For the third consecutive GOP presidential debate, the audience stole the show. At the Reagan Library debate in California, attendees memorably broke into a spontaneous round of applause in support of Rick Perry's record on the death penalty. At last week's debate in Tampa, a handful of audience members cheered the prospect of a man without health insurance being left to die. And on Thursday in Orlando, a chorus of boos erupted when a gay Army veteran asked former Sen. Rick Santorum if he should still be allowed to serve the country in Iraq.
Santorum's answer was characteristic: Looking uncomfortable and stammering slightly, he said that the military was practicing "social engineering" by allowing gays to serve openly. He also effectively suggested that service-members should practice abstinence, stating that, "any type of sexual activity has absolutely no place in the military." He declined to thank the questioner for his service, normally standard operating procedure for an American politician.
More disappointing than Santorum's answer was the fact that he was the only candidate forced to come up with one. Fox News' Chris Wallace grilled Santorum and then moved on to a new subject. But DADT is in the news right now, and it is a tangible policy that the next president, as commander in chief, will be in a position to act on. It speaks not just to social issues, but also national security. Will President Perry block gay soldiers from receiving benefits? Will President Romney move to re-implement DADT? Will President Cain (kidding) move to to create separate housing for gay soldiers and straight soldiers (as some social conservatives have suggested)? If the candidates don't like the current policy, what exactly are they going to do to change it?
Santorum got pegged with the question because he's considered a "social issues" candidate. But this question really deserved to be asked of everyone.