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New Rule: Some Soldiers Are Less Worthy of Respect and Thanks Than Others

Jim Burroway

October 3rd, 2011
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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.”

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Christopher
October 3rd, 2011 | LINK

Methinks the ladye doth protest too much. (not the hostess!)

Shame.

MJC
October 3rd, 2011 | LINK

Well said!!!

Lucrece
October 3rd, 2011 | LINK

The event tears me up. I don’t believe soldiers should be put on a pedestal where they can’t be criticizedor or shielded from negative response, and that they should be showered with praise for their chosen task.

It doesn’t happen to doctors or scientists who arguably save even more lives.

But in the reality we’re stuck with, where for some reason soldiers are put above citizen worth, it is fairly obnoxious that even there gay people get screwed over.

I will say that I disagree with the premise that it’s because he’s gay. I do believe Megan (the moderator) when she says they booed his suggestion to keep DADT repeal.

I’m certain that a straight soldier asking about healthcare or tax policy on the rich would’ve gotten similar booing. It’s not about lack of being civil toward gay people, but rather being rude to anyone not walking lockstep with conservative dogma.

Ivan
October 3rd, 2011 | LINK

So he couldn’t work out what to do in the few seconds available to him and failed to take control of the situation.

Not cut out to be president then.

Priya Lynn
October 3rd, 2011 | LINK

Lucrece said “I’m certain that a straight soldier asking about healthcare or tax policy on the rich would’ve gotten similar booing.”.

I on the other hand don’t think so. I’m pretty sure if that had been the case the audience would have been unwilling to boo even though they disagreed because that in their minds would have showed a lack of respect for the soldier.

David C.
October 4th, 2011 | LINK

Everything we need to know about Herman Cain and the rest of the candidates on that stage is summarized in this sentence:

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.

This is incredibly easy to parse: this made us all look bad, and now that we’re embarrassed that it has, we are scrambling to try to put some distance between our insensitive behavior and the righteous indignation of those who appreciate the sacrifices made by our men and women in uniform irrespective of their sexual orientation. We were an unthinking, uncaring lot of opportunists, focusing only on trying to appeal to our cretinous, narcissistic “base”.

J. Peron
October 4th, 2011 | LINK

Your comment about Gary Johnston is unfair. He actually expressed his views on the issue in the very next interview he did. You forget that the media has decided they can ignore Johnson, who has repeatedly denounced anti-gay attitudes.

Johnson has been the ONLY Republican to consistently say that gay people should have all the rights of others and to consistently say that intolerance is wrong. That the media went flocking to the bigots, while ignoring Gary is not Johnson’s fault.

And, precisely how do you know it took him all of one day to make his comment? You only know what you read in the media. Given that the media ignores him, you actually can’t say how long it took for him to express disgust. All you can say is how long it took before the media talked to him about it.

Jim Burroway
October 4th, 2011 | LINK

If you can find a press release from his campaign indicating that he didn’t wait a day before commenting, then you have a point. However, the other point remains: he remained silent on stage, nor did he or his spokespeople speak up in the spin room afterward.

When he did speak up, we reported it in full. That’s as fair as I know how to be. I can’t read his mind. And I can only read press statements as he or his campaign issues them.

Timothy Kincaid
October 4th, 2011 | LINK

The rest stood there mute — dumbfounded, more like it — at the image of a gay soldier in Iraq.

The rest stood there mute – thanking whatever deity they worship that they didn’t get that question and praying that the moderator didn’t expand it to the entire group.

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.

Jim, I don’t think you can back that up with Cain’s words – or those of any of the other candidates.

There’s no new rule about it being ok to boo under certain circumstances. You’ve always been able to boo under certain circumstances. The issue is what was being booed.

Cain – and several others – have distinguished between the person (whom it would not be okay to boo) and the policy (which, like all policies, can be applauded or booed without being disrespectful to the person). I think everyone has stated that it was not okay to boo the soldier and that they didn’t realize at the time that the soldier was being booed.

