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September 23, 2011 8:35 AM Republican debate audience boos U.S. soldier

By Steve Benen

Last night was the third Republican debate in just the last 15 days, and one could only guess how the audience would embarrass the party this time.

Two weeks ago, debate attendees cheered executions. Last week, some in the audience backed letting uninsured Americans die. And last night, the audience booed a U.S. Army soldier fighting in Iraq.

For those who can’t watch clips online, the question came via video from Stephen Hill, who said, “In 2010, when I was deployed to Iraq, I had to lie about who I was, because I’m a gay soldier, and I didn’t want to lose my job. My question is, under one of your presidencies, do you intend to circumvent the progress that’s been made for gay and lesbian soldiers in the military?”

This led to immediate derision from the audience — because nothing says “support the troops” like booing a U.S. Army serviceman currently in Iraq.

For his part, Santorum responded, “I would say, any type of sexual activity has absolutely no place in the military.” He added that the administration has given gay and lesbian troops “a special privilege,” which would end under a Santorum presidency. The audience cheered enthusiastically.

Just to clarify, Rick Santorum, a presidential candidate and former two-term U.S. senator, believes the troops should steer clear of “any type of sexual activities.” In other words, Santorum apparently envisions celibacy for all active U.S. military personnel.

I wonder how that would affect recruitment rates?

All joking aside, these debate audiences are quickly becoming a story unto themselves. Generally, debates matter insofar as we learn something about the candidates. And to be sure, the realization that one of these nine Republicans stands a reasonably good chance of becoming the leader of the free world in about 17 months is more than a little frightening.

But this month, what we’re learning about the audiences seems nearly as important, and every bit as disconcerting. There’s just an element of callousness — of ugliness — to Republican politics in 2011. When deaths are applauded and troops are booed, it’s hard to escape the fact that the party appears to have gone badly off the rails.

Paul Begala added, “As happened in previous debates, the audience in the Fox News/Google debate stole the show — and shocked the conscience. When a gay soldier asked a question, the audience booed. They booed a man who is risking his life for their freedom. Rarely have I seen a more unpatriotic public display…. I may start a betting pool on what the Republicans will boo in the next debate: puppies? Ronald Reagan? Ronald Reagan’s puppies?”

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • hells littlest angel on September 23, 2011 8:42 AM:

    The booing is atrocious enough, and, at this point, to be expected. What is really an outrage is that not a single one of the candidates on the stage said one word of rebuke. Afterwards, some rather tepid criticism was made -- Huntsman described the booing as "unfortunate" -- but no dared call out the hatefulness of their base.

    Not one of those nine candidates showed they were fit to be commander in chief.

  • intenet tough guys on September 23, 2011 8:43 AM:

    Real men would execute Ronald Reagan's puppies while they were serving in Iraq.

  • c u n d gulag on September 23, 2011 8:45 AM:

    The gay soldier should have known better, and followed the Republican DADGB policy when asking candidates questions.

    DADGB = Don't Ask, Don't Get Boo'd.

  • j on September 23, 2011 8:45 AM:

    To me, there has never been any doubt that most republicans are cruel, mean spirited and bigoted, not to mention greedy, and of course intent on driving the US back to the 1950's.Apparently after the debate, when asked, Huntsman said it was 'unfortunate' - NO, it was unfortunate that nobody when onstage had the courage to stand up and say a word.

  • walt on September 23, 2011 8:49 AM:

    The GOP base is America's id. It's racist, bigoted, mean, greedy and sociopathic.

    We're not supposed to say this out loud because it might hurt their feelings.

  • drkrick on September 23, 2011 8:55 AM:

    They would certainly boo the real, tax-raising Reagan in a heartbeat. Their imaginary Reagan? Probably not, but I wouldn't bet on it.

