When Ellen (DeGenres) Met John (McCain): Lessons About Ideals

Posted: May 25, 2008 12:00 AM
When Ellen (DeGenres) Met John (McCain):  Lessons About Ideals

Republican presidential nominee John McCain did the “the Hollywood thing” again.

Appearing on the syndicate “Ellen DeGeneres Show” last Thursday, McCain showcased himself , his presidential candidacy, and his good-natured sense of humor before Ellen’s nationwide daytime television audience.

Unfortunately, the only portion of the program that got attention beyond its original “airing” was the very few minutes that Ellen quizzed McCain about homosexual marriage - - the “elephant in the living room,” as she called it. And these few moments were some of the most awkward McCain moments I’ve ever seen.

Let’s understand who we’re talking about. This is a man who honorably fought against communism in Viet Nam; survived two airplane crashes and a collision with power lines; had his aircraft shot down by a missile over Hanoi; was severely injured and given minimal care in a hospital where he wasn’t expected to survive a week; was then put in solitary confinement for two years; and after that, began a “program” of severe beatings, rope bindings, and other methods of torture. This is an extraordinary man who has always “survived” - - always - - and is even “hip enough” to mix it up and garner lots of laughs on “Saturday Night Live.”

Yet McCain appeared awkward addressing the subject of “marriage” with Ellen. I played audio portions of the interview on my radio show in Washington, DC, and I can attest that the video looks worse than the audio sounds. But regardless of whether one watches or listens, there are a few things to be learned - - for the McCain campaign, and for all Americans - - from this brief dialog.

For starters, let’s acknowledge that while the discussion was by no means a “debate” (at least not in the political sense), it did nonetheless entail disagreements, yet remain entirely civil and respectful. This is very noteworthy, and very positive.

Ellen is a masterful interviewer and talk show host, and has previously demonstrated her graciousness with guests with whom she disagrees (including President Bush). I know I’ll get nasty email for daring to speak my mind about Ellen’s talents (I‘m already anticipating the name calling - - “liberal,” “homo sympathizer,” etc…).

But lest you be inclined to generalize about all “lesbian talk show hosts,” rest assured - - Ellen is talented, and she is NOT a Rosie O’Donnell.

McCain was equally as gracious. Stating that he adheres to the belief in "the unique status of marriage between a man and a woman," he went on to say “ I know that we have a respectful disagreement on that issue…" Near the end of the segment, McCain reiterated his disagreement on the policy position, but, with respect to Ellen’s relationship with her significant-other, he said “I, along with many, many others, wish you every happiness..”

"So, you'll walk me down the aisle? Is that what you're saying?" Ellen asked. In the midst of the uproar of hilarity in the audience (and his own laughter as well), McCain simply replied “touche…”

And the segment ended cordially.

But what happened between the beginning and the end was significant. Mccain claimed that, in his view, people should be encouraged to enter into legal agreements, particularly for insurance and other areas where decisions need to be made.

From here, however, Ellen spoke on the issue in more personalized terms. "We are all the same people, all of us” she told Senator McCain. “You're no different than I am. Our love is the same….When someone says, 'You can have a contract, and you'll still have insurance, and you'll get all that,' it sounds to me like saying, 'Well, you can sit here, you just can't sit there.' It feels like we are not, you know, we aren't owed the same things and the same wording…"

These comments from Ellen are telling. Frequently, “pro homosexual marriage” advocates cast their arguments in terms of “discrimination;” gay and Lesbian couples are being discriminated against, so the argument goes, because they can’t share health insurance plans, or rights to jointly owned property, or hospital visitation rights, in the same ways as married couples share these things.

McCain seemed to be saying “I’ll grant you those material things - - but I won’t go for changing the definition of ‘marriage.’”

Ellen, however, seemed to indicate that “those things” aren’t enough to satisfy. Indeed, she seemed to be saying “but it won’t be fair until we can call it a marriage - - until heterosexual couples and homosexual couples are regarded as the same in every respect - - legally, rhetorically, religiously, and so forth.”

When advocates for changing the definition of marriage begin casting the discussion in personalized terms like this, it’s essential that “traditionalists” re-cast the discussion more broadly.

This issue is not about any one person’s relationship, or “my relationship” versus “your relationship.” Public policy, as messy and imperfect as it is at times, is not about specific individuals, and public policy regarding marriage is not about any couple in particular. Ultimately, marriage is about future generations, and about the “ideal” setting in which future generations are raised.

Sure, some same-sex couples do a good job at raising kids every day, while some heterosexual couples screw-up their kids every day. But again, public policy is broader than any specific couples - - and public policy should be based on ideals.

The ideals transcend all of us - - you, me, Ellen, and John McCain. That me be an awkward reality, but we would all do well to acknowledge it.