New Rule: Some Soldiers Are Less Worthy of Respect and Thanks Than Others
October 3rd, 2011
Christiane Amanpour: Let me start by asking you some of these questions. We’ve just seen what President Obama said last night about that incident at the Florida debate, where there was booing in the audience when a gay soldier started to speak. Nobody said anything. You didn’t, Rick Santorum, none of the others did. Do you wish you had said something, intervened at that moment?
Herman Cain: Well the thing that’s being overlooked is that in the heat of of debate when you have exactly sixty seconds to answer any question, you know, taking the time to try to figure out why they were booing. I happen to think that maybe they were booing the whole “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal more so than booing that soldier. But we didn’t know that. So that was not the time to try and decipher why were they reacting that way.
Amanpour: But you don’t think that you probably should have said something like, audience, you know please, a little bit of respect?
Cain: I did not have that luxury because I was not in control. I was not moderating.
Amanpour: In retrospect, would you have done something given the controversy it’s …
Cain: In retrospect, because of the controversy it has created and because of the different interpretations that it could have had, yes, that probably… that would have been appropriate. But at the moment, it was not the focus on the people on that stage, I can assure you.
I can assure you that the focus of the people on the stage at that very moment was the shocking (to them) visage of a patriotic American soldier who is in Iraq right now, who announced to them that he was gay and asked, in essence, what were they going to do about it. And every one of them froze. When you go back to the video, you find that even Sen. Rick Santorum, to whom the question was directed, stumbled a bit before he regained his footing and confirmed he would kick soldiers like him (but not that particular soldier, he hastened to add later) out. The rest stood there mute — dumbfounded, more like it — at the image of a gay soldier in Iraq.
Later that night, former Utah Gov Jon Huntsman, Jr. mustered the courage to call the incident “unfortunate.” It took an entire news cycle before Santorum apologized — sort of — on Fox News for not speaking up or thanking the soldier, only to walk it back on ABC. New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson said he was embarrassed at the intolerance, an embarrassment that took him more than a day to express after leaving the stage.
For decades since the Vietnam debacle, it has become a political maxim that any time a politician meets an American soldier, the very first thing to tumble out of his mouth is effusive thanks for that soldier’s service. Stories of Vietnam vets returning home to boos and worse were used by politicians on the right to shame politicians on the left into proving their patriotism by supporting the troops no matter what. Politicians on the left responded by doing exactly that. Granted, some of the expressions were more heartfelt among some than others, but no one was going to be caught out in that political faux pas. But no one was going to out-thank or out-praise those soldiers’ sacrifice and dedication to American freedom more than politicians on the right. That was the rule. A rule so hard you could bet your paycheck on it and always beat the market.
Until now. We now find that there is an escape clause to that rule. When it’s a gay soldier, no thanks are required. No defense of against booing (or worse, should the situation arise?) is needed. An instinct that had been ingrained into Republican politicians so thoroughly they could reflexively salute a soldier in their sleep suddenly evaporated with the uttering of two words: I’m gay.
It took ten days and three questions by a persistent Christiane Amanpour on a low-rated Sunday talk show before Cain finally conceded that maybe — “probably” — saying something to quell the boos would have been appropriate — with all of it in the past tense and a reluctant passive voice. And he came to that only after explaining that there were maybe some good excuses for booing a soldier because now — new rule! — it’s okay to boo under certain circumstances.
But of course, there’s still nothing about thanking that soldier. Cain’s protest that they only had sixty seconds and, besides, he wasn’t “in control” rings hollow. Cain felt no compunction about jumping in at other points in the debate to say something he felt had to be said. It takes less than four seconds to say “thank you for your service” — a phrase so stock in Republican politics that it’s inconceivable that the thought of saying it didn’t cross someone’s mind on that stage. Even if it was just, ”Gee, if only he were straight I’d be thanking him.”