Steve Ralls

A Time for Heroes

Filed By Steve Ralls | November 29, 2007 9:23 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: CNN, Democrats, Don't Ask Don't Tell, Keith Kerr, military, Republicans, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, YouTube debates

I first met Brigadier General Keith Kerr when, in 2003, I helped to coordinate his ‘coming out’ – along with another General and an Admiral – in the New York Times. General Kerr’s honesty made history, making him one of the highest ranking military leaders to ever publicly acknowledge that he is gay. It was a moment of immense pride for me, and I still consider the story one of the highlights of my time with Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

That pride was matched last night as I watched General Kerr address the Republican presidential candidates and call them out on their support for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The General’s question was eloquent, pointed and necessary. Here, at last, was a decorated veteran, with 43 years of service under his belt, calling on our political leaders to do the right thing and lift the ban. I was at home, beaming with pride as I watched General Kerr challenge the candidates on their support for a prejudicial and unnecessary law. By 10:55pm, I was sure the good General had launched an effective and important debate in our country about open service in the military.

By 11pm, however, I was on the phone with reporters who had been tipped off, apparently, by Bill Bennett (he of oh so many morals) that General Kerr was a supporter of Senator Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Mr. Bennett’s not-so-subtle insinuation was that General Kerr had been a Clinton ‘plant’ at the debate and that his motivation was to somehow initiate his own ‘shock and awe’ at the debate over the issue of gays in the military. Nothing, in fact, could have been further from the truth.

Anyone who knows General Kerr will tell you: He doesn’t need any help to get his point across. He is a passionate, dedicated proponent of lifting the military’s ban and granting LGBT service members the same dignity and respect that all of our troops deserve. Since he first came out in 2003, General Kerr has pounded the pavement, advocating for repeal and building a movement in the veterans’ community to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Few people tell the General what to do . . . because the General can speak quite well for himself, thank you very much.

But the media last night went into full conservative spin, falsely reporting that General Kerr is an “advisor” to Senator Clinton’s campaign, and attempting to discredit him in the press. The truth, however, as General Kerr pointed out this morning on CNN, is that the Clinton campaign played no role in his question . . . did not know he had submitted . . . and was not tipped off that it would appear during the debate.

The person who ‘planted’ General Kerr’s question was – here’s the shocker! – General Kerr himself.

Rather than focus on the seriousness of General Kerr’s question, however, some in the conservative movement have decided to shoot the messenger because they did not like the message. Because they understand that even a majority of Republicans now supporting repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” – and because they know the days of this unconscionable law are numbered – they have manufactured a controversy to distract from the real issue at the heart of the General’s question. Along the way, they have also blown the facts completely out of proportion.

Yes, General Kerr agreed to have his name listed among LGBT supporters of Senator Clinton’s campaign. He did so out of appreciation for her strong, consistent stand in favor of repealing the military’s ban. But he did not, contrary to some reports, serve as an “advisor” to the campaign. He has also not donated to the campaign, and has not been on the stump for Senator Clinton. He is, in fact, a registered Independent who has voted for both Democrats and Republicans.

And, above all, he’s an immensely good man who wants to do something good for our men and women in uniform.

It is unfortunate and disappointing that General Kerr’s important question has been over-shadowed by a fabricated controversy designed to distract our attention. Candidates should be talking about the two service members who are fired every day under this law. They should be talking about the enormous price tag our nation pays - $363.8 million since 1994 – to implement the ban. And they should be concerned, as General Kerr pointed out last night, that qualified LGBT Americans, who serve as doctors, linguists, pilots and intelligence officers, are being drummed out of the service because of sheer homophobia.

This is a time for heroes in our country, and General Kerr is near the top of my list. It is disgraceful and unacceptable that a few have tried to tarnish his good name, and stellar record, in the name of partisan political gains. We should salute everyone who works for repeal of this law – from General Kerr to Senator Clinton and everyone in between – and not allow ourselves, or our community, to fall prey to false accusations from the opponents of liberty.

This is a time for heroes, and I’m proud that General Keith Kerr is fighting this battle alongside me.

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Of course, people jumped to the conclusion that he was a plant because Hilary has used plants in the past.

Unethical campaigner.

It was a pitiful sight to see him booed down by a number of people in there, how ridiculously rude. It also doesn't help that he got the typical answers with the typical logical fallacies that were not called on by our most beloved closet queen moderator.

Unlike Steve, I don't think the situation was of any value, though. Most Republicans who have no relationships whatsoever with gay people will change their mind, ever. I also regret that the question was not addressed towards Giuliani, so that he could say no and give us gay progressives more ammunition to berate self-defeating gay Republicans who love tax cuts over legislative progress on LGBT-pertinent issues.

