Supporting The Troops

Terrance Heath

It’s getting hard to keep track of all the cringe-worthy moments at the GOP debates. To that end I’ve created a kind "Low-lights" reel of such moments from the last few. (I fully expect to update this regularly.)

The latest, of course, is the booing of a gay soldier, serving Iraq.

Viewing the clip brings several things to mind.

  • Only a few of the audience members booed, which was still shocking.
  • The utter silence on the part of the candidates is shocking, but not surprising. Not one of the GOP presidential hopefuls addressed the disrespectful treatment of a soldier actively serving in Iraq. (John Hunstman, reports TMP’s Evan McMorris-Santoro, called the incident "unfortunate" afterwards. )
  • If either — the booing of an U.S. service member or the failure to condemn the disrespectful behavior — happened at a Democratic party debate, all manner of hell would break loose, FOX News and CNN would launch 24-hour coverage (complete with theme music), and Republicans would call for the immediate resignations of every single Democratic officeholder in the country.

So much, one might say, for "Support the troops!" Or "Support only the troops Republicans approve of." But here’s the thing. The right, as a matter of policy, has never been all that supportive of the troops.

Not unless "supporting" the troops includes:

This doesn’t even include taking veterans’ benefits hostage to score political points or cutting veteran’s benefits to pay off the deficit, even as thousands of veterans are homeless, struggling to find jobs, or coping with traumatic brain injury and other devastating war wounds.

Booing a U.S. soldier serving in Iraq? Talk about adding insult to injury.

After three debates, the biggest question isn’t who will get the GOP nomination, but which should a sane Republican party find more embarrassing: the candidates or the audience?

Answer: Perhaps both.

Update: Ana Marie Cox (the blogger formerly known as Wonkette) answers my last question:

Probably the best thing that can be said about the audiences for the GOP presidential debates is that they are not representative of either the Republican party or the country as a whole. For one thing, debate audiences have an active interest in politics, a passion the overwhelming majority of Americans lack. But that indifference towards the political process also translates into an amiable ambivalence regarding the government’s role in our lives: "live and let live" could be our national motto, right behind "super size me", in terms of how often we apply any piece of wisdom to our daily lives.

By contrast – and it is a stark one – Republican debate audiences have thus far shown themselves to be in favor of both government cruelty and personal vengeance.

Thus bloodlust was explicit when a vocal contingent hooted its approval for Rick Perry’s bloody tenure as the killingest governor in American history, as well as when a slightly less rabid crowd indicated that sometimes sick people should just be left to die. Yet neither of these distasteful examples of a casual and deadly application of conservative political philosophy was quite as surprising – and as antithetical to a precious GOP myth – as Thursday night’s petulant dismissal of a gay soldier whose only offense was honesty.

Obviously, such behavior goes against the "support the troops" jingoism Republicans have traditionally worked in parallel to their enthusiasm for military spending. But at the moment, its hypocrisy isn’t quite as galling as the mere fact that it happened.

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