  • stormskies on September 23, 2011 8:56 AM:

    This types of humans in that and the other debate audiences are no different than that guy just put to death in Texas who chained a black man behind his truck and drug him until all his body part flew off. No difference at all. And this is what has become of once proud and principled Republican party. It's no longer an actual political party in the way we all once understood this term. It is now nothing more than a sick perverted cult of sadistic pigs defined by personal greed who have no capacity to look at themselves, or to accept the responsibility in their own actions. The NEED scapegoats in order to project their inner evilness upon in order to avoid looking in their own personal mirrors. This is what the Repiglican CULT is now.

  • ckelly on September 23, 2011 9:06 AM:

    How long before some "enterprising" rightwinger speculates that some liberals have infiltrated the GOP debate audiences to make them look bad?

  • T2 on September 23, 2011 9:07 AM:

    the audience in these "debates" has illustrated plainly why the TeaParty exists and who they are.....and why they vote for the morons in the House of Reps. We have seen the enemy, and it's our neighbors.

  • DAY on September 23, 2011 9:09 AM:

    "Santorum apparently envisions celibacy for all active U.S. military personnel."

    Well, that's been practiced by another army- the "Army of God", for some time now.
    -come to think of it, they've been having a recruitment problem, lately. . .

  • philonius on September 23, 2011 9:13 AM:

    Hopefully your headline gets picked up as conventional wisdom. Maybe you can just shorten it to "Republicans boo U.S. soldier"

  • N.Wells on September 23, 2011 9:16 AM:

    But let Obama give his wife a fist-bump, or fail to wear a flag pin, or say merely that he supports American exceptionalism without going an extra mile on the topic, or if his dog should decide to pee while someone is playing the national anthem, or let him or his wife come out in support of children eating vegetables or studying hard, or have someone else from Chicago demonstrate that they are left of liberal, or even if some Democratic political candidate should have earned a military medal somewhere, and all those republicans will be front and center with a hissy-fit of poutrage. OK, I confess, the example of the dog is an unproven hypothetical.

  • lou on September 23, 2011 9:19 AM:

    The flag wavers wish to take away rights -- "special privileges" to them. They got a funny way of laying sole claim to Americanism.

  • c u n d gulag on September 23, 2011 9:20 AM:

    Well, if anyone should know the military, it's that long-time combat veteran Rick Santorum.

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't Perry the ONLY ONE who even served in any capacity?

  • Yellow Dog on September 23, 2011 9:22 AM:

    Inauguration day 2013 is less than 16 months away, not 17.

    Election Day 2012 is barely 13 and a half months away.

    Let's stay on target.

  • Grumpy on September 23, 2011 9:23 AM:

    Not that members of the military -- forward-deployed or retired veterans -- are automatically immune to criticism. The point of this episode is that Republicans can override their instinctive jingoism when it conflicts with something else they hate. Like how they love the working man unless he's in a union.

  • Bo on September 23, 2011 9:26 AM:

    You have to understand . . . the teabaggers don't really buy the "he's fighting in Iraq for our freedom" BS. The unspoken truth for them (and this is the only thing they ever got right) is that Iraq is a failed conquest for oil, revenge and payoff vehicle for military contractors.

    So, what the teabaggers are really saying when they boo a gay soldier is "we only want hetersexual dupes fighting in our military". It's as simple as that.

  • stormskies on September 23, 2011 9:27 AM:

    from Raw Story

    Fox News allows hate group to participate in GOP debate

    Almost 20,000 questions were submitted for Thursday night’s Republican presidential debate, but Fox News picked the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a designated hate group, to ask the first question on immigration.

    “Struggling U.S. workers continue to compete with millions of illegal aliens,” FAIR’s Kristen Williamson claimed in her video question. “Do you support legislation to require all employers to use e-verify in order to ensure that the people that they hire are actually legally authorized to work in the U.S.?”

    Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich replied by saying that the country would be better off if the e-verify program was outsourced to private credit card companies.

    Although FAIR has testified to Congress more than 30 times, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) considers them to be a hate group.