You insist that it was the person being booed. The candidates insist that they didn’t (and don’t) know what was being booed.

I agree that it was likely the person being booed (or, at least, the person’s orientation) in addition to the policy. You are not out of bounds in insisting that this is the case. But while I agree with your assessment, and this is the important part our agreeing in our analysis does not make it empirically true.

You can’t insist that there is but only one possible way to view the facts and that therefore the candidates came to the same conclusion and, further, knew at the time that it was the person not the policy. That is not a reasonable assumption, much less so obvious that we can use it as a given.

To state that

1. the boo was for the person
2. the candidates agree that it was for the person
3. they knew at the time that it was for the person
4. therefore they on-the-spot made a new rule that you can boo a serviceman as long as he’s gay

simply doesn’t pass any test of logic.

Should they have behaved differently? You bet.
Is it out of character not to start with heaps of praise? Of course.
Should they all have responded immediately (or at least as quickly as Johnson and Huntsman)? Absolutely.
Did they all freeze at the serviceman unexpectedly saying he was gay and not react to the booing like they should? I think that is obvious.
Is the Republican Party itself guilty of bigotry (yep, bigotry) for not “clarifying” that booing is not okay in the same way that they would ANY OTHER CIRCUMSTANCE. Hell to the yes.

But lets not take this beyond what the facts and logic can support.

Timothy Kincaid
October 4th, 2011 | LINK

The debate was over at around 11 p.m. on September 22. Johnson made his statement to Al Sharton on MSNBC’s Politics Nation the next day in the 6 p.m. hour.

That is, indeed, the next day. As I’m not exactly certain at what time a newscycle is technically over, it might even be in a different newscycle by a bit.

But, for clarity, what time would have met the test of not being “wait a day”?

Jim Burroway
October 4th, 2011 | LINK

I don’t think this is blowing anything up beyond what we all saw last week.

Let’s say, for example, that a presumably straight soldier had appeared on a Democratic debate questioning why a candidate didn’t support going into Iraq. And suppose an audience member booed the question. And suppose the Democratic candidate when through the five-step test and decided that it was okay to boo the question, and went ahead and answered it. And didn’t thank the soldier for his service.

Well, good lord, can you imaging the outrage? I do not believe for one scintilla of a second that the Republican counterparts would have bought the distinction between what was being booed vs. who was being booed.

The political rule was never show disrepsect to a soldier (and face it, booing is disrepectful, whether it’s to the person or the question), and to always thank him for his service.

And what if a presumably straight soldier had appeared on a GOP debate and asked a slightly different question, of whether going into a country that didn’t attack us was worth it. And suppose an audience member booed the question. Do you think the GOP candidate would have even bothered to go through the five-step test to decide whether the booing was legitimate? Again, I don’t believe for a second that they would have bothered with that distinction, but would have reminded the audience that the soldier was laying his life on the line and deserved our respect, even if we have a difference of opinion.

Again, the rule would have been respected.

But even in the unlikely event they did decide to let the booing slide, I don’t believe they would have compounded the lack of respect by forgetting to thank the soldier for his or her service before defending their position.

The rule was not respected this time. Remember: it’s not just the booing — which I know everyone is focused on. That is only half of it. The other half is neglecting to thank the soldier for his service. The double standard this soldier experienced was two-fold, and I think it speaks very clearly about the frame of mind of everyone on that stage.

And that’s why I consider the a “new rule” — the sole case when it’s okay to show disrespect for a soldier. When he or she is gay.

(As for the test of not waiting a day, I think Hunstman met this extremely imprecise test. His comments and the controversy were available for the following morning’s papers and news programs and on through the rest of the afternoon. By the time Johnston made his statement, people were already tuned out for the day — especially since it was a Friday evening, the traditional hour for releasing stuff that you don’t want anyone to notice. I’m not saying that was Johnston’s intent, but I’m not aware of any statement coming from his campaign before then.

