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Posted at 02:48 PM ET, 09/23/2011

With GOP debate crowd, it gets worse — booing a gay soldier

There is something to be said for crowd control.

After watching the Republican primary debate in Orlando last night, I think someone ought to say it to the GOP.

They actually booed a gay serviceman wondering about what would happen to him under President Santorum? No wonder the soldier initially submitted his video with his face obscured, worried about what might happen. How horrifying that he was right.

For a moment I was convinced that I was watching a modern-dress revival of Gladiator. If there had been a lion in the audience waiting for someone to fling it red meat, I wouldn’t have been at all surprised.

Has it really come to this? “It ain’t smart. It ain’t chic. It ain’t etiquette,” as Cole Porter would say.

Noise trumps etiquette every time.

But it’s one thing to cheer hundreds of deaths, as they did at Rick Perry’s first debate. I can give you the benefit of the doubt. Maybe you are just fond of statistics. “I have to cheer whenever I hear the number 200!” you say. “Numbers! Yeah! I used to go wild whenever Peter Orszag spoke. To spice up our evenings in, my significant other resorts to binary.”

And it’s one thing to cheer the death of hypothetical thirty-somethings. Real thirty-somethings are bothersome enough, let alone hypothetical ones who put strain on public resources. Let them perish on hospital steps all they want! These theoretical people are taking jobs away from Real Americans. And I hear they like to tell Michele Bachmann that HPV vaccines permanently destroyed their lives.

But it’s another thing entirely to boo an actual human being — especially one willing to put his life on the line to protect you. It’s rude, verging on barbaric.

Rick Santorum tried to make his case for reinstating Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell impersonal and theoretical — but that boo hung in the air. Forget having a serious discussion if the crowd appears to be there for the human sacrifice. Santorum now says he did not hear the boos and condemns those who uttered them. But for anyone watching, they drowned out his reply.

The Coliseum is beginning to seem like a comparatively friendly place.

These days, in debate, we prioritize volume over content and color over civility. Jon Stewart had a rally for sanity a year ago, and everyone showed up and complained that it was too bland and nobody bludgeoned anyone else in the head.

But this is horrifying and uncivil. And if your audience sounds like they expect someone to body-slam someone else in the course of debate, it makes a substantive debate unlikely.

Is this what happens when you are so convinced that you are right that you no longer feel you have to behave correctly?

This has got to stop.

Once there was a place for everything and everything in its place. People who disagreed violently with each other would occasionally cane each other on the Senate floor, but generally they agreed to duel about it later and left the dinner party undisturbed. Now we let it all hang out. The presidential debate is indistinguishable from a WWE championship. But it’s not entertaining. It’s mortifying.

If the next debate wants to avoid this sort of embarrassing display, they ought to issue a notice to crowds: “If you want to boo servicemen and yell ‘Let him die’ to hypotheticals, stay at home and yell it at your television, where perhaps it will alarm your cat but it won’t cause any lasting damage to the party’s image.” Please. Comment angrily on the YouTube video later. Hand-stencil a pointed T-shirt about it. Don’t debase the debate. Save the noisy, hateful yelling for the comments section of this blog, where it belongs.

It was the crowd, not the serviceman, who ought to have been ashamed to show their faces.

By  |  02:48 PM ET, 09/23/2011

 
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