    “The identification of FAIR as a bona fide hate group is important,” SPLC’s Mark Potok wrote in 2007. “FAIR is the hub of the American nativist movement, the group that more than any other has contributed to the rancid turn the national immigration discussion has taken. With FAIR fanning the flames of xenophobic intolerance, hate groups, hate crimes and hate speech directed at foreigners and Latinos continue to rise in America.”

    Watch this video from Fox News, broadcast Sept. 22, 2011.

  • Rob on September 23, 2011 9:30 AM:

    I'd love to see those armchair generals tell that guy TO HIS FACE he's not fit to serve because he's gay. They'd get one look at the guns he's rocking and piss all over themselves.

  • g on September 23, 2011 9:40 AM:

    How long before some "enterprising" rightwinger speculates that some liberals have infiltrated the GOP debate audiences to make them look bad?

    I'm sure Michelle Malkin or Andrew Breitbart are going to get right on that.

  • Califlander on September 23, 2011 9:41 AM:

    There's just an element of callousness -- of ugliness -- to Republican politics in 2011.

    Perhaps you missed all the prior years?

    Really, spitting on soldiers is nothing new for the self-satisfied harpies of the GOP. Remember in 2004 when they wore Purple Heart band-aids at their national convention -- even while soldiers were earning the real thing in the meatgrinder that a Republican president kept shoving them into?

  • ET on September 23, 2011 9:53 AM:

    Goes to show you that for many Republicans being gay is more important than being a soldier. For them being gay trumps/nullifies anything good/honorable that anyone may have done.

  • Objective Dem on September 23, 2011 10:03 AM:

    Could you imagine the reaction if a question from a soldier was booed during a Democratic Presidential debate? It would be front page for a week.

  • rrk1 on September 23, 2011 10:26 AM:

    The neo-barbarians that have conquered the GOP, and who obviously dominate the audiences at these so-called 'debates', don't realize how embarrassing they are since their world is so very small. The rest of the world sits back howling in laughter or is dumb-struck as this clown circus really gets going. Of course, the neo-barbarians have no idea there is a world outside their blinkered view, nor would they care if they knew the world didn't end at our borders.

    While these frightening outbursts are certainly music to the ears of the choir, I find it hard to believe that average, decent, compassionate, empathetic Americans of all stripes agree with any of it. The Rethugs are defining themselves as something extremely un-American for most of us, although a streak of the ugly, sadistic, cruel, bigoted, racist hatred they represent has always been with us. It exists everywhere, but only in 21st century America does it feel free and confident enough to wear such monumental ignorance and stupidity on its sleeve, and proclaim it loud and clear as a manifesto.

    I admire the soldier for bringing up his sexual identity, which unfortunately subjected him to the moronic abuse he got. However, I take issue with the idea that he's fighting for 'our' freedom, and I hope he doesn't think he is. On the other hand,if he really knew what he was fighting for he probably won't want to be in the military.

    Sanctimonius Santorum is true to type, and should become Pope, or at least take a celibacy oath. No sex in the military, and only sex he sanctions for everyone else. Ah, a true conservative indeed. Why does the media continue to give these idiots an unchallenged platform.

  • A Nostrum on September 23, 2011 10:34 AM:

    For his part, Santorum responded, "I would say, any type of sexual activity has absolutely no place in the military." He added that "the administration has given gay and lesbian troops a special privilege," which would end under a Santorum presidency. The audience cheered enthusiastically.

    What special privileg is he talking about? Having sex with each other in front of their unit? Having sex with a person of the same gender? Havin sex at all?

    To cite another Rick (the Maverick from Arizona):

    "For pure, blind stupidity, nobody beats Santorum. In my 20 years working in the Senate, I never met a dumber member, which he reminded me of today."

