Double American Standard

Idaho Republican Senator Larry Craig is all over the news this week after the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call reported he’d pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor following his arrest in a restroom in the Minneapolis airport.

According to police reports the senator, seated in a stall, tapped his foot, then scooted it toward an undercover officer’s foot in the next stall, then waved his hand beneath the stall partition. These are alleged to be signals indicating one man wishes to have sex with another man.

In his defense, Mr. Craig said his actions were misinterpreted because he has a “wide stance” when defecating. He did not explain the hand waving. He said he pleaded guilty to put the incident behind him because he knew an Idaho newspaper was preparing a story in which men had come forward to say they have had sex with the senator in public restrooms.

As a congressman in 1982, Mr. Craig issued a press release denying he is a homosexual, even though no one had accused him. Rumors about his sexual activity have dogged him for years, even as he has voted with his Republican colleagues opposing legislation to level the American playing field for lesbians and gays.

Within hours, fellow Republican senators John McCain (AZ) and Norm Coleman (MN) called on Sen. Craig to resign and the GOP leadership removed Mr. Craig from his leadership roles in committees. Scheduled to face re-election next year, Mr. Craig will not run. His political career is over.

What does all this tell us? For one thing, it reminds us people do not choose to be gay or straight. (Are you paying attention now, Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM)? One need not be a scientist to grasp this.) Being gay is a not a disease, so Rev. Ted Haggard cannot be “cured” of it, regardless of the “de-programming” he submits himself to. Being gay is not a cultural construct, it’s not something invented in New York or San Francisco. People are gay in right wing, white-bread Idaho. “Brokeback Mountain,” wasn’t off the mark.

The difference between Greenwich Village and Boise (among other things) is that people in the Village are able to express themselves without the kind of censure one finds in Idaho – or Laramie, Wyoming, where Matthew Shepard was crucified on a fence for being gay.

Are Republicans hypocrites for calling for Mr. Craig’s resignation, for stripping him of his committee posts? Yes they are. Republicans would be hypocrites regardless of what they do in the Craig case. Congressional Republicans tried to impeach Bill Clinton over his sexual involvement with an intern. What the married Mr. Clinton did was repugnant, but legal – consensual sex between adults. What the married Mr. Craig is accused of is illegal – soliciting sex in a public place. To act against Mr. Clinton but not Mr. Craig would be hypocrisy.

But if the condemnations of Mr. Clinton and Mr. Craig are consistent, how does that make Republicans hypocrites? Because they have not lined up to censure the married Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) for his admission of association with prostitutes. This too, is illegal, but Mr. Vitter hid his crime until the statute of limitations expired. Beating the rap on a technicality seems to be all it takes to retain one’s good standing in the U.S. Senate. (This not just about Republicans. Sen. Joe Lieberman, one-time Democrat, now Independent from Connecticut, famously scolded Mr. Clinton on the Senate floor for his indiscretion, but now remains silent.)

If Republicans were consistent, they’d give Mr. Vitter the same treatment as Mr. Craig. The differences between Sens. Craig and Vitter are 1) GOP senators grant a “boys will be boys” understanding to clients of prostitutes that they withhold from toilet-stall gays and 2) Louisiana is far more likely to replace Mr. Vitter with a Democrat than Idaho is to send a Democrat to replace Mr. Craig.

Finally, it should be noted Sen. Craig was (until Monday) co-chair of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in Idaho and co-chair of Mr. Romney’s campaign in the Senate. Mr. Romney has called the Craig matter “disgusting” and is running away from Mr. Craig at full tilt.

This is the fourth sex or drug scandal to afflict Republican presidential campaigns in the last 90 days. For those keeping score, it’s been: June – Rudy Giuliani’s South Carolina chairman and state Treasurer Thomas Ravenel busted for cocaine distribution. July – Mr. Giuliani’s southern chairman Mr. Vitter outed for prostitution. Mr. Ravenel was dropped from the Rudy ’08 campaign, but Mr. Vitter remains (more evidence of the double standard). July, part two – Florida co-chair of Mr. McCain’s campaign and state Rep. Bob Allen was arrested for offering a police officer $20 to allow Mr. Allen to perform oral sex on the officer in a public restroom. He is no longer with the campaign.

How many sex and drug arrests must the party of “family values” produce before reporters start to see a trend? How does this get less airtime than John Edwards’s haircut? It’s not just Senate Republicans with a double standard.

© Mark Floegel, 2007

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