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GOP debate: Rick Santorum's 'don't ask, don't tell' blunder

Rick Santorum at the Republican presidential debate in Orlando, Fla.
There were so many problems with former Sen. Rick Santorum's bumbling response to a question on the military's newly erstwhile "don't ask, don't tell" policy, so many angles from which to start an attack on the spectacle, that it's impossible to pick a place to begin. Express dismay over Republican audiences' bizarre hootin' and hollerin' of late? Been there, done that. Note how the GOP candidates insist on doubling down on a position increasingly out of step with broader public opinion? Check.

Anyway, here's what happened, according to a transcript:

QUESTION via YouTube from Stephen Hill, a soldier who's currently serving in Iraq: 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?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BOOING)

SANTORUM: Yeah, I — I would say any type of sexual activity has absolutely no place in the military. And the fact that they're making a point to include it as a provision within the military that we are going to recognize a group of people and give them a special privilege to -- to -- and removing "don't ask/don’t tell" I think tries to inject social policy into the military. And the military's job is to do one thing, and that is to defend our country.

We need to give the military, which is all-volunteer, the ability to do so in a way that is most efficient at protecting our men and women in uniform.

(APPLAUSE)

And I believe this undermines that ability.

(APPLAUSE)


MEGYN KELLY of Fox News: So what -- what -- what would you do with soldiers like Stephen Hill? I mean, he's — now he's out. He's — you know, you saw his face on camera. When he first submitted this video to us, it was without his face on camera. Now he's out. So what would you do as president?

SANTORUM: I think it's -- it's -- it's -- look, what we're doing is playing social experimentation with -- with our military right now. And that's tragic.

I would -- I would just say that, going forward, we would -- we would reinstitute that policy, if Rick Santorum was president, period.

That policy would be reinstituted. And as far as people who are in -- in -- I would not throw them out, because that would be unfair to them because of the policy of this administration, but we would move forward in -- in conformity with what was happening in the past, which was, sex is not an issue. It is -- it should not be an issue. Leave it alone, keep it -- keep it to yourself, whether you’re a heterosexual or a homosexual.

That a Republican endorsed "don't ask, don't tell" isn't surprising. But there was something especially crass about Santorum's reply. His remark that "any type of sexual activity has absolutely no place in the military" completely misses the point and continues his bizarre refocusing of the gay-rights debate on sex.

And he doesn't know how profoundly insulting it is to gays and lesbians to call requiring the military to afford them basic respect a "social experiment." (Besides, which is the more dubious social experiment: sexually cleansing our armed forces, or having them reflect society's inexorable march toward fully accepting gay men and women?)

Worst, watching Santorum and other Republicans stand stoically while a handful of debate-goers shout their disgust with a homosexual soldier leaves the impression that the GOP candidates have more outwardly embraced anti-gay prejudice to win over conservative voters. This kind of behavior makes it difficult to take social conservatives at their word when they insist that their opposition to, say, same-sex marriage is rooted respect for a longstanding institution instead of prejudice.

As for Santorum, it looks as though his Google problem isn't going anywhere soon.

RELATED:

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Rick Santorum: How he can fix his 'santorum' problem

-- Paul Thornton

Photo: Rick Santorum answers a question during the GOP presidential debate in Orlando, Fla., on Thursday. Credit: Phelan M. Ebenhack / Associated Press

 

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The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.



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