don't ask, don't tell'

I won't forget what felt like the undercurrent of the National Tea Party event I attended at Chapin Park in Myrtle Beach.

Beyond the witty signs and the excitement among a crowd of hundreds with a common purpose was the belief that government wastes too much of our money, has too much control over our lives and implements and holds onto dumb policies far too long.

That's why it's curious that not one organizer or participant talked about the need to repeal the military's dumb "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Its repeal would save money, make us safer and rid us of a really dumb policy.

Officials such as Sen. John McCain don't see it quite the same.

"But in all due respect, right now the military is functioning extremely well in very difficult conditions," he told ABC News recently. "We have to have an assessment on recruitment, on retention and all the other aspects of the impact on our military if we change the policy. In my view, and I know that a lot of people don't agree with that, the policy is working and I think it's been working well."

Let's see how well:

According to various sources, including a 2005 Government Accountability Office report, during the first 10 years of the policy, the cost of discharging and replacing gay service members who were kicked out for no other reason than being gay totaled $190.5 million. That number has climbed to more than $360 million.

Roughly 3,000 service members are kicked out of the military every year - even those who have successfully completed training at West Point, even those with "mission critical" skills such as combat engineers, pilots and linguists, the people who help translate intercepted messages from terrorists.

"The military has spent more than $363 million since 1994 to throw out gay men and lesbians whose expertise we desperately need," Jamie Barnett, a retired rear admiral wrote in the Washington Post.

The policy began under a Democratic president as a compromise. It must end under this one, without compromising our basic principle of equality for all, particularly our troops.

How dare we send people - about 65,000 gays and lesbians serve in the military - to sacrifice their lives for us but we don't have the integrity to stand up for them?

The hypocrisy should be enough to have the policy tossed out like yesterday's trash.

But since it's not, maybe talking wasted tax dollars and weakened national security will.

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