For those of us liberals who watched the Republican YouTube debate on Wednesday — which, for the record, was probably hands down the most watchable Republican debate to date — there were a few standout moments. There was Romney and Giuliani looking like they were going to punch each other out over immigration. There was Anderson Cooper turning to Fred Thompson after airing his “YouTube” campaign video that was just an attack on the other candidates and asking “What’s up with that?” (for the record, the Giuliani campaign seemed to be the only one that “got” the nature of YouTube).
And then there was the man above, Brig. Gen. Keith Kerr, who asked a question about gays and military service. Kerr explained that he is a gay man, and said “I want to know why you think that American men and women in uniform are not professional enough to serve with gays and lesbians.” The candidates who got to answer danced around the question, except for Duncan Hunter who seemed to say “because our military men and women are bigoted.” I’m sure that they expected that to be the end, except that Kerr was in the audience and Anderson Cooper asked him if his question had been answered. Kerr said that it had been not, and proceeded to go into a speech about why they were wrong, leaving the Republicans absolutely dumbfounded. Which they should have been. It’s much easier to throw around hate speech when the oppressed isn’t standing in front of you demanding his rights. You can watch a partial and edited video of the exchange here.
But there has been a complication. It turns out that Kerr has been on advisory committees for Hillary Clinton. Of course, the conservatives have seized the moment to claim that Sen. Clinton’s campaign planted the question. Both they and Kerr deny it, and their claim only makes sense — though Senator Clinton wants to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, she supports her husband’s decision to implement the ridiculous, prejudiced policy in the first place. But that hasn’t stopped CNN from begging for forgiveness and removing the segment from rebroadcasts of the debate without disclosure.
Admittedly, Kerr’s prior affiliations should have been disclosed. And CNN probably should have found out about them on their own. And yet, I just keep coming back to the same question.
What the hell does it matter?
The man asked a question. It was a good question. He is a voter, and therefore entitled to ask questions of presidential candidates. The question was in no way biased specifically in favor of Hillary Clinton. And there is absolutely no rule saying that only people of the same political affiliation can ask questions.
Also, the same exact shit was pulled on Edwards in the Democratic YouTube debate. A Baptist minister asked Edwards why he was hiding behind his Baptist faith to prop up his lack of support for gay marriage. He gave an unsatisfactory answer. The minister was in the audience, Anderson Cooper asked him if Edwards had answered his question, the minister said “no” and went into a diatribe about how he was wrong.
The parallels, quite honestly, are astounding. So astounding that I can’t believe it was pure coincidence. Did I complain about poor Mr. Edwards — my candidate — being asked a tough question and then chastised about his bullshit response? Nope — I rooted that minister on and said “fuck yeah.” If my candidate has a stance on an issue, I want him or her to either be able to defend it or renounce it. If my candidate is asked a tough question, I expect him or her to answer it. And if my candidate refuses to answer a question or adequately represent the people he or she claims to, I expect him or her to be held fully accountable by the public.
So, what the hell is the difference, here? Is it that Kerr once had a loose affiliation with the Clinton campaign? Or is it that conservatives don’t expect to hold their politicians to the same accountability standards? Why the hell are we talking more about the man who asked the question than the question itself?
It’s easy to say bigoted things when you can pretend like the person you’re spewing filth about isn’t listening. But they’re always listening. It’s a lot easier to promote bigoted policies when the people those policies will affect aren’t standing in front of you with a microphone. But they deserve to stand in front of you with a microphone — you’re talking about them. This is their issue. If you want to actively and openly engage in oppression, at the very least you should have to look the person you are oppressing in the eye.
That’s what happened with Edwards and he deserved it. He was not the only one on that stage who deserved it, and I would have loved to see Clinton and Obama given the same treatment. But he deserved it. There is such a thing as an unfair questions. Neither of these questions qualify. And so, are we to believe that Duncan Hunter, Mitt Romney and John Fucking McCain don’t?
You know, you’d think that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell would be a conservative issue. Why? Well, sure, given the option of the two, the Democratic party is the party that supports gay rights. But the Republican party is the party that has military families and personnel as a part of their base, or at least a strong part of their ideology. It’s the party that acts as though soldiers can be revered above all others, that calls people in the military “Our Best.”
That’s why I love the framing of this question. It’s like when feminists turn sexist remarks on their head, asking questions like “why do you think so lowly of men that you believe they are all potential rapists if a woman with a short skirt walks by?” It directly references the fact that oppressive rhetoric often requires grave insult to the dominant group, as well. Normally one wouldn’t mind, because at the end of the day they’re still in charge. But normally, one also doesn’t think about it that way. And normally, conservatives would not have to openly answer the question “if the people in our military are supposed to be our best, if you revere them so highly, why do you think that they’re all a bunch of bigots?”
Of course, I recognize that there are bigots in the military. There are bigots everywhere. I also strongly believe that military culture promotes homophobia. But conservatives and military leaders generally deny their bigotry. Kerr asked them to answer for it.
In the end, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will be overturned. It’s a question of when and how to ensure the safety of LGBTQ soldiers once it is. Many within the military want that time to be now, as do all equality-minded people. The longer we drag it out, the harder and more divisive it’s going to be, the more it will become an “us vs. them issue” — if we are to believe that it hasn’t happened, already– the kind that seems to never get fully resolved. I feel that even Republicans have to know this. They have history books, too, and I’m sure that they’re occasionally read. And yet, they keep pulling this shit. They keep refusing to answer the damn question, and then throw a fit about the fact that it was even asked.