Political Animal


October 03, 2011 8:35 AM GOP candidates can still stand up for Stephen Hill

By Steve Benen

President Obama was well received Saturday night at an event hosted by the Human Rights Campaign, where he and the audience celebrated the LGBT community’s advances in recent years. But there was one line in particular that stood out for me.

In a sharp jab at the Republican presidential field, Mr. Obama noted that none of the candidates protested when members of the audience at a recent debate booed a gay soldier who had served in Iraq.

“You want to be commander in chief,” the president said, drawing cheers, “you can start by standing up for the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States, even when it’s not politically convenient.”

This is, of course, in reference to Army soldier Stephen Hill, who’s serving in Iraq, and who was booed by some audience members in the last Republican debate, for identifying himself as a gay soldier and asking about DADT. White House officials, among other Democrats, have been eager to use the incident as evidence of GOP extremism and suspect values.

On CBS’s “Face the Nation” yesterday, host Bob Schieffer asked Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the leading opponent of DADT repeal last year, about Republicans booing an American soldier serving in Iraq. McCain said we should “honor every man and woman who is serving in the military.” Asked if he believes the GOP presidential candidates should have spoken up during the debate, McCain added, “Yeah. I do. But a lot of times, you know, when you’re in a debate you’re thinking about what you’re going to say and what the question is going to be. It’s hard to react sometimes…. I would bet that every Republican on that stage did not agree with that kind of behavior.”

I’d like to believe that, but at this point, McCain’s assurances are dubious. It’s been 10 days since the debate, and the GOP candidates have had ample opportunity to express their support for Stephen Hill and denounce those who booed him. To his credit, even Rick Santorum, who’s virulently anti-gay, had the good sense to say, “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.”

But of the major candidates, he’s the only one. If “every” presidential hopeful on that stage disagreed with the booing, they’ve been given many chances to say so. Reporters have, after all, asked the leading candidates about this, and nearly all have said nothing.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox once said, “To sit in silence when we should protest makes cowards out of men.”

When it comes to GOP activists booing an American who’s putting his on the line while serving his country, candidates like Mitt Romney and Rick Perry are proving Ella Wheeler Wilcox right.

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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  • c u n d gulag on October 03, 2011 8:53 AM:

    They all know that if they showed open support for the gay soldier, that it would be the beginning of the end for their campaign.

    They love the military.
    It's the individual soldiers, and their cares and needs, that they don't give a rat's ass about.

    And that makes them all - rat's asses.

  • jrosen on October 03, 2011 8:56 AM:

    The simple virtue of human decency seems to be sadly lacking not only in the crowd of savages that booed Hill, but in the gaggle of cowards and poseurs that occupied the stage. If any of them had a visceral reaction to the booing it was quickly suppressed by a political calculation; these people know their constituency as well as we do and wouldn't risk losing a homophobe's vote. The whole pack of them are a disgrace to the race (pun intended).

    And Herman Cain's lame excuse for his own muteness reeks of the presents my cat leaves me in her litter box.

  • SadOldVet on October 03, 2011 9:00 AM:

    Saint Thomas Aquinas "the presence of injustice should provoke a righteous anger, which if absent constitutes a sinful insensibility"

    Where are all the Christians condemning this and supporting the Wall Street protestors?

  • j on October 03, 2011 9:02 AM:

    I shall be watching the repubs this week when the protesters march on Washington, we all remember how they hung out of the windows and balconies to cheer the tea baggers, considering the GOP is refusing to tax the super wealthy bankers they will probably dismiss these protesters as left wing hippies.

  • elbrucce on October 03, 2011 9:02 AM:

    To sit in silence when we should protest makes cowards out of men.

    Perhaps the media that hides behind "journalistic conventions" to avoid reporting the truth could learn a thing or two. nah. access, cocktail weenies, and advancement are the journalistic conventions of the day. Somewhere, I.F. Stone weeps.

  • thecrow on October 03, 2011 9:08 AM:

    "You want to be commander in chief", you can start by not allowing "the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States" to be used and abused as pawns in wars of aggression, "even when its not politically convenient.


  • AndThenThere'sThat on October 03, 2011 9:23 AM:

    In the span of two posts on a Monday morning, we have one potential nomination "doomed" for a racially insensitive rock and another six potential nominees who are too scared of their base to stand up for a soldier. I'd say one post negates the other. In this case, Perry is doomed because he want's brown people to go to college, not because of his painted rock.

  • zandru on October 03, 2011 9:42 AM:

    And Yet...

    The members of the US military would prefer to serve under any of these Republican men or women, simply because they're Republican. The officer class, in particular, seems to abhor Democrats.

    Democratic presidents come into office sounding as if they will scale back on military expenses, foreign operations, programs - and end up getting rolled by the Pentagon into doing the "manly" thing. Republican presidents can do whatever they want.

