Did Rick Santorum Hear Audience Members Booing Gay Soldier?

OPINION

  @ibtimes on September 24 2011 5:36 PM
Rick Santorum at Debate
Rick Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, won Tuesday's "beauty contest" caucus in North Dakota. Reuters

At the Republican debate on Thursday, a gay soldier asked candidate Rick Santorum via video whether he would reinstate the just-repealed don't ask, don't tell policy as president. Several audience members booed, and none of the nine candidates on stage said anything about it.

It was a moment on par with the one in a previous debate in which Texas Rep. Ron Paul was asked whether an uninsured person should just be allowed to die, and several audience members shouted, Yes! Unlike Santorum, though, Paul made a point to rebuke the hecklers, and he deserves credit for that.

But Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, just stood behind his lectern and answered Stephen Hill's question as though nothing had happened. Surely if it had been a group of anti-war activists doing the heckling, he would have condemned them immediately for disrespecting an American soldier.

Santorum's silence has become a minor scandal in the past two days, and he has been forced to account for it -- which he did by claiming he didn't hear the booing and would have responded to it if he had. No one will ever know if that's true, and it could be, but it seems dubious.

It is true that it was only a handful of people booing, but the sound carried well because of the acoustics of the room, and it was picked up by the microphones and very much audible on television. It should have been audible to the candidates as well.

Democrats are not the only ones criticizing Santorum. Jim Geraghty, a conservative writer, panned him just as badly, writing, It is troubling, and revealing, that Santorum's answer entirely defined Hill as a gay man first and as a soldier second, if at all.

Santorum's answer to Hill's question, after the booing stopped, was strongly in favor of don't ask, don't tell, but not overtly homophobic. He argued that sex shouldn't be an issue in the military, period, and that repealing don't ask, don't tell was a social experiment to give gay soldiers special rights. That's an extremely misleading argument -- the repeal doesn't give gay soldiers the right to have sex on the job; it just allows them to speak openly -- but at least he said that sex while on duty was equally inappropriate for heterosexual and homosexual soldiers.

But even so, his failure to condemn the booing audience members, who gave Hill no respect as a soldier just because he happened to be a gay soldier, was nearly as bad as making a homophobic remark himself -- and Santorum has certainly made plenty of those in his time, including comparing gay sex to pedophilia and bestiality.

After the debate, Santorum defended himself to Fox News: I condemn the people who booed that gay soldier. That soldier is serving our country and I thank him for his service to our country. I'm sure he's doing an excellent job, I hope he's safe and returns safely and does his mission well. I have to admit, I did not hear those boos. ... If I had, I would have said, 'Don't do that, that man is serving his country and we ought to thank him for his service.'

But when he answered Hill's question, Santorum didn't thank him for his service, either.

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