- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 13, 2000

It was all just a misunderstanding, Vice President Al Gore now wants everyone to know. Backtracking from remarks in which he endorsed a litmus test that would require prospective members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to welcome homosexuals into the military, Mr. Gore insisted that he had been misheard. "I did not mean to imply that there should ever be any kind of inquiry into the personal political opinion of the officers in the U.S. military," Mr. Gore said two days later after his initial comments set off a firestorm of adverse reaction from current and retired military officers. "That's not what I meant to convey," Mr. Gore told reporters. "That's what you heard."

In fact, Mr. Gore did not "imply" anything in his initial comments during a presidential debate with former Sen. Bill Bradley. Indeed, there was no room for any misinterpretation. And there were no inferences to be drawn. Mr. Gore clearly stated the policy he intended to implement, and he stated it not once but twice.

Moreover, by all indications, it was a calculated move. In a desperate attempt to leapfrog Mr. Bradley, who announced he would open the military to homosexuals, the vice president left no doubt about where he stood on the issue of a "litmus test," which Mr. Bradley did not endorse.

The question from debate moderator Peter Jennings of ABC News was very specific. "If you become president, will you nominate members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who only support your gay policy? In other words, will it be a litmus test?" Now, after years in which pro-life and pro-choice forces have favored an abortion litmus test for Supreme Court appointments, everyone knows what "litmus test" means in this context, including Mr. Gore, who began his reply by noting that he has "rejected the notion of litmus tests on the Supreme Court." However, "[I]t's a little different where the Joints Chiefs of Staff are concerned because you're not interfering with an independent judicial decision." Saying he was determined to abolish the current "don't ask, don't tell" policy, Mr. Gore declared, "I think that would require those who wanted to serve … on the Joint Chiefs to be in agreement with that policy" on gays openly serving. "So, yes," Mr. Gore specifically replied to Mr. Jennings' question about a litmus test.

"So, if I understand you correctly," Mr. Jennings followed up, seeking to confirm what he had just heard, "you would only nominate members of the Joint Chiefs if they supported your gay support." Leaving no doubt about his litmus-test intentions, Mr. Gore replied, "I would insist, before appointing anybody to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that that individual support my policy. And, yes, I would make that a requirement."

Mr. Gore could not have been more clear about his intentions. In fact, before the firestorm erupted within the military, his aides were bragging that Mr. Gore had scored a political coup in the debate with Mr. Bradley. The litmus-test gambit would go over well with the liberals, particularly gays, who vote in Democratic primaries, especially in New York and California, they reasoned. Indeed, Richard Socarides, who previously was the point man in the White House for gay and lesbian issues, told the New York Times that Mr. Bradley was "incredibly naive" not to demand future commanders submit to Mr. Gore's litmus test before being promoted.

Mr. Gore and his aides, particularly the abrasive Bob Shrum who was dispatched to dissemble on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday, now say there never was a litmus test involving gays. The only litmus test he had in mind, we are told, was to nominate officers as members of the Joint Chiefs who would follow orders from their commander in chief. "I would insist on having members of the Joint Chiefs who would implement that policy," Mr. Gore subsequently declared. "There's no flip-flop, and it's the same statement," Mr. Shrum insisted. "The only litmus test is the constitutional test civilian control of the military," Mr. Shrum said twice, as if telling the same lie more than once somehow made it true, or even believable.

Clearly, Mr. Gore's own words demonstrate beyond any doubt that he intended to apply the gay litmus test to military officers before promoting them. Thus, there appears to be no institution in America Mr. Gore will not seek to politicize.

Mr. Gore's determination to force the military to accept its unwanted role in a massive social-engineering experiment also illustrates the differences in defense priorities between Democratic and Republican presidential candidates. Republican Sen. John McCain rightly called Mr. Gore's litmus test "a total destruction of the entire concept of the military." Gary Bauer, another GOP presidential candidate, poignantly observed, "We don't have a missile-defense system, we're cutting veterans' benefits, and what [are] Clinton and Gore worried about? Making sure the gay-rights movement is satisfied with who the Joint Chiefs of Staff are."

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