Each of the last two Republican debates yielded an interesting moment in which the audience appears to be more conservative than the candidates on the stage.
In the first instance, Rick Perry was applauded for his vigorous support of the death penalty in Texas.
In the second, an audience member shouted, “Let him die”, when Ron Paul was asked what the fate should be for someone who chose to be uninsured and then fell ill with a life threatening condition.
Finally, in the most recent debate, the panel was asked by a gay soldier what their plan was regarding gays serving openly in the military. The audience booed the questioner.
So let’s go through these one by one.
Texas executes more inmates than any other state in the union. Studies have shown that the death penalty is not an effective deterrent to violent crime. It is more expensive to administer than life imprisonment. It is racially biased. There is a large book of evidence which suggests that it results in the death of innocent people. In Texas not only are the innocent executed, but also the mentally incompetent and those who aren’t old enough to have fully formed concepts of right and wrong. We remain the only industrialized country world with a death penalty. At the same time we self-righteously condemn Muslim countries for similar practices and cluck our tongues at sharia law. Finally, as a Christian nation the death penalty violates the fourth commandment – Thou Shalt Not Kill.
Letting people in need of medical care die violates the Hippocratic Oath that all physicians take. It violates the fourth commandment. It also violates Christ’s directives to help the sick and emulate the behavior of the Good Samaritan. Yet somehow, even though Ron Paul said that he wouldn’t let people die; the audience applauded the audience member who shouted an answer for Ron Paul.
Studies show that roughly 10% of the population is gay. That 10% has held relatively constant through thousands of years of human history. It has held constant in places were gays were persecuted as well as celebrated. Large bodies of evidence point to the reality that being gay is not a lifestyle choice, but a genetic one. That 10% also translates into all professions from ballet dancer to NFL lineman. That means that somewhere around 10% of the volunteer military is also gay. The active duty soldier currently serving in Iraq had good reason to ask the panel of Republican hopefuls how they would handle the recent repeal of the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” military policy. The audience booed the questioner. So it is clear that as far as the Republican audience is concerned, gay people are not welcome in the military. It doesn’t matter that this person is risking his life in defense of this country. The fact that he had the courage to admit that he was gay didn’t overcome the bias that this Republican audience has against gays.
So where does this leave us.
If those who attend these debates are representative of the general population of Republican voters, they want a candidate that will preserve the death penalty for criminals and expand it to include anyone who doesn’t have insurance or is gay. About here is where I’d find a dictionary definition of ignorant redneck, but then maybe they have just defined themselves.
What is interesting about this election cycle is that it is now somehow “safe” to express these sorts of opinions in polite company. I’m sure these sorts of bigotries have existed in one way or another for years, but those who held them didn’t feel free to express themselves in public because they would be labeled as ignorant and unchristian. They were sometimes associated with less educated rural or southern parts of the country. Now they are out there for all to see on the national stage. All I can figure is that this is yet another manifestation of the “know nothing” attitudes celebrated and supported by the Tea Party. It’s now OK to be a racist. It’s now OK to be an anti-gay bigot. It’s now OK to be self-righteous regarding the poor and those who are in prison. It’s now OK to ignore the sick and kill the innocent. Fortunately all these people will have to answer to their maker just like you and me.