One night last week, U.S. Sens. Joe Lieberman, Lindsey Graham and John McCain appeared together on Piers Morgan's CNN show, either as part of Lieberman's massive, never-ending farewell tour or as part of a series called People Who Make Piers Morgan Look (Improbably) Like A Person Of Unwavering Principle.
The self-styled Three Amigos got to talking about gayness. And Graham said to Morgan: "I've been waiting to ask you this question. If it's based on love, can three people love each other … and want to share their lives together?"
And I thought: It's finally happening. They're going to make The Announcement I've been anticipating all these years. "I knew it!" I screamed at the TV set.
But no. it was just Graham trotting out the tired old: If gay people get married, how will we say no to polygamists? And then what about cannibals, right? We'll be legitimizing them too. Equality is such a Pandora's Box!
For the record, this is a terrible — or as Morgan said "facile" — analogy. It is not the case that some people get to practice polygamy and other people don't. Nobody gets to. But some couples can get married, and other couples can't.
Then McCain grumped about respecting the religious beliefs of people who don't like gay marriage. The whole point of the Establishment Clause, of course, is that specific religious beliefs ought not to be law.
Lieberman piped up that the states should decide, but then he at least averred that here in Connecticut we have gay marriage and nothing terrible has happened.
And I realized that I was watching — maybe, please God, for the last time — a long-running, uncredited Beckett play about three characters trapped in a state of reasonable-sounding irresolution in which truth and falsehood have nearly identical status. I believe elephants are being slaughtered. You don't. Let's compromise. Elephants are very sick. The fact that divergent parties can agree on a statement does not make it true.
The next day, Lieberman began his farewell Senate speech with, "When I started here, a blackberry was a fruit," and again my ears pricked up. "And tweeting was something birds did," he continued.
Lieberman's speech was largely another ode to compromise, a commodity he has personally damaged through inflated use. In the movie "Lincoln," we see Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, a perfervid champion of equality, swallow two-fifths of his principles and abandon "equality of the races" in favor of "equality in the eyes of the law." It feels necessary but tragic. You don't get the feeling that Stevens is going to make it a habit.
For Lieberman, I think it has become a habit, a default setting of mealy-mouthed hemming and hawing. Consider his 2008 description of how he handled the Obama-is-a-Muslim claim: "The one time that I confronted it, I was campaigning in Florida for Sen. McCain. I spoke to a large group and a man stood up and asked me about it, or he referenced it. And I said, of course, that I know Sen. Obama pretty well. Obviously one's religion is a matter of choice. Everything I knew said he was Christian."
This, of course, is in lieu of; "No, he's not a Muslim." It is instead a compromise between the truth and a set of unfounded-but-convenient suspicions. Hooray for compromise! In the same vein, Lieberman was able to say in 2008 that Obama's possible status as a Marxist was "a very good question" and that his associations with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and William Ayers were fair game because "we don't know much" about Obama.
In one of this month's exit interviews, Lieberman told The Washington Post that he regretted his dismissive remarks about Obama in his Republican convention speech, but that in all his other stumping for McCain he remained positive.
That's just not true. See above.
But it sounds, once again, like a compromise. I dissed him at the convention, but I was cool about him the rest of the time. So it evens out.
In "Lincoln," we see Stevens address his congressional fellows with such endearments as "you fatuous nincompoop." Lieberman would not approve. He would say, "I'm agnostic on the very fair question of whether you are a fatuous nincompoop."
Why mince words?