No, Kevin, they jumped to the conclusion because they can't discuss substance.

The Republicans/FReepers/etc. are also pushing that an Obama supporter (LCR question) and an Edwards supporter (abortion question) were also "plants" there, even though they have no ties to the campaigns. This is the one that took off since, IMHO, the questioner showed up in person and he was gay. Nothing like homophobia to push a smear.

I think Alex had a really good point too in his post about the General...

While the right wing is always going on and on about respecting the soldiers and taking offense at things like a MoveOn ad, they had no problem booing a retired general or calling him hateful names (much worse than General Betray-Us!).

The hypocrisy is overwhelming.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | November 30, 2007 9:25 AM

Whether or not there were any "plants" in the U-tue questions from Democratic campaigns or otherwise doesn't seem a relevant issue, given that questions were solicited from the U-Tube public at large. I was, of course, pleased to see the distinguised retired General Kerr asking that question in the way he did. Anderson Cooper was also clearly trying to keep the candidates from evading the central question, although I'm not sure he totally succeeded. It did seem, perhaps, that the length of Kerr's "live" comment, though sincerely felt, led to a perception of some kind of "staged message" to which CNN was complicit.

So be it. Similar things have happened elsewhere and by both sides of the political/cultural divide.

While it likely failed to register with the Republicans that it should have, Duncan Hunter's claim that because the military is mostly "conservative" and filled with many "Judeo-Christian" personnel, gays and lesbians must be kept out to keep from offending their religious sensibilities. Shades of the Air Force Acadamy.

And Mitt Romney's dismissal of his prior "I look forward to the day when gays and lesbians can serve openly in the military" by saying "not now, there is a war on", was such patent flip-flopping tripe I think it set a new record for engaging in such mutations, even for him.

And Mitt Romney's dismissal of his prior "I look forward to the day when gays and lesbians can serve openly in the military" by saying "not now, there is a war on", was such patent flip-flopping tripe I think it set a new record for engaging in such mutations, even for him.


He said that during a war isn't the time to get rid of DADT. Um, actually, during a war seems like the perfect time to stop kicking people out of the military for no good reason.

But I think we do have to give Duncan Hunter credit for not evading the question as it was worded. The others just repeated the silliness that it was "working" (whatever that means), but Duncan actually explained why he thought the troops weren't professional enough to work with gays and lesbians: they're conservative.

Now while he's factually incorrect and it's not the answer we want and it's actually rather silly, I'm just going to take a minute and enjoy the fact that a GOP prez candidate said that conservatives were inherently unprofessional. :)

I read about Pat Buchanan’s criticism of Kerr as a fraud in amazement. Right wing thugs like Buchanan, Clinton supporter Rupert Murdoch and sows like Frau Coulter put the neo in neo-Nazi. They have no right commenting on questions pertaining to elections, even the bogus fixed elections we have in the US. Particularly a chickenshit chickenhawk like Buchanan. Like most leaders of the twin parties, he prefers to let others do the fighting.

It’s not too late for Buchanan to fight. I’m sure that Blackhawk would hire him; they’re probably behind on their torture and murder quotas because of all the scandals. Maybe the Iraqi resistance will get word of his arrival and arrange for a proper welcome. It'll probably be more ka-boom-ba than koom-by-yah.

I wonder why Kerr says the bigoted brass of the armed forces is now “professional enough” to end the bigotry of the Clinton’s DADT. Some are, but most are not. Bigotry in the military will have to be suppressed by harsh discipline, revocation of rank and time in the military brig in Leavenworth.

That includes notorious gay bashing bigots like General Peter Pace, until very recently Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Hillary Clinton’s pigheaded refusal to condemn Pace even scandalized the gutless wonders in the HRC who called on her and Obama to repudiate his contemptible bigotry. When they finally broke their silence it was a superficial slap on the wrist. Both declined to call for his ouster. Why isn’t he in Leavenworth?

I’m glad Kerr is openly against DADT, although it would have been more 'heroic' if he’d said so before he retired on a general officers pension. Kerr is a general. Generals don’t have much in common with privates. The lethal bigotry promoted by the Clintons DADT didn’t kill generals, but it did kill gay rankers like seaman Allen Schindler and private Barry Winchell. In the same way Clinton, Frank, Pelosi and Feinstein don’t have much in common with GLBT folk or working people.

I support the end of DADT to prevent discrimination and violence in the armed forces. I hope no one joins the armed forces and particiaptes in the American genocide in Iraq.

I think the question(That I always see in these debates) itself is the wrong one to ask.

To really get the debate started, the question that we should be asking should be closer to this:

"Does forcing a gay soldier to remain quiet about their sexual orientation aid in our National Security?"

I think the answers would have been more interesting than what we typically hear around DADT.