Oh, and as a personal observation, is there anything less watchable than PoliticsNation? :-0 )

Jim Burroway
October 4th, 2011 | LINK

Of course, now that I think about it, maybe it’s really not a new rule after all. DADT was all about disrespecting American soldiers, gay and straight. Maybe with DADT gone, that old rule just looks different now that gay soldiers can speak up and show their faces on video.

San Diego Rob
October 4th, 2011 | LINK

It’s too bad they didn’t expand the question to the other candidates, but then again it’s FOX, and they probably didn’t want to have their favorite candidates screw their chances of becoming president up.

Hopefully they will expand on this in the next debate that isn’t held by FOX.

Timothy Kincaid
October 5th, 2011 | LINK

Jim,

Yes the Republicans – especially the reactionary end of the party – would have had a field day if a soldier was booed in a Democratic debate. Rush Limbaugh would have declared it a proof the Democrats hate the military and hate the country they defend.

But I very much doubt that you aspire to be the Rush Limbaugh of the gay blogosphere. Your standard is not “oh, yeah, well they would act all crazy so I’ll be crazy too.”

I don’t think that you are wrong to be indignant. I agree that this would never happen in a Democratic debate. I think it is shameful and indicative that even our supporters within the Republican Party accept levels of prejudice that should be denounced.

But I also think that you are painting with far too broad a brush and leaping at “evidence” to support your position. (Really? Johnson supports the new “rule” because he didn’t say the exact opposite of that “rule” for all of 19 hours? Do you really think that they guy who referred to the Marriage Pledge as “intolerance, bigotry and the denial of liberty” is deliberately trying to keep his opposition to booing soldiers to a slow news day?)

And the evidence just isn’t there for some broad “rule” for Republican politicians.

Addressing the two components separately: yes, the candidates should have condemned the booing of a soldier and they did not do so. But while none did from the stage, several have afterward. And even the ones who quibble about what they thought was being booed agreed that you shouldn’t boo a soldier, including gay soldiers.

Romney took a different approach and said its ok to boo everyone, but that too doesn’t support your “only gay soldiers can be booed” rule.

While some no doubt think it (Frothy Mix for example) absolutely zero candidates have expressed agreement with that half of the rule.

On to thanking soldiers: Other candidates could have interjected “excuse me, but I just want to than the soldier for his service.” And they would have gotten applause. And every commentator and talking head in politics would have called it a cheap shot.

Subsequently Huntsman said “…the first response should be thanking the soldier for his or her service.” Johnson didn’t specifically discuss thanking the soldier but spoke of his opposition to DADT and that he is “embarrassed by someone who serves in the military and can’t express their sexuality” so I’m pretty sure that he doesn’t think that there is some rule that you don’t thank gay soldiers

The rest had no comment.

I don’t disagree that there are plenty of Republicans that would sneer rather than say “thank you for your service.” And undoubtedly some of them were on that stage.

But you know – I know that you know – that there are many Republicans (including some who don’t support our issues) who not only would denounce the notion in public, but would also find it to be personally repugnant and abhorrent.

I’m even willing to go out on a limb and say that John McCain – who worked tirelessly to keep DADT in place – would find the idea of withholding thanks to a soldier because he’s gay to be bigotry and to boo a soldier to be vile. Despite his beliefs about whether openly gay servicemembers would harm morale, no one can dispute that McCain has deep respect for those individuals who serve, including those he’d disallow by policy. (I’d have to look for the reference, but I seem to distinctly recall McCain thanking a gay vet kicked out under DADT for his service before disagreeing with him over the policy.)

And really, you’re arguing a pretty aggressive position without much to support it: No one at all – zero, nada, zilch – has stated their agreement with this rule. A few candidates denounced the rule, a few changed the facts to avoid the rule, several refused to address it, but absolutely no one has said, “yeah, don’t thank gay soldiers, boo them.”

Public condemnation and no public support would be rather unique for a new rule. But, of course, there is no new “rule” for Republican candidates.

