(Editor's note: Alexander Nicholson of Servicemembers United write this commentary for CNN. It is being republished on SDGLN with his permission. Nicholson, who was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army because of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, is the founder and executive director of Servicemembers United, a national organization of gay and lesbian troops and veterans and their allies families.)
Every election cycle we see politicians going out of their way to pander to the American electorate's various fringe elements. This is one of the unfortunate consequences of a primary-based, two-party election system, and both sides of the political spectrum are guilty. But this doesn't make it right, and political candidates often later find themselves in hot water when the general electorate remembers this primary pandering.
We're watching this phenomenon play out right now with the campaign of Texas Gov. Rick Perry and its release of a new TV ad in Iowa this week. After several poor debate performances and a significant drop in the polls, Gov. Perry has turned his aim away from his fellow primary candidates and toward President Obama, taking a shot at, among other things, the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
This strategy will backfire. Perry's research on where the majority of his fellow party members are on the issues he is highlighting are significantly outdated. The result: He is shooting himself and his campaign in the foot, and he likely doesn't even realize it.
The ad begins: "I'm not ashamed to admit I'm a Christian. But you don't need to be in the pews every Sunday to know that there's something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military, but our kids can't openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school." What's really wrong with that statement is that solid majorities of his fellow Republicans, self-described conservatives, and even weekly church-goers disagree with him on open gays and lesbians serving in the military.
Among these demographics, independent polling more than two years ago demonstrated surprising levels of support for repealing that archaic law, including 58% of Republicans, 58% of conservatives, and 60% of those who attend church weekly. Those numbers are likely significantly higher now that the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" has come and gone without the U.S. military falling apart at the seams as predicted. Indeed, even the commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James Amos, who predicted disaster if the law were repealed, has come around, recently admitting that the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" has been smooth sailing for the Marine Corps, as it has for the other branches of the armed forces.
So not only does Gov. Perry now find himself at odds with the majority of the American people and even his own conservative base on the righteousness of us being finished with "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," but he is also at odds with the senior defense leadership. It was, after all, a Republican-appointed secretary of defense -- Bob Gates -- and a Republican-appointed Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- Adm. Mike Mullen -- who called for an end to the ban on known gay men and women serving in the military.
And after seeing the Comprehensive Review Working Group on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" thoroughly study the issue and come up with a comprehensive plan for implementing a repeal of the ban, even all of the service chiefs agreed that they could ultimately make repeal work when ordered to do so. And make it work they have.
The U.S. military has been officially gay-ban-free for nearly three months, and unofficially for more than a year. We're still the best and most capable fighting force on the planet, and now gay and lesbian service members can serve without fear, distractions, or threats of blackmail hanging over their heads.
Gov. Rick Perry should heed one of our old Southern expressions if he intends to ever again be a viable candidate for the Republican primary, much less the general election: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. And if he wants to use his campaign cash to bash patriotic and hard-working American servicemembers and veterans who happen to be gay or lesbian, he should at least have the intestinal fortitude to meet with us in person and do it to our faces.
Gov. Perry, the offer is on the table.