A McCain Thanksgiving

'Twas the night 'fore Thanksgiving, and all through the house
The McCain clan's divided -- dad, daughter, and spouse.

Thanksgiving is going to be a little tense over at the McCains' this year, where "don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) is putting a strain on the family. Sen. McCain has emerged as the lead opponent to allowing LGBT people to serve openly in the military; his daughter and wife have both publicly stated their support for the law's repeal. If this were a typical year, the McCains could, like most families, stick to the standard challenges: the difficulty of bringing children from two sets of marriages and their families to the same table; the impossibility of having every dish come out at the same time yet still be hot.

But this November is different for this family of politicos. The Pentagon's official DADT report -- commissioned to see how integrating the military would affect troop morale and military readiness -- is due out Nov. 30, and the portions already leaked suggest that it will call for DADT's eventual repeal. Meaning that come Thursday, the discomfort at the McCains' won't be limited to that awkward moment when everyone pretends not to notice that the man of the house can't carve.

Ever since his failed presidential bid, McCain has devolved from war hero and maverick to a character more like the deranged uncle in Arsenic and Old Lace who thinks he's Teddy Roosevelt, roaring and charging at every imaginary threat, toy pistols ablaze. So it no longer appears to matter to the senator that he went on record four years ago saying that he would support the military's top brass if they ever did what the leaked Pentagon report suggests they intend to do. Instead, he's gearing up to lead the filibuster against DADT's repeal even though murmurings of support for repeal from members of his own party -- including such moral luminaries as John Ensign -- suggest now might be a good time to stop reflexively opposing all things Obama.

Much has been made of the fact that the senator's feisty 26-year-old daughter, a columnist for The Daily Beast, breaks with her father on this issue despite also being a Republican. (Meghan described her father's opposition as "embarrassing" while speaking with Rachel Maddow last month.) Ditto for wife Cindy's sedition when she appeared in a public service announcement a few weeks back explicitly linking the low self-esteem of LGBT youth to political leaders who, er, tell them that "they can't serve our country openly." (She retracted via Twitter 24 hours later.) But the McCain women's views are typical of people their age and gender, regardless of political affiliation.

While 75 percent of the respondents to a 2010 ABC News/Washington Post poll said they supported allowing gays to serve openly, there were significant demographic differences, with men (65 percent) and seniors (69 percent) far less likely than women (84 percent) and young adults (81 percent under 30) to say that gays should be allowed to serve if they have disclosed their sexual orientation. In short, the McCain family's situation is not unique: These gender and generational divisions will make for uncomfortable Thanksgiving moments in households all over the U.S. wherever someone's foolish enough to turn on the news for a mixed crowd.

These same divisions also fuel the Kabuki theatrics now playing in Washington over DADT. The actors? Congress -- where the median age in the overwhelmingly male Senate that has repeatedly failed to repeal DADT is 63. A White House led by a risk-averse 49-year-old guy who has surrounded himself with similarly minded 50-plus guys. Then there's Defense Secretary Robert Gates (age 67), who warned of "enormous consequences" last month when, heaven forfend, a federal judge struck down the ban before the Pentagon's report could come out and lend yet more political cover for our decision-avoiding decision-makers.

But what about the troops, the folks -- fully half of whom are 22-30 -- who are actually going to have to live with this decision? Via the leaked report: "More than 70 percent of respondents to a survey sent to active-duty and reserve troops over the summer said the effect of repealing the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy would be positive, mixed or nonexistent."

This should come as no surprise to John I-talk-to-young-people-all-the-time McCain; the age group polled has consistently held these beliefs over the past decade. What's more, if he and the rest of our nation's leaders learned how to use YouTube, they'd find it full of evidence that our troops dig the very culture their elders are trying to protect them from. Here's a remake of Lady Gaga's "Telephone" featuring troops in Afghanistan popping moves to club music while wearing costumes worthy of Halloween in the West Village. And here's a 22-year-old Iraq-based specialist's remake of Kesha's "Blah Blah Blah." "If the Army Goes Gay" features all of his straight National Guard buds spoofing a post-DADT military as they unabashedly cop poses straight from queer dance floors and porn.

The disconnect between the pre-Stonewall old guys who lead our military and the already-over-it younger people they're making decisions for is less amusing in light of its implications for troop readiness and safety. According to the General Accounting Office, as of 2003, the military had discharged more than 750 mission-critical service members under DADT and more than 320 with skills in important languages such as Arabic, Korean, and Farsi. Meaning that the Marines in this combination dance/combat video go kicking down doors without the benefit of someone who can first call out to the people on the other side in a language they might understand.

Not that what the troops think or what would best support them actually matters in this charade. The political process still tilts heavily toward appeasing the 62-year-old men who make decisions, as opposed to the vast majority of younger people who have to live with the consequences.

Chew on that, Sen. McCain.

You may also like