    Don't get me wrong; I think this is a good wedge issue and the Democrats ought to use it. But they need to remember how the military and the folks serving in it despise them, regardless of anything Democrats may do for them.

  • Ron Byers on October 03, 2011 9:42 AM:

    What is sad about this is there are not enough old line Republicans left to tell the "base" they are out of line.

    Tell me again why we should be following those clowns off a cliff.

    We should be loud and proud of our principles. Principles, after all, are something Republicans are expected to check at the door.

  • Lifelong Dem on October 03, 2011 9:46 AM:

    I'm schocked that Schieffer found the sack to toss this question at McCain--he managed to book John McCain on a Sunday show!!!--but the rest of the media have determined that there's nothing to see here. Move along.

  • jjm on October 03, 2011 9:51 AM:

    I'm also saddened by the odd response of the so called progressives to Obama and to this really inspiring comment. On one talk show they called Obama's speech grandstanding now, when for pete's sake he took two and half years to end DADT and the ban on gays in the military!

    Talk about the 'Now" generation. How about getting credit not just for achieving this, but for going about it the right way: making sure the military brass were on board by directing them to actually survey the opinions of the personnel. Once it was clear that the soldiers were on board, it was much easier for him to persuade the top brass.

    But no: every so-called progressive who yells about whatever Obama has achieved and he has done a lot feels entitled to treat him contemptuously because he didn't do it on their timetable, or didn't do exactly what they wanted him to do in every aspect of the legislation.

    I am only now seeing what they apparently saw in him: a black servant of whom they imagine themselves the master.

  • nodak on October 03, 2011 10:02 AM:

    What jjm said! I understand the Repuke contempt of our President. It troubles and scares me regarding the 2012 election since it seems the so called progressives would rather sell this country to the repukes because they did not get things as fast or EXACTLY HOW they wanted.

  • jrosen on October 03, 2011 10:07 AM:

    jjim: I agree with you in your opinion of the super-lefty "progressives" and their attitude toward Obama, but I disagree with your last sentence. I doubt that there is an underlying racism involved; it is simpler than that: it is just an immaturity and lack of historical perspective.

    Maybe it comes from growing up with video games or with TV shows where everything is resolved in an hour, but the cause is irrelevant. It is the petulance and the resulting "I'll show 'em by staying home on election day" tantrum that has given us the Pea Party House and the clown show that is the Republican field of candidates. It seems that there is a perverse pleasure in complaining that will never be satisfied; in this the left shares a good deal with the right.

    Obama is not a saint and certainly not a Messiah (a wingnut slur BTW); he is my 12th President and of them all except FDR (and I was a baby then) has the best temperament and intelligence. He has not done all that I wish, but I am a Golden Ager who has learned, the hard way, about patience and possibility. He is also finding, however late, his inner Harry Truman, which even if it may be futile (Fox News has been playing the Mussolini Card a lot longer and louder) it is rather fun.

    I fear that we are in an irreversible decline; I will not live to see the full-blown result, but my grand-daughter (now 4) will. I regret that American society seems to have grown old before it has grown up (a fate that I have striven to avoid for myself, with mixed success) and that's too bad. I just don't want to help, from the left side of the spectrum (I began on the farther left: my parents were Communists) accelerate that process.

  • Diane Rodriguez on October 03, 2011 10:08 AM:

    McCain may have identified the correct reasoning for failing to confront the booing crowd. Lack of mental acuity, just plain crazy and self aggrandizement take up all the available brain power. The moral compasses were tuned to zero long ago.

  • jrosen on October 03, 2011 10:09 AM:

    That's "Tea party"; but the typo has possibilities!

  • Ron Byers on October 03, 2011 11:24 AM:

    I am one of the progressives who hasn't been overly impressed by the current administration. It seems to have stumbled repeatedly. It has given ground far too easily, and has settled for less than was possible on numerous occasions. On the whole, however, I applaud the Obama administration for trying. I have made my first of several contributions to the Obama campaign.

    That said I really fault the Democratic party, especially elected Democrats, for not being loud and proud of Democratic principles. The Democratic party seems to suffer from a bunker mentality. They seem content to hold on to what they have and don't seem interested in moving out of party strongholds.

    How do progresives solve the bunker mentality of our Democratic leadership? We don't solve it by staying home on election day. We solve it by taking control of the party from the ground up. That is not something I have seen from the "professional left."

    Bottom line, until we progressives become politically active in the Democratic party our complaints will never be heard. I have no brief with thows who say they are staying home on election day to protest Obama but are not willing to do the hard work of taking over the Democratic party from the ground up.

    I applaud the people protesting Wall Street. We need more of that and less carping on the interwebs.