Putting aside the question of whether the “audience” really booed Stephen Hill at last night’s debate — that’s an overstatement by any measure — the simple fact is that when Hill, who is serving in Iraq, was pelted with scattered boos, none of the GOP candidates rose to his defense:
Andrew Sullivan registers his outrage at the “shocking silence on the stage,” which reveals that “this kind of slur is not regarded as a big deal.” Ta-Nehisi Coates translates the candidates’ silence as: “I support some of the troops.”
I only have one thing to add. Multiple news stories today are claiming that the GOP candidates didn’t object to the booing of a “gay soldier.” That is an accurate description of what happened. An even more accurate description of what happened is to say that the GOP candidates didn’t object to the booing of a soldier.
As conservative writer Jim Geraghty points out, the failure to object to the booing, let alone to thank him for his service, “entirely defined Hill as a gay man first and as a soldier second, if at all.”
Let’s break the news gently to those GOP candidates: The law known as “don’t ask don’t tell” is no longer operative. What that means is that openly gay and lesbian servicemembers are now permitted to serve in the armed forces on equal footing with straight servicemembers. Let me quote from the U.S. Army’s announcement repealing the policy: “From this day forward, gay and lesbian Soldiers may serve in our Army with the dignity and respect they deserve.” The rules will now “apply uniformly without regard to sexual orientation, which is a personal and private matter.”
It would obviously be unfair to use this episode to tar all Republicans. Some, to their credit, have already registered their dismay about what happened. Even audience members reacted badly and told the hecklers to shut up. But it’s perfectly fair to see it as representative of the caliber of the candidates that stood on the stage last night. A soldier was booed after politely asking the candidates whether he would continue to enjoy equal treatment in the military, as current law stipulates, should one of them become president. None of the candidates rose to that soldier’s defense. None thanked him for his service.
Just to be clear on what really happened.