U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho. (U.S. Senate)
of Larry Craig's career in the U.S. Senate has provided America a giant sense of superiority, watching that slug squirm in his own salt.
For many, nothing more elevates the mood, at least perversely, than the public exposure and humiliation of a hypocrite. Craig certainly earned that label by denouncing gays and denying that he himself was gay, despite rumors suggesting otherwise and, now, details from a June incident at an airport men's room in Minneapolis.
Another right-wing moralist get his just reward.
It feels good.
Two things are bugging me.
First is a civil-liberties issue that arises from the case itself, detailed by the police report
. Slate gleefully re-enacts it with a video
Craig did things that, if true, were suggestive, intrusive, and annoying – but only that. In an airport men's room, where police were already on the alert for sexual activity, he peered into an occupied stall. He tapped the toes of another person (unfortunately for him, a cop). He waved his hand underneath a divider.
Yes, it's creepy.
But what happened and what did not happen?
Craig did not speak to the cop. No verbal discussion of sex took place. Nobody touched or tried to touch another's private parts.
The cop said nothing to Craig to suggest he was alarmed or bothered by Craig's actions. In fact, in response to Craig's toe-tapping, the cop raised and lowered his foot slowly – presumably code in such matters, a signal of welcome. Craig's foot touched the cop's foot. Then came the hand waves. That was it. The cop showed his badge.
Four minutes after Craig had entered the men's room, he was under arrest.
For this, Craig was charged with disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor, and interference with privacy, a gross misdemeanor. He pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and knowingly engaging "in conduct which I knew or should have known tended to arouse alarm or resentment."
Like many others who read about this online, I couldn't believe real life was this outrageous. The pompous right-winger, the subculture of cruisers who know a code of the commode, the young undercover cop ready to pounce, the greatest bust of his career – it all seemed like a moment of high drama and exquisite satire
by Tom Wolfe.
But then I thought about the incident in a different context, the civil-liberties issues surrounding sting operations. Was this an example of entrapment? Just what did the cop's fluttering foot convey? Shouldn't the cop's behavior affect our reading of this?
Craig probably could have beat this charge, but he had other issues to worry about. Stupidly, he thought a guilty plea would bring a quiet and quick end to the incident.
The other troubling aspect of the Craig scandal is the disclosure by the Idaho Statesman
that it had been investigating Craig for months
, gathering details about his private life. As part of its work, the newspaper interviewed no less than 41 of Craig's college fraternity brothers.
of the private lives of politicians are not unusual. But traditionally, a newspaper investigates a private life if the public interest is triggered in a significant and substantive way. Typically, it involves a crime or abuse of office. The Seattle Times
looked at allegations of sexual harassment and molestation by former Sen. Brock Adams of Washington
. In Spokane, the Spokesman-Review investigated Mayor Jim West
for alleged molestation of boys.
crossed a different threshold. It began work after a gay activist blogger published a claim that Craig had sex with men. The paper followed dozens of leads
about Craig's alleged sexual partners and only turned up one credible source, but even he refused to let his name be used.
The newspaper also looked for evidence that Craig was involved in a scandal involving congressional pages in 1982. Nothing of substance developed from that either, the paper found.
Certainly, if Craig had been involved with pages, that alone would have been sufficient cause to investigate the senator. But that was not the focus or the basis of the paper's investigation. The paper really just wanted to get proof that he was gay, perhaps not even to find a crime but a violation of a new standard: call it gross misalignment between public persona and private conduct. That led to months of gumshoe work and gathering bits of almost comic dimension: Craig did not hold the hand of a woman he dated decades ago. Craig was awkward with women. One Idaho politician found it suspicious that the senator's speech patterns were very precise. "That's not what you expect from a rancher," this source told the Statesman
. And, of course, there was always that business about Craig's interest in the piano.
Nine years after
the Drudge Report broke the news about a president's affair with an intern, claims of privacy and what is or what isn't fair game are just quaint notions, like using a stamp to send a letter. Everybody has a blog and therefore everything is just "out there." And the hypocrites, especially, are fair game.
Despite my own belief that Larry Craig deserves what he gets, there's also a sense of alarm about other players in this scandal. This business of cops sitting on toilets, flapping their foots as come-ons, and reporters asking those wink-wink questions, is also creepy. I suppose we'll get a lot more of this in our presidential election. Long after Idaho picks a new senator, we're going to wonder about the direction in American politics.