  • liam foote on September 23, 2011 10:44 AM:

    The ugliness began with right wing cable and talk shows as soon as Mr. Obama was nominated, as evidence by shouts of "Treason!" and "Kill him!" in response to rhetoric by Ms. Palin, et al. Then the Rove-Koch machine funded internet sites to advise angry white folks where and how to disrupt public discussion, perhaps the most memorable such event being a town hall where TP'ers shouted down a paraplegic.

    This same slime machine, enabled by Citizens United, was able to fund tens of millions of dollars in attack ads prior to the 20120 mid-terms, resulting in the current dysfunctional GOP-led House and the lowest rating ever for a Congress, where GOP members are guided by Luntz talking points and Norquist pledges.

    The ugliness will continue so long as Mr. Obama and his family are residents of the White House.

  • maverratick on September 23, 2011 10:47 AM:

    I loved the pans across these audiences. White faces as far as the eye can see.

  • biggerbox on September 23, 2011 10:54 AM:

    Santorum is right. No sex for soldiers. Who do they think they are, priests?

  • jjm on September 23, 2011 11:00 AM:

    Except for the mainstream media claiming Obama is toast, I cannot wrap my mind around any one f these people winning, around a country that would re-elect a GOP that not only consists of these horrible people but which has proved itself as a massive failure at governing.

    If they win, it will be because of Citizens United, electoral trickery and fraud.

    I cannot afford to think otherwise, lest I realize that I would then live in total fear of 'my fellow Americans'...

  • golack on September 23, 2011 11:10 AM:

    abstinence, not celibacy

  • Steve Paradis on September 23, 2011 11:21 AM:

    To be fair--which God knows, THEY haven't been--I haven't seen a demo of the people given tickets for these audiences. Is it all Tea party types? Party stalwarts? College Republicans?
    I'm sure it's a hot ticket on the right, but WHICH right is filling those seats?

    (I'm asking in honor of my thesis adviser, a great guy who once was a GOP county chairman, and who would have walked out of a venue with yahoos like this.)

  • flubber on September 23, 2011 1:33 PM:

    "They booed a man [the gay soldier] who is risking his life for their freedom. Rarely have I seen a more unpatriotic public display….

    Fighting for which freedoms?.... Lefties are more than happy to reinforce conservative/Republican narratives if it allows them to make a stupid cheap point. Priority #1 is to chip away at the opposition, telling the truth is far down the list.

    By reinforcing these manipulative narratives you can win a battle but lose the war. (Of course, in this case, "losing the war" just means more dead foreigners at the hands of the US military, and our "liberal" elites have proven they don't give a shit).

  • Roger Ailes on September 23, 2011 2:03 PM:

    In other words, Santorum apparently envisions celibacy for all active U.S. military personnel.

    I wonder how that would affect recruitment rates?

    But it worked out so well in the Catholic Church.

  • Zak44 on September 23, 2011 2:10 PM:

    What is it about gay sex that people like Santorum can't stop thinking about it? They're more obsessed with it than actual gay people are.

    I also noticed that Ricky worked himself into a lather spewing that the military is no place for "social engineering."

    Tell it to Harry Truman, who desegregated the armed forces by executive order back in 1948.

  • Les Ismore on September 23, 2011 3:21 PM:

    And as Andrew Sullivan pointed out, not a single candidate thanked him for his service. Something they are normally literally falling all over themselves to do.

  • chris on September 23, 2011 5:55 PM:

    I thought about the crowd being infiltrated today too, not by the dems but by the gop to influence the crowd toward a particular response.

  • Doug on September 23, 2011 10:52 PM:

    Can any of those videos be used in political ads, or does Fox have a copyright that would prevent that?

  • HMDK on September 26, 2011 7:57 AM:


    I'm with all of you on how reprehensible this is.
    Because it is obvious.
    This statement, however, is reprehensible in its own way:
    "They booed a man who is risking his life for their freedom." How, exactly, is this war about american freedom.
    What? Iraq would have invaded and seized the U.S.?
    What the hell?

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