In thinking as to why this bothered me enough to counter your commentary, I think it is because I am troubled by the implications of what it means to believe that all Republican politicians are as you describe them.

To suggest this “rule” speaks not of political posturing or even of political beliefs, it speaks of character. It speaks of deliberate bigotry, of contempt that vetoes respect for service, of hatred on a level that dehumanizes gay people.

And regardless of what you may believe about the policies and positions of Republicans – on gay issues or other issues – you are making an assessment that I feel fairly certain that you do not believe.

I am sure that Santorum, Bachmann, and probably Gingrich have precisely the kind of character that would find such a rule to be worthy. Others may as well. But if we speak of “Republican politicians” in the same all inclusive way that Linda Harvey speaks of “homosexuals” then we lose the authority to denounce her or LaBarbera or any of the others who have only two shades in their palate and for whom hyperbole is a staple.

That is an extrapolation that is unworthy of who you are or of the reputation that you have rightfully earned as a thoughtful, careful, analytical writer who places accuracy and nuance above partisanship or hyperbole.

Jim Burroway
October 5th, 2011 | LINK

First of all, there are rules and there are rules. You are picking on the “new rule” because no one has actually articulated either the “new rule” or the “old rule.” But as you know, most of the rules that we follow in life, especially political rules, are unspoken. Seinfeld earned millions over several years doing nothing but picking apart all of our unspoken rules that few have bothered to notice — until they are broken.

And in this case, what seemed to me a pretty hard and fast, albeit mostly unspoken rule, was broken. I say mostly, because a lot of Veterans do speak of this “rule” — or perhaps, more accurately, an ideal — on how to treat our soldiers. And when you consider how often dissent was stifled in the past ten years over whether it means someone doesn’t “support our troops” — and considering where those complaints came from, I still find the behavior of the candidates on during the Sept 22 debate very remarkable. Remarkable for me never recall it having happened before, certainly not in a GOP forum. And remarkable for the only difference that I can point to for its happening here: a soldier identified himself as gay and asked whether he would be allowed to continue to serve openly under their administrations. That’s the only difference I can come to when considering why things were different on Sept 22 than any other setting, and I find it disturbing and worth noting.

And considering that in my day job where I work with servicemembers every day of all stripes, I find it appalling.

I appreciate that there is a huge difference between Huntsman and Johnston, vs the others. I am sorry that they came to their sensese after the fact, but I do appreciate that they did so. And so when I see that translate into different behavior in a large, nationally televised forum where people are actually watching and paying attention, I will change my opinion accordingly.

Meanwhile, I suppose we are all entitled to our opinions. ;-)

Timothy Kincaid
October 6th, 2011 | LINK

Jim,

A rule – spoken or otherwise – is a practice, expectation, or social behavior broadly applied, repeated over and over, and nearly universally observed. “when Republican politicians are presented with soldiers, they thank them for their service” is a good example.

However:

1. There is no “rule” that a Republican politician thank a soldier that has not been presented to them but to someone else. That one you created on your own.

2. There is no rule as to how a candidate should act when another candidate has made a complete ass of himself on stage. If such a rule existed… well it would probably be grin on the inside.

3. There is no rule as to how many hours can pass before one makes a statement.

(Oddly, rules 2 and 3 seem to exist only in this particular situation. A cynic might suggest that their purpose is primarily so that Huntsman and Johnson can be deemed to have broken rules and therefor be deserving of criticism. One might even imagine that their failing was not that they didn’t interject, but that they are Republicans. But, no, surely not.)

4. A rule is not established by one instance. A rule is established by repetition.

5. A more interesting focus might be on who in the Party responded and in which way.

But as you said, we are indeed entitled to our own opinions. However, let’s put our opinions to the test.

If this occurs again and Johnson or Huntsman refuse to thank a gay soldier, I’ll write a commentary announcing that you are absolutely right and that there is a new political rule for Republican politicians.

