GOP candidates can still stand up for Stephen Hill

President Obama was well received Saturday night at an event hosted by the Human Rights Campaign, where he and the audience celebrated the LGBT community’s advances in recent years. But there was one line in particular that stood out for me.

In a sharp jab at the Republican presidential field, Mr. Obama noted that none of the candidates protested when members of the audience at a recent debate booed a gay soldier who had served in Iraq.

“You want to be commander in chief,” the president said, drawing cheers, “you can start by standing up for the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States, even when it’s not politically convenient.”

This is, of course, in reference to Army soldier Stephen Hill, who’s serving in Iraq, and who was booed by some audience members in the last Republican debate, for identifying himself as a gay soldier and asking about DADT. White House officials, among other Democrats, have been eager to use the incident as evidence of GOP extremism and suspect values.

On CBS’s “Face the Nation” yesterday, host Bob Schieffer asked Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the leading opponent of DADT repeal last year, about Republicans booing an American soldier serving in Iraq. McCain said we should “honor every man and woman who is serving in the military.” Asked if he believes the GOP presidential candidates should have spoken up during the debate, McCain added, “Yeah. I do. But a lot of times, you know, when you’re in a debate you’re thinking about what you’re going to say and what the question is going to be. It’s hard to react sometimes…. I would bet that every Republican on that stage did not agree with that kind of behavior.”

I’d like to believe that, but at this point, McCain’s assurances are dubious. It’s been 10 days since the debate, and the GOP candidates have had ample opportunity to express their support for Stephen Hill and denounce those who booed him. To his credit, even Rick Santorum, who’s virulently anti-gay, had the good sense to say, “I condemn the people who booed that gay soldier. That soldier is serving our country. I thank him for his service to our country. I’m sure he’s doing an excellent job. I hope he’s safe and I hope he returns safely and does his mission well.”

But of the major candidates, he’s the only one. If “every” presidential hopeful on that stage disagreed with the booing, they’ve been given many chances to say so. Reporters have, after all, asked the leading candidates about this, and nearly all have said nothing.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox once said, “To sit in silence when we should protest makes cowards out of men.”

When it comes to GOP activists booing an American who’s putting his on the line while serving his country, candidates like Mitt Romney and Rick Perry are proving Ella Wheeler Wilcox right.