Obama criticizes GOP; candidates mostly dismissive of audience boos of gay soldier


President Barack Obama on Sunday joined the critics with his own lambasting of the GOP presidential contenders, calling out the recent Republican candidate’s debate in which audience members booed a gay service member.

Appearing at a fundraiser in San Jose, Calif., Obama said the 2012 election will be “a contest of values.”

“Some of you here may be folks who actually used to be Republicans but are puzzled by what’s happened to that party, are puzzled by what’s happening to that party. I mean, has anybody been watching the debates lately? You’ve got a governor whose state is on fire denying climate change,” he said, to applause.

“It’s true. You’ve got audiences cheering at the prospect of somebody dying because they don’t have health care and booing a service member in Iraq because they’re gay. That’s not reflective of who we are,” Obama said

Last Thursday, audience members booed Stephen Hill, a gay soldier who asked if the Republican candidates would reinstate the now repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that banned openly gay service members.

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) launched into a blusterous response, saying that “any type of sexual activity has no place in the military,” that the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” injected “social experimentation” into the military, and that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly is a distraction to protecting the country.

Santorum, who also could not bring himself to thank the gay soldier for his service — as is customary — later insisted that he “didn’t hear” the chants.

“I didn’t hear it. I didn’t hear the boos,” Santorum told ABC News.

But ABC News reported that several other candidates said they did hear the jeering ring through the convention center, chants that were clearly spurred by Hill’s question, yet none of the candidates rebuked the crowd.

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman told ABC News that it was “totally unfortunate and unnecessary when someone in uniform asks a question of a panelist in this case, the first response should be thanking the soldier for his or her service.” […]

Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson said he was embarrassed. […]

Johnson added that he could hear the boos from the stage and believes that the other candidates – despite Santorum’s denial – could as well.

Businessman Herman Cain declined to go into detail about the incident saying only, “If you don’t have time to explain your whole position on that, you can very easily be taken out of context so I don’t even want to comment on that.”

Rep. Michele Bachmann’s spokeswoman Alice Stewart said in an email to ABC News, “There was booing and cheering throughout the debate – Michele didn’t comment on any of it.”

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich also declined to comment, and Ron Paul’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Spokespeople from Gov. Mitt Romney’s campaign did not return requests for comment, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s campaign had no comment either.

In an editorial on Sunday, the Concord (N.H.) Monitor said, “The most disturbing aspect of the WrestleMania behavior at the debates is not that some audience members booed a soldier and many cheered death. It’s that not one Republican candidate, and there were nine on the stage on Thursday, spoke up to admonish the crowd and call for civility. Not one candidate, in situations that cried out for it, exhibited leadership.”

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