Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Senator Craig's Saga

Senator Larry Craig’s legal and political morass raises several, often conflicting thoughts.

First, I feel for the Senator – no, not in that way, but that’s part of the problem. He has become the butt of every late night comedian’s jokes. Just as Senator Robert Packwood of Oregon a decade and a half ago, he has lost his effectiveness in the Senate, except for the power to cast a vote. At least, he is not being publicly reviled and harassed as Senator Packwood was after disclosure of rampant, drunken sexual harassment escapades in the past. And that was after the then popular Senator had just been reelected. The media sat on the Packwood rumors until after the 1992 election. With Senator Craig, the story has surfaced before next year’s elections.

Second, Senator Craig must resign because of a far greater public offense – gross stupidity, as reflected in his reaction to the disclosures. Any elected representative, especially one who has served in the scandal loving milieu or maelstrom of Washington for three decades, must know that pleading guilty, even to a misdemeanor, cannot remain secret.

To repeatedly waive the right to counsel is inexplicable. Retaining counsel would have made the arrest a matter of public knowledge sooner, but at least the Senator would have had an opportunity for a credible denial and the chance for a public clearing.

Further, the explanation for the weird restroom behavior, which we can analogize to being a Pontiac Wide-Track, insults human credulity.

Third, to announce a resignation, and then have second thoughts, no- third thoughts, projects an image of confusion and vacillation. The voters understand that politicians may not always be strong leaders, but will not accept public manifestation of such weaknesses. Leaders who fail in a time of crisis will usually be out of office after the next election.

Fourth, the Republican Party lost Congress in the last election, partially because of the lurid emails of Congressman Mark Foley. No evidence has surfaced that Congressman Foley successfully followed up on these solicitations, but the shame to the GOP was manifest and politically costly. No repetition will be allowed. Many of his Senate colleagues abandoned him quickly. Loyalty and friendship in politics can be very fleeting.

Fifth, Senator Craig was protected for decades by a tacit agreement that, absent public acts or dying from AIDS, the media will not out Washington politicos or Hollywood figures. They will be allowed to maintain their closet status even when accompanied by blatant hypocrisy, such as voting or publicly proclaiming against gay rights.

The powerful conservative lawyer, Roy Cohn, exemplified this reality. Only when he was clearly dying of AIDS, as with Rock Hudson, did his sexual orientation become publicly discussed in the media. Similarly, when the popular Connecticut Congressman Stuart McKinney died of AIDS in 1987, the explanation was that blood transfusions were the cause.

Rumors, of course, can surface and may have to be addressed. Tabloids occasionally have issues professing to show who’s gay and who’s straight, but these issues have all the probative value of the tabloids in general. The cumulative weight of rumors though can be potentially damaging to a candidate. For example, many Italian politicians have been tarred with the label of having Mafia connections.

Thus, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, in a current Advocate interview, strongly rejected the rumors floating about her, and emphatically proclaimed her heterosexuality. For what it’s worth, I had first heard the lesbian rumors while attending a conference in Kentucky during her husband’s successful 1992 campaign.

Finally, a double standard exists between the Democratic and Republican Parties. While sexual peccadilloes do not respect political parties, and indeed, are common human frailities, Republican voters have less tolerance for double sexual lives. Democrats are just as moral as Republicans, but do not campaign to the same extent on family and religious values. Divorce, as shown by President Reagan, is no longer a bar to office for Republicans. Nor are DWI’s or “youthful indiscretions” necessarily a career ender, but tawdry behavior is still unacceptable, especially in public places.

Sinning is a non-partisan activity. A classic example occurred during the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Judge Robert Bork. The Judge had married a former nun, and the suspicion arose that they might be renting salacious videos. Opponents of the Judge then canvassed Washington, D.C. video stores for the rental records of the Borks. The inquiries turned up The Sound of Music and similar movies. The nomination was defeated, but members of Congress were concerned that their video records could similarly surface. Congress in almost record time enacted the Video Privacy Protection Act of 1988, making it a crime for video rental records to be disclosed without either the customer’s consent or a warrant.

And yet, the ACLU is right in supporting the Senator. The Minneapolis Airport sting operation was legally problematic at best, and goes against the progressive image of Minneapolis and Minnesota.

The Supreme Court in 2003 struck down state sodomy laws in a 5:4 decision. Any consummation would be protected, albeit the state has a valid interest in prosecuting public sexual acts, whether hetero or homo. But it would never have progressed that far at the airport under these circumstances.

The other acts can be characterized as flirting, invitations to sex, or perhaps even a battery. Sexual propositions are hardly actionable. Indeed, they are normal human activities, albeit sometimes highly repugnant, immoral, unprofessional, or subject to administrative or civil remedies. Perhaps an invitation to commit an illegal act might be actionable, but that’s not the case after 2003.

Nor, technically, could a battery have been committed because the undercover officer had consented to being touched.

However, whether or not Senator Craig wins or losses his appeal of his Minnesota plea is irrelevant to his political future. That was decided in Minneapolis Airport on June 11, 2007.

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