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September 24, 2011 8:00 AM Santorum condemns boos; Romney and Perry don’t

By Steve Benen

It was one of the more jarring moments in Thursday night’s debate. Stephen Hill, a U.S. Army soldier serving in Iraq, asked whether he, as a gay American, would be able to continue serving if one of these Republican candidates won. Some in the audience booed, and Rick Santorum slammed the Obama administration for giving gay and lesbian troops “a special privilege,” which would end under a Santorum presidency.

The former senator did not, however, have anything to say during the debate about the ugly audience reaction. Yesterday, in a Fox News interview, Santorum was willing to do the right thing.

“I condemn the people who booed that gay soldier. That soldier is serving our country. I thank him for his service to our country. I’m sure he’s doing an excellent job. I hope he’s safe and I hope he returns safely and does his mission well.

“I have to admit, I seriously did not hear those boos. Had I heard them, I certainly would have commented on them, but, as you know, when you’re in that sort of environment, you’re sort of focused on the question and formulating your answer. I just didn’t hear those couple of boos that were out there, but certainly had I, I would have said, ‘Don’t do that. This man is serving our country and we are to thank him for his service.’”

That’s a perfectly good answer. It may not be entirely truthful — other candidates said they heard the boos — and it doesn’t make up for Santorum’s awful substantive response to the question, but I’m glad he’s at least willing to condemn those booing a serviceman who’s putting his life on the line for the United States. It is, quite literally, the least he should do.

But what about the rest of the Republican field? Yesterday, Jon Huntsman and Gary Johnson, to their credit, also denounced those who booed Hill, albeit a day late. Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, however, refused requests for comment.

I don’t expect much from guys like Romney and Perry, and neither are likely to ever get a Profile in Courage award nomination any time soon, but if leading presidential candidates aren’t willing to stand up for an Army soldier serving honorably in Iraq, who will they stand up for?

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 24, 2011 8:10 AM:

    This is why neither Perry nor Romney is fit to be commander in chief. To them the troops are "human capital."

  • navarro on September 24, 2011 8:13 AM:

    as i recall, it took one video comparing the bush administration to the the 3rd reich submitted to moveon's campaign ad contest by an amateur auteur to lead to their being "discredited." i also seem to recall that it took one doctored and highly edited video to destroy the housing rights organization acorn. so what would it take to actually discredit a republican candidate or audience?

  • c u n d gulag on September 24, 2011 8:14 AM:

    There aren't too many people on this planet that I detest more than Santorum, but I'll give him, Huntsman, and Johnson credit for doing the right thing the next da - even if it would have meant a hell of a lot more that same night.

    I don't understand the silence from Mitt and Rick. I mean, you don't have to be for gay rights to at least support a gay guy or gal who's putting their life on the line. Christ, if Santorum can do it, ANYONE can.

    As for Bachmann, well she's probably got her husband trying to find the guy's unit so he that when his tour ends, he can try to get him to come to his clinic and pray the gay away. The guy was a cutie!

  • DAY on September 24, 2011 8:15 AM:

    I'll draw an analogy to an NFL game a few years back. The quarterback underperformed, left the game, and was roundly booed. In response he raised a middle finger to the crowd. Millions saw the event, live, on their TeeVee.

    Later, he apologized on a cable sports show. An apology seen by. . .?
    Akin to a "correction" buried in the next days edition of the NYT.

    Santorum's "correction" was little more than a finger in the wind, taking the measure of the moment, and adjusting his sails to steer toward the larger (Independent) group of voters, waiting on the shore, to see which vessel safely navigates the GuanoNutz infested waters.

  • Rich on September 24, 2011 8:23 AM:

    It wasn't that long ago that the GOPers and their enablers like the late David Broder, were preoccupied with civility. I guess not so much anymore. OTOH, the idea that santorum of the "man on dog" comments on homosexuality can dredge up some civility, then so can Mittens and Goodhair.

  • Domage on September 24, 2011 8:25 AM:

    if leading presidential candidates arent willing to stand up for an Army soldier serving honorably in Iraq, who will they stand up for?

    The Koch brothers?

  • berttheclock on September 24, 2011 8:31 AM:

    Romney's silence is understandable because he had not had time to check with his staff on wind directions. However, Perry was, at one time, a Captain in the USAF flying troops to Europe and the Middle East. For him to remain silent speaks volumes about his attitude.

    However, considering the typical RepuG debate audience, I'm sure those boos could have been changed to Cheers, had only the question been asked, "Do you believe Gays in the military should face firing squads?

  • j on September 24, 2011 8:32 AM:

    I seem to remember that during the last presidential campaign when the military was scrambling for for people to join, Romney was asked if any of his numerous adult sons would join, his answer was that it was more important for them to help get him elected, has anyone asked whether after the election any of them joined?
    Another question for today - if Romney is elected will they have to build an extension to the White House, I think with children and grandchildren he must have a family gathering of about 40.
    You know how these mormons love to procreate!

  • paul on September 24, 2011 9:27 AM:

    Steve gives way too much credit to the self-reflective good graces of Huntsman, Johnson (who??), Santorum, et al.

    Their "condemnations" came only after a day of blistering attacks from such "centrist" bastions as:

    • The National Review
    • GOProud
    • Christian Post
    • Ari Fleischer

    When did they wake up & decide to "stand up" for an American soldier? Only when their Kochian masters yanked hard enough on their leashes.

  • Chris on September 24, 2011 9:36 AM:

    No, he's not off the hook.
    1) He heard the boos, and he's lying when he says otherwise.
    2) He had to wait over a day for Internet outrage to build up before it occurred to him that oh jeez, maybe I should distance myself, it's making me look bad.
    3) He was the one who gave that "you should get back in the closet" response that the audience wildly cheered for, which frankly was at least as sick as the boos themselves.

