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September 3, 2007

Down the Toilet: The End of Larry Craig

All in all, I'd say last Monday was a good day for Rudy Giuliani. Yes, despite his whole history of divorces, estranged kids, cross dressing, and shacking up with gay friends, he's now the only top GOP presidential candidate who hasn't had a mid-level campaign chairman resign after a same-sex lewd conduct arrest.

Mitt Romney can no longer say that, following the sad downfall of Sen. Larry Craig, who was (until recently) the candidate's honorary national chairman. The Idaho Republican, it was revealed last week, had been arrested in a public toilet at the Minneapolis airport, charged with indicating to an undercover officer that he wished to engage in public sex. Craig quickly and privately pled guilty, information that somehow never reached the press for more than two months.

Craig, in a bizarre press conference, denied any wrongdoing, and that he is or has ever been gay – despite the guilty plea, despite his resignation from the Romney camp and despite a long trail of rumors, going back to the 1980s, of a secret gay life led by the conservative, red-state senator. Craig had also allegedly engaged in certain foot-tapping signals known to be associated with anonymous public sex, and had presumably chosen a particular restroom known for that sort of thing (the cops, after all, must have had a reason to be watching it.)

How did Republicans react to a sitting U.S. senator committing a not-so-politically-friendly crime, pleading guilty and concealing both? Aside from the majority, who either called on Craig to resign or hid under their desks, the reaction was the usual: Blame liberal hypocrisy (Sean Hannity, within hours, had changed the subject to Clinton/Lewinsky), or blame the media. (Craig himself, in the press conference, blamed the Idaho Statesman newspaper for "harassing" his family, with an investigation so tough that the paper didn't even run it until after Craig was arrested.)

Lewinsky was almost 10 years ago – it's really time to get over it. And "the media," aside from funny headlines like "His Own Private Idaho" and "Boise2Men," has handled the incident fairly and credibly. "The Daily Show," perhaps fortunately for Craig, was on vacation for the week. My only question is: How did a senator get arrested and plead guilty without anyone noticing for two months? Doesn't the Washington Post employ interns to search records for just that sort of thing?

Craig has been stripped of his committee assignments and is resigning from the Senate – supporters apparently not buying his explanation that he has a "wide stance" while using the bathroom. Not convincing, of course, but certainly less embarrassing than the last Republican presidential campaign official to be busted for a similar crime. That would be Bob Allen, John McCain's Florida chairman, who, when arrested in a Sunshine State restroom earlier this summer, told investigators that he'd offered to perform oral sex on an undercover police officer because the cop was a large African-American man, and "I didn't want to end up a statistic."

In fact, this is starting to become a pattern. The more anti-gay the Republican political agenda gets, the more GOP political figures get ensnared in gay-related scandals.


Craig and Allen, of course, follow evangelical pastor Ted Haggard and Congressman Mark Foley in 2006, but that's just the scratching the surface. Spokane Mayor James West and Virginia Congressman Ed Schrock also were strong opponents of gay rights who had their careers ended by same-sex scandals. Even the national chairman of the College Republicans resigned in 2007 after he was accused of sexually assaulting a male acquaintance.

Sure, give the Democrats Jim McGreevey, but at least he stood up and came out immediately, rather than lying about his sexuality long after the truth was known. And McGreevey, I may add, never opposed gay rights while in office.

Why does this happen? One argument, which I find very convincing, is that the party that argues for sexual repression – by making gay-bashing a big part of its electoral strategy – actually has some people who are sexually repressed.


In an America in which gays and lesbians are more widely accepted, those who are gay would feel less shame and feel less need to keep it a secret. In the America large segments of the GOP wants to create – one in which being gay is something to be ashamed of, repressed, or "cured” – gays are encouraged to retreat even further into the closet.

There's little question remaining that Larry Craig's political career ended in that bathroom stall in Minnesota. But what remains in question is this: How many GOP politicians must get arrested for this sort of crime until the GOP talking points about "family values" and "protecting traditional marriage" become utterly laughable?


© 2007 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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