TWIDDLING your thumbs is not an option for a President of the United States but what can President Obama do over the next few weeks? How can he use his time well? The mid-term election results are mostly in, but the new Congress -- in which the Republicans will control the House of Representatives -- does not begin functioning until early January. Until then we have what is known as the lame duck session -- the old legislature is still in place, with a pile of unfinished business. There's still a Democratic majority in both houses. Any chance of anything useful before the end of the year? The answer seems to depend on the vanity and obstinacy of various strategically placed individuals. For instance, this could be the moment to repeal the military policy of Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT), a Clinton-era compromise that was supposed to allow homosexual men and women to serve in the military as long as they didn't do anything to frighten the horses -- a kind of benevolent hypocrisy. Instead of that, it has caused the discharging of more than 13,000 troops since 1994.
Oddly enough, if you are a Reservist or in the National Guard, it's OK to say that you are gay. This is because, if it wasn't OK, Reservists might start pretending to be gay in order to avoid active duty in the various theatres of war. National security would thereby suffer. So there's one law for people pretending to be gay, and another for people pretending not to be gay.
Nobody but secretly gay Southern Baptists believes any of this nonsense any more. The military is ready for a change. A federal judge has declared the policy to be unconstitutional. But Senator John McCain, the famous Vietnam veteran and presidential candidate, the man who gave us Sarah Palin, has promised to filibuster. Nonetheless, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, has been assuring activists that the attempt will be made now to end DADT.
Then there is immigration, specifically the difficult attempt to regularise the situations of illegal immigrants. No one is expecting that a general reform of immigration law is possible before the end of the year, but there is a limited measure known as DREAM which looks at one part of the problem -- the status of children of illegal immigrants, brought here as minors. They currently have no way of becoming US citizens, except through their parents, or by going back to their country of origin.
The DREAM act, which has been knocking around for a decade, would provide a way forward for this group.
If they joined the military for two years, or spent two years at an institution of higher education, they would become eligible for a six-year period of temporary residency. Over an eightyear period they could eventually acquire legitimacy.
Once again, Senator McCain is not in favour. This kind of legislation, highly restricted and conditional though it is, can easily be represented as plain softness on illegal aliens, and Senator McCain has taken great care not to lay himself open, in his home territory of Arizona, to criticism of that kind. …