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Dorian de Wind Headshot

The GOP Presidential Debates: When Will the Candidates Show Some Spine?

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I have strongly disagreed with Senator John McCain's politics and policies -- especially his almost fanatic opposition to ending "Don't ask, Don't tell" and his stubborn support of the Iraq war. I have also been disappointed with the senator's seriously flawed judgment on several issues and decisions, such as his deplorable posturing on the new GI Bill of Rights during the Bush administration and his abominable pick of Sarah Palin to be his running mate.

But, at the same time, I respect the senator's principled stand on torture, salute his long and honorable service for his country and I will always admire his sacrifice and heroism as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War.

I also had respect for John McCain when, during the presidential campaign, he repeatedly urged his base to tone down their increasingly vitriolic and racially-tinged personal attacks on candidate Obama. The crowd's response? Rounds of boos for McCain and louder, and angrier, and nastier catcalls against Obama.

I have not forgotten McCain's response to a woman who said, "I can't trust Obama. I have read about him and he's not, he's not uh -- he's an Arab. He's not -- ." Taking the microphone from the woman, McCain replied: "No, ma'am. He's a decent family man [and] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that's what this campaign's all about. He's not [an Arab]."

McCain has indeed been a lonely maverick among Republicans, Conservatives and members of the Tea Party when it comes to civil and respectful discourse.

Witness, at the Sept. 12 GOP presidential debate at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., the applause and loud cheers by the crowd when Rick Perry was asked about the death penalty and the more than 200 executions that have occurred in his state on his watch.

Witness the cheering and shouts of "yes" from some at the CNN/Tea Party Express sponsored GOP presidential debate in Tampa, Fla. when moderator Wolf Blitzer asked Ron Paul if a catastrophically sick man who chose not to get health insurance should be allowed to die in the hospital rather than have the state pay his medical bills.

Witness the loud booing by some in the audience at the most recent Fox-sponsored GOP debate when a gay American soldier serving in Iraq, Stephen Hill, asked the following question via video clip:

In 2010, when I was deployed to Iraq, I had to lie about who I was, because I'm a gay soldier, and I didn't want to lose my job. My question is, under one of your presidencies, do you intend to circumvent the progress that's been made for gay and lesbian soldiers in the military?

Referring to both the disgusting booing and the odious answer given by Rick Santorum to the gay soldier's question, Andrew Sullivan has this to say:

But somehow the fact that these indignities were heaped on a man risking his life to serve this country, a man ballsy enough to make that video, a man in the uniform of the United States ... well, it tells me a couple of things. It tells me that these Republicans don't actually deep down care for the troops, if that means gay troops. Their constant posturing military patriotism has its limits.

Many will point out that these despicable outbursts are by a few and do not represent the feelings or the views of the majority of GOP voters.

I would like to believe that.

But how come none of these people vying for the highest office in the land have had the spine, the character that McCain displayed, to speak up and tell these "few" that they will not tolerate such displays of disdain and total lack of compassion towards fellow Americans.

How come none of these people aspiring to become the commander-in-chief has had the guts to tell the "few" that they will not tolerate such disrespect towards our soldiers serving in harm's way -- straight or gay?

The silence by this field of presidential candidates has been deafening and shameful.

Three Republican debates in as many weeks and three jarring exhibits of insensitivity and prejudice on the part of some in the audience, but even more disturbing, three examples of lack of leadership and spine on the part of all the GOP presidential wannabes.

If there are similar outbursts from the audience at future debates, I bet that at least one of the candidates will follow the principled example of John McCain.

But will it be too little, too late -- too disingenuous -- to erase a very troubling and lasting impression?

CODA: Some of the G.O.P candidates have finally started to comment on the gay soldier incident.
Asked about it by ABC:

One insists that he "didn't hear" the boos.

Another said that it was "totally unfortunate and unnecessary..."

Others sidestepped the issue, "declined to go into details," or declined to comment at all.

I believe that a future president should have pretty good hearing, but, more important, should have the mettle to react on-the-spot, right then-and-there, to any situation or scenario -- not a couple of hours or days later...