Last Thursday saw GOP presidential hopefuls attend a Google/Fox televised debate, but the main talking point after that wasn’t the performance of the candidates but that currently serving gay soldier Stephen Hill was booed by members of the crowd after he asked the candidates whether they would overturn the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Today we look at the fallout.
First, the moment in question:
A few jeers from a crowd of thousands but enough to provoke some serious political discussion.
Now, Rick Santorum has been widely criticized for not speaking out about the booing given that the question went to him.
Despite seeming to acknowledge the boos in the crowd Santorum, in an interview with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, said: “I condemn the people who booed that gay soldier. I have to admit I seriously did not hear those boos. … But certainly had I, I would’ve said, ‘Don’t do that. This man is serving our country and we are to thank him for his service.’”
You may also remember the crowd cheered when Santorum called the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” a “tragic social experiment” and vowed he would reinstate the policy because he said that the repeal introduced a sexual element into the military that wasn’t there before.
Other candidates have also now spoken out.
Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico and a known supporter of gay rights, said in an interview on MSNBC that he could hear the booing, that he had to resist the urge to “pound” his fist in anger when the crowd booed Stephen Hill, and that “If I have one regret from last evening, it’s that I didn’t stand up and say, you know, you’re booing a U.S. serviceman who is denied being able to express his sexual preference. There’s something very wrong with that.” He then said that the booing was not “the Republican Party that I belong to.” See the video here.
In comments to TalkingPointsMemo.com, John Huntsman, the former governor of Utah, has also said he thought the booing was “unfortunate,” adding: ”You know, we’re all Americans and the fact that he is an American who put on the uniform says something good about him. In my opinion, when you have booing this is not indicative of Republicans. This is not the Republican Party that I belong to.”
Indeed, President Obama has even commented on the booing of Stephen Hill.
At a fundraiser in San Jose, California on Sunday, Obama criticized the audience’s booing.
“Some of you here may be folks who actually used to be Republicans but are puzzled by what’s happened to that party, are puzzled by what’s happening to that party. I mean, has anybody been watching the debates lately? You’ve got a governor whose state is on fire denying climate change. It’s true. You’ve got audiences cheering at the prospect of somebody dying because they don’t have health care and booing a service member in Iraq because they’re gay.”
“That’s not reflective of who we are,” Obama said. “This is a choice about the fundamental direction of our country. 2008 was an important direction. 2012 is a more important election.”
What’s interesting on this is that several commentators from the blogging world and the mainstream media have said this kind of act is becoming typical of GOP debates, with Sally Quin writing for the Washington Post saying:
Three Republican debates have produced three occasions of extraordinary moral callousness. We are witnessing a kind of theatre of cruelty, where policies that kill and/or demean certain people are celebrated in a widely-televised national forum.
In the GOP tea party debate, the audience cheered when a question was asked whether society should just let an uninsured man in a coma die. “Yeah!” several members of the crowd yelled out. In another GOP debate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry was asked about having authorized 234 executions, more than any other governor in modern U.S. history. The crowd cheered this accomplishment of death and Perry said, “I’ve never struggled with that at all,” referring to execution as “the ultimate justice.“
And in the most recent GOP debate, one question, posted to YouTube, came from a U.S. Army soldier serving in Iraq.
However others have hit back.
Bret Baier, the host of Fox News Channel’s “Special Report” has said that condemning the entire party based on the actions of a few in the crowd is unfair.
“First of all, the audience was, I think, 5,500 maybe — [a] huge, huge audience,” Baier said. “And the boos on that gay soldier may have been two people, maybe three out of 5,500. Now, it was loud. It was audible. It was a cavernous facility, the Orange County Convention Center.”
“It would be painting with a broad brush to say, ‘Hey, this crowd booed a gay soldier,’” he continued. “And I think the same is true for the clapping of seeing the person die in Wolf Blitzer’s debate.”
A reasonable statement.
However, the more worrying thing for me is that none of the presidential candidates at the debate had the courage to speak up at the actual event — instead of after the fact — and condemn those few who showed an immense disrespect toward Stephen Hill.
That to me is more of an issue than the actions of an isolated few within the crowd because it says those candidates lack integrity and conviction.
Image taken from the YouTube video under Fair Use terms, no infringement intended.