A few weeks back, gays in the military was the big topic in the presidential campaign. Unless you live in Iowa and New Hampshire, the topic probably seemed to fade away. But "Not so fast," said the Republicans when the subject fell from the headlines. And now, a gay and lesbian advocacy group is releasing an ad reminding voters that there's a real issue at stake.
You'll recall the issue of gays in the military came up at a Democratic debate where Vice President Gore landed himself in hot water. The problem wasn't so much that he wanted gays to be able openly to serve in the military, but rather that he said he considered agreement with that policy a "litmus test" for his Joint Chiefs of Staff.
So fierce was the criticism of Gore that he backed off -- not from the concept, but from the litmus test. Meanwhile, the Republican candidates either supported the "don't ask, don't tell" policy which is in place now, or they breathed fire and brimstone against the idea of gays serving in the military at all.
Last week, the Republican National Committee started running an ad in Iowa and New Hampshire attacking Gore's stance on gays in the military. If you applied his "litmus test," the ad said, you wouldn't have commanders like Colin Powell or Norman Schwarzkopf. "Call Al Gore," the $10,000 ad campaign urged, "Tell him the only litmus test ought to be for patriotism."
The ad didn't run widely, but it kept alive an issue that distracted Gore for several days. And who's to say it won't enjoy a fresh life in the fall, if the vice president wins the Democratic nomination?
That's why the Human Rights Campaign is acting now. It's dropping $30,000 to run its counter ad, again in Iowa and New Hampshire. The new ad says Republicans are "so busy fighting about who can and cannot serve in the military, they may have forgotten the values we actually fight for: equality, fairness, freedom, justice for all Americans, including gay Americans."
The ad isn't simply intended to help Gore. "Don't ask, don't tell" is considered a failure by gay advocacy groups, and acceptance of gays in the military is not a foregone conclusion. As the largest group working for gay and lesbian rights, the Human Rights Campaign wants to keep its agenda up front.