Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Sen. Craig?s resignation


Is Sen. Larry Craig gay or straight or conflicted, celibate or hypersexed, faithful or unfaithful to his wife?

Truth to tell, I don't know, and I don't care. And my lack of interest extends to the 534 other members of Congress.

Before last week, it didn't matter much to me what the poor Idaho Republican did in his private life—except, of course, as an item of political gossip, which says more about my own failings. I knew little more about Craig than that he has been an especially able and articulate member of Congress, a legislator's legislator, a serious man. And I liked it that way. His private life was his private life, just as other public figures' private lives should remain their private lives.

Of course, the problem is that the private misbehavior of public figures—and, for that matter, private citizens—has a way of becoming public. Somebody tells somebody, and the next thing you know, there it is. Mark Foley decides young men hold more interest than guys his own age and compounds the problem by putting fingers to keyboard. Bill Clinton opts for Oval Office sex with someone other than Hillary and lies about his capers under oath in a legal proceeding.

And Craig heads into the men's room at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and ends up pleading guilty to basically playing footsie with the undercover cop in the stall next door.

Public figures who want to keep their private lives private have a responsibility to keep it there themselves. Public restrooms are not private.

The case for Craig's resignation isn't even a close call. He's pleaded guilty to a sick crime. He's brought shame on himself and his office. It's that simple. Just because others didn't have the decency to depart when their misdeeds became public—Democratic Rep. Barney Frank and President Clinton—doesn't mean there's a case for Craig to stay.

His plea settled the matter, and his excuse for his plea is just lame. Nobody pleads guilty to this kind of thing because he's under stress and wants to get the matter behind him. Nor does Craig's bid to pin the rap for his state of mind on the Idaho Statesman's investigation of his sexuality hold up.

The paper might have been looking into his sexuality over the past months, but a specific allegation prompted its investigation. A gay Republican said he and Craig had hooked up in the men's room at Washington, D.C.'s Union Station—just the kind of illegal conduct the cop thought Craig was looking for at the Minnesota airport. The paper treated the D.C. charges as a he-said, he-said story. It held off the story when Craig denied all in a May interview. Not until the Minneapolis story broke did the Statesman publish anything. Some "witch hunt."

Some partisans think the Craig bust is great sport because it spotlights the alleged hypocrisy of some "family values" Republicans. You know, Republicans who oppose same-sex marriage yet may be gay themselves or Republicans who do whatever Craig did in Minnesota. There's even a movement to "out" closeted GOP officials and staffers. The Statesman's interest in Craig grew out of this effort. I think there should be a special spot in hell for those engaged in this kind of "outing"—an invasion of privacy by self-styled privacy champions, but there you have it.

There are many reasons a Craig or a Foley should leave Congress. Hypocrisy, however, is not one. Why? Because there's nothing hypocritical about them. First, neither was what one might call a gay-basher. Neither was known for railing against homosexuality. Yes, they may oppose same-sex marriage, but does taking such public-policy stands constitute gay-bashing? Do all gay people have to think alike, or risk being called a hypocrite or being outed?

Sorry, but it's not hypocritical to be gay or do what Craig did and still be against gay marriage. It's not even hypocritical to do what Craig did and still think homosexual sex is a sin. Committing a sin is not necessarily hypocritical. Hypocrisy is advocating one thing while simultaneously and consistently doing the opposite. What would be hypocritical is a gay GOP lawmaker opposing gay marriage while jetting off to Nantucket to tie the knot. Or a Republican senator leading a crusade to stop anonymous trysts in public restrooms across the land while cruising the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport lavatories for sex.

Is Craig gay, a falsely accused heterosexual or a heterosexual family man with the occasional itch for gay extramarital sex? I don't know or care. I don't think he knows even at this point. I only know this:

One, this is an achingly sad tragedy, for Craig, his wife and family. Watching a man's public career end in disgrace and humiliation shouldn't be the stuff of partisan snickering and sexual jokes so many of us—not least, me—are prone to at these times. Two, Larry Craig doesn't deserve a seat in the Senate.

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