If any of the others refuse to thank a gay soldier, I’ll write a commentary announcing that you are at least partly right and that there is a new political rule for some Republican politicians.

If Johnson or Huntsman do thank a gay soldier, you write a commentary saying that your new rule is not a new rule for Republican politicians, but only for those on the far right.

If anyone else thanks a gay soldier, you write a commentary saying that there is no new rule for Republican politicians.

And in the meanwhile, until another gay soldier story arises, neither of us write about whether there is or is not some new rule.

Is it a deal?

Jim Burroway
October 6th, 2011 | LINK

(Oddly, rules 2 and 3 seem to exist only in this particular situation. A cynic might suggest that their purpose is primarily so that Huntsman and Johnson can be deemed to have broken rules and therefor be deserving of criticism. One might even imagine that their failing was not that they didn’t interject, but that they are Republicans. But, no, surely not.)

Absolutely not!!! My criticism was precisely that they didn’t interject, and nothing more. I work proudly alongside servicemembers and veterans. I have observed and admired how Republican politicians have shown respect for our men and women in uniform, and I have noticed quite often, with chagrin, how eagerly they pounce if there is even a smidgen of a suggestion that a servicemember was shown disrespected by a Democratic candidate. Hence, I thought, a pretty well defined rule.

So, yes, you’re right. It would take a cynic to suggest that my objections were solely because they were Republican.

My objections, in fact, are that they did not live up to a pretty well-establised standard of behavior, and the only difference I can find for that change in behavior is the stated sexuality of the solider in question.

On point three, I think you misread what I’m trying to say. Huntsman and Johnston, while on stage, aacquiesced to the sudden observance to this “new rule” by their silence. However, I did recognize that Huntsman called it “unfortunate” while Johnston went to much greater lengths to denounce it the next day. I concede that they have said, in essence, that they shouldn’t have and won’t follow the “new rule”, Johnston apparently more strongly than Huntsman, but Hunstman sooner than Johnston. That doesn’t mean that the “new rule” doesn’t exist, but merely that the two candidates who are probably vying for something close to the bottom of the pack right now have come around and denounced it.

As we are each entitled to our opinions, I think we can leave it at that.

However as far as your challenge is concerned, I do think it is entirely an appropriate one, and I will take you up on it, with the exception of the last point. I do reserve the right to observe whether the “new rule” is reinforced, moderated, or modified according to any new statements that may be made by any of the candidates. Who knows, it may end up being a question at the next GOP debate.

Other than that, it’s a deal.

Timothy Kincaid
October 6th, 2011 | LINK

My criticism was precisely that they didn’t interject, and nothing more.

Yes. But on this we disagree.

I don’t think that interjecting to thank the soldier is either usual, typical, or in good taste. This simply is not part of the old rule. I really can’t think of an instance in which someone interrupted to get their “thanks” in when the original candidate didn’t without being perceived as pandering. It would be kind of a low blow.

Interjecting to call out the booing would be appropriate, though it’s also not exactly expected. It’s a go-either-way thing. And, as you note, these are the lesser popular candidates they have a great deal less freedom and leeway.

I don’t think that “not interjecting” rises to the level of “not observing the rule”. I just don’t.

So when you see the “sin of omission” (oh, you former Catholics) in Huntsman and Johnson and the others, I see where “I should have” can come into play but hardly something worthy of criticism or some indication of a change in what is expected.

I guess we’ll just differ on that.

As for the challenge, you’re on. I think I’ll win, I hope I’ll win, and it will be better for our community if I win, but I’ll happily concede if I don’t.

As for statements from candidates, okay that’s fair. But if I think it’s a stretch, I’ll comment to say so.

(To readers: no, Jim and I are not feuding. We aren’t angry. We are just disputing a small point and doing it publicly because – at least on my part – we think it adds to the conversation, displays that we come from different perspectives and are not knee-jerk in our writing, and illustrates the diversity of BTB and our community even when it comes to gay issues.)

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