'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' McCain, and the Drama of the Lame Duck

It features Sen. John McCain as the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, opposing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal.

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The Senate show goes on, giving the American people some splendid political theater at the end of the year. Better late than never. Here are a few points on Washington's street the week before Christmas--naughty, nice, spiced with streaks of true character "coming out" at last. We are, after all, living in interesting times, so the last thing we wish to be is dulled down. Consider:

The gender divide on the vote on DADT. First and foremost, a moment of silence for the long-awaited repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. I witnessed this hour of history happening, by chance sitting next to some young enlisted Army specialists with tattoos on their arms in the Senate gallery Saturday. They told me they served in the mortuary units stationed near overseas battles and conflicts, trained to prepare the bodies of dead soldiers for their long journey home. During the vote itself, it became clear how much more socially progressive the women of the Senate are, compared to the men of the Senate, on a per capita basis. Three Republican women joined all baker's dozen (13) Democratic women in voting for the repeal. Thus Texas Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison had the distinction of being the lone woman senator to stand in the door of gays serving openly in the military: congrats! On the other hand, by dead reckoning, all but one of the 31 votes cast for keeping DADT in place were cast by male senators. This is statistically significant stuff; don't ask, don't tell me it isn't. The young men who watched the floor vote so intently remarked that they served with gay and lesbians in their unit and it was "no problem." When you dress a soldier's body to send it home for burial, distinctions like gay or straight probably don't come up much.

[See a roundup of editorial cartoons about 'don't ask, don't tell.]

Kinsley vs. Kissinger. An ice age ago, Michael Kinsley cleverly observed Al Gore was an old man's idea of a fine young man. Of course, the same could be said of Kinsley at the time. Always more pleasing to his elders, professors, and editors than to his own peers, Kinsley was regarded as so precocious that he ended up being the editor of several prestigious publications. Yet he never entirely shook the snappy Harvard wunderkind identity. Perhaps in an effort to swim with the cool younger crowd as he approaches 60, Kinsley started writing a column for Politico recently in which he just took arms against the establishment: Henry Kissinger himself, no less. This was truly a revolution for Kinsley--or at least a rebellion a few decades overdue. Kinsley, disgusted with Kissinger's taped dismissive remarks to President Nixon about "Jews and gas chambers," confessed he acted “embarrassingly deferential” each time he met Kissinger out on the circuit. "Never again," he promised readers of Politico. Well, we'll see about a direct challenge to King Henry coming to pass; it sounds good. Maybe Kinsley is getting younger with the years.

Sen. Joe Lieberman is finally going straight and steady with his Democratic friends in the Senate, after his lead sponsorship and sure-footed advocacy for the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell." That eleventh-hour accomplishment is a great thing to have his name on for history's record. As an independent, he has raised a few eyebrows for keeping such close company with Republican Senator and presidential nominee John McCain. However, at the end of a December day, Lieberman has certainly has done a lot more for his (old) party than fellow Veep nominees and contenders--namely, John Edwards and Evan Bayh, whose names as lawmakers shall surely be dust on time's blackboard. Sorry, but...

Speaking of John McCain, honestly, doesn't he remind you of the Grinch that Stole Christmas lately? The pained expression on his face during the Senate debate on DADT was almost as hard to watch as his irate statement that the 2010 election was a repudiation of the "agenda" of the other side. Well, news to you, the Senate shall stay blue in January. Sen. Mitch McConnell may be acting like the majority leader already, but he's not, nor shall he be if Democrats get their act together in 2012. But back to you, the man who gave the country Sarah Palin, where has your sudden-as-a-summer-storm ebullience gone? We miss that man. Counting down the days toward the winter solstice, McCain seemed a lot like them: darker, shorter, colder.

  • See photos of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
  • Read more about national security and the military.
  • See editorial cartoons on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"