  • Texas Aggie on September 24, 2011 9:47 AM:

    who will they stand up for?

    You have to ask? In the case of Goodhair, you never heard of EXXON, Simmons, Bob Perry, BP, Leininger, State Farm, All State, in short, the Fortune 400 and their top executives? Who has he always stood up for? Why should he change now?

  • Califlander on September 24, 2011 10:01 AM:

    Soldiers ain't rich, Steve, and rich folk ain't soldiers.

    Romney and Perry will stand up for the same people they've always stood by.

  • LL on September 24, 2011 10:18 AM:

    who will they stand up for?

    Silly question. We all know that answer to that. Califlander beat me to it, but I'll say it anyway. They'll stand up for their wealthy constituents, and demand more tax-breaks for those constituents. And, really, those are the ONLY people Perry and Romney will stand up for. I think they've proven that repeatedly.

    I give Perry a little credit for giving support to children of undocumented immigrants, in their quest for advanced education. But I don't want him anywhere near the White House. He's as much an amoral, corporate toady as any professional republican. He supported college kids solely for electoral reasons, not out of the goodness of his heart.

    Neither one of these men has any business in the White House..but then, neither did Shrub.

  • Unstable Isotope on September 24, 2011 10:43 AM:

    Exactly, Chris about the audience cheering Santorum's answer that DADT should be brought back (and that soldiers should be celibate?) Apologists have tried to dismiss the boos as only a few people but none of the candidates said anything during the debate. Apologizing the next day is weak since they had already heard the condemnations.

  • Tramey on September 24, 2011 10:47 AM:

    A small point in the big picture, but I might give a little credence to Santorum's assertion that he didn't hear the boo's. The brain can only process so much stuff at any one time. If his brain was truly focused on the question and how to answer, it might not have had enough bandwidth leftover to process extraneous sounds... Watch the video with the "gorilla" walking through a group of people tossing around a basketball if you want empirical evidence of that. Most people given an assignment to carefully count how many tosses were thrown versus how many were bounced do not notice the "gorilla" walk through.

  • JT on September 24, 2011 10:50 AM:

    Agree with the Chris's comment above. But I will add: why aren't the media commenting on the idiocy of his response. Not the immorality of it - that's evident - but the sheer stupidity. We had a rule that says a) you mustn't tell people you are gay. b) if you are determined to be gay you will be tossed out of the army, with a less-than-honorable discharge. Straight soldiers face no such restriction. According to Santorum, that is a situation where all soldiers have equal rights. *Removing that rule* so that neither gays nor straights are thus gagged, and neither straights nor gays get thrown out for their orientation, counts as "special rights for gays".

    How can you react to that in any way except "What???? Are we also to conclude that Jim Crow represented a state of equal rights for all, and removing Jim Crow laws so that everyone could use the same water fountains, etc. was giving "special rights to blacks"?

  • David VH on September 24, 2011 11:03 AM:

    It's not about differing ideas anymore it's about survival in a country were there's a powerful and growing mainstream group of people who actually want to see someone like me dead. That if I were in a dark alley with some of the cowardly bullies from the audience of this last Republican debate, I'd probably be attacked. National presidential candidates are too afraid to speak up for me and other gay Americans who die for this country, pay taxes, and run companies (some multi-national). Between the silence and the naked hate, what the fuck kind of dangerous place is this becoming?

  • ezra on September 24, 2011 11:24 AM:

    @Tramey, on Santorum's brain: "it might not have had enough bandwidth leftover"

    In his case, we're talking a 1200 baud modem.

  • JW on September 24, 2011 12:53 PM:

    "It may not be entirely truthful.."?

    Sheeit.

    Of course he heard the audience. He was fairly beaming. It was only a few days ago he was publicly fulminating against Google. It was his moment, and he grabbed it.

    There's a piece of famous film footage of a klan loudmouth haranguing a rally (circa 1950's). Odds are you've seen it, as it has popped up in numerous documentaries over the years. In it, he condemns "miscegenation' as abhorrent, and cranks out the phrase, "a race of mongrels" with particular emphasis. The film essentially immortalized his racism, as much as film later immortalized Bull Connor the day he unloosed his attack dogs.

    That moment in this week's debate likewise immortalized Santorum and the republican party. Perhaps Santorum even realizes it. Be that as it may, his political lizard brain certainly understands how stupidly vicious it made them all look. He only resents that perception, and not the bigotry that prompted it. His "apology" was simply a pathetic attempt to dodge the exposure of a twisted ugliness.

  • John in TX on September 24, 2011 4:51 PM:

    The only reason Little Ricky squeaked out a statement "condemning" the lizard brained barbarians who booed that soldier was because he feared that Dan Savage would start some new hilarious campaign against him. By appearing to "say something" (even if every word of it was a lie) he could deflect that. It does not make him a better person nor differentiate him in any way from the rest of that amoral pack of knuckledragging neanderthals on that stage. Considering the right wing's constant hollering about "supporting the troops," it's telling that not one of those candidates spoke up when the booing started (and I've been on a stage setup like that - trust me, they all heard it) to condemn it on the spot. For the Right, apparently it's perfectly fine for Stephen Hill to kill a man, but just awful for him to love one. Even McCain, of all people, had the decency to counter that nasty harridan crowing about Obama being a Muslim on their campaign trail. After the seedy Cheney administration, I didn't think it would be possible to disgrace the office of the Presidency any further, but any one of these GOP clowns would do it easily.

    And David VH: For those who aren't white, wealthy, male, married, heterosexual monogamous middle-aged Christians, America has always been a dangerous place. We're just the latest politically opportune targets.

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