Ellen’s Russert Moment

The comedian celebrates Memorial Day by doing some politician-grilling

Talk about afflicting the comfortable.

Well, actually, make that “afflicting the awkwardly, squirmingly, cringingly uncomfortable.” On yesterday’s Ellen, the daytime talk show host interviewed John McCain—making him the last of the three remaining (major) presidential candidates to guest on the show. And for a moment, the normally affable DeGeneres went from first-rate comedian to first-rate comfort-afflicter.

“Let’s talk about the big elephant in the room,” she told a suddenly-self-conscious senator. DeGeneres informed McCain of her plans (made before last week’s California Supreme Court ruling) to marry her longtime girlfriend, Portia de Rossi, this summer, saying, “To me, this is only fair and only natural. And what are your thoughts?”

The senator, squirming and ground-gazing aside, stuck to his no-same-sex-marriage guns, citing a “respectful disagreement” with DeGeneres:

Well, my thoughts are that I think that people should be able to enter into legal agreements, and I think that that is something that we should encourage, particularly in the case of insurance and other areas, decisions that have to be made. I just believe in the unique status of marriage between man and woman. And I know that we have a respectful disagreement on that issue.

DeGeneres didn’t back down. Instead, as if channeling The Spirit of Russert, she went on to compare same-sex marriage to women’s suffrage and the black vote: a right that will be gained in time and, in the future, taken for granted. McCain, she implied, is on the wrong side of history when it comes to the issue.

“Well, I’ve heard you articulate that position in a very eloquent fashion,” McCain replied. “We just have a disagreement. And I, along with many, many others, wish you every happiness.”

“Thank you,” DeGeneres replied. And then, back to Comedian Mode: “So you’ll walk me down the aisle? Is that what you’re saying?”

“Touche,” replied McCain.

Politico’s Jonathan Martin has the full transcript. Here’s the video of the exchange:

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Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.