Friday Free For All

Well, it’s fast approaching Miller Time and the Reich and Lefty halves of the blatherosphere are still bringing to the Larry Craig debate a degree of philosophical and rhetorical flexibility that would do justice to the most ardent devotee of the Kama Sutra. But there’s a fair amount of soul searching going on too. Josh Marshall thoughtfully examines the facts and finds Craig in a catch 22. No gloating, no triumphalism. We don’t recognize it often enough when our intellectual opponents are decent. Here, Marshall is.

His co-blogger David steps through the facts and refrains from undue snark:

Look, I wouldn’t want to bring my 4-year-old son into the airport bathroom and stumble across two people having sex, gay or straight. It’s tough enough getting in and out of the john without him touching every dirty surface or contributing to the mess with an errant aim. But sex didn’t happen here. Even the propositioning is murky at best. And short of a proposition involving sex for money, what is illegal about inquiring about sex? Tactless, maybe. But criminal?

Whether or not you agree with him, it’s a question a lot of people are having trouble with; even over at the opposite corner of the ‘sphere:

… seriously, folks — a guy taps another guy’s foot and reaches his hand under a stall and is arrested for that? And is evidently going to get railroaded out of the Senate for it? If I remember my Joseph Wambaugh vice-squad novels correctly, it used to be the rule that the object of the act of entrapment actually had to make a specific request with words of the entrapee at least. Now you can lose it all for sending messages in semaphore?

The very existence of this sort of coded behavior is vice’s tribute to virtue — it has meaning only to those who know its meaning. If someone tapped on my foot in a men’s room stall, I would just assume that person…had a wide stance and was a foot jiggler. If, on the other hand, I was in on the code and wanted to respond, I could do so.

What I should not do, in that case, is actually engage in carnal activity in a public place. That is offensive and illegal. The tap-and-hand wouldn’t be offensive to anyone who didn’t know what they meant — and illegal only in the sense that invading someone else’s space should be illegal, which is to say, it shouldn’t be.

In other words, the problem, if there is one, in this act of public solicitation isn’t the solicitation in any case. It’s what might follow it. That’s why what happened to Craig really was an appalling act of entrapment. I know that has nothing to do with whether he’ll keep his Senate seat, because he is a public figure and all. But good Lord, surely that cop had better things to do!

It’s almost enough to make you think that down deep, Reich and Left aren’t all that different after all…

Until you read something like this and suddenly want to chew your own leg off in frustration:

Whenever one of these morality scandals comes up — whether it involves homosexuality, adultery, or being on a list compiled by someone the media calls a “Madam” — it often involves a Republican. Critics love to charge Republicans with hypocrisy — preaching traditional family values to the rest of us by day while trolling bathrooms and pressing sweaty palms to computer keyboards by night.

Whatever explains these other public moral dramas, hypocrisy doesn’t fully capture the GOP’s plainly dysfunctional relationship to homosexuality. Believe it or not, there are plenty of traditional-values Republicans who are not secretly gay. They might be wrong about homosexuality, but they’re not hypocrites.

Yes, there are many prominent Republicans whose private actions are inconsistent with their traditional-values personas. Sen. Larry “I am Not a Gay American” Craig is the latest of them, assuming the various allegations against him are true. Jim West had an aggressively anti-gay record both as a Washington state legislator and as mayor of Spokane, yet cruised for gay sex and anonymously told an online acquaintance that he hated the “sex Nazis” who try to regulate people’s private lives. There are many other examples.

But there are also many closeted gay Republicans not closely associated with the party’s religious right. Mark Foley, of last year’s congressional page scandal, was not an anti-gay member of Congress. While he didn’t support everything I wish he had, his rating from national gay-rights groups was usually quite good and I’d take his record on gay issues over many Democrats’.

There’s an entire website devoted to outing (mostly) Republican politicos. That site does not hurt for news and information. Its working list of closeted gay Republicans – whether officeholders, staffers, or party officials – is a very, very long one. I can tell you the website does not even come close to listing all of the gay Republicans working in prominent positions in Washington and elsewhere.

And not nearly all of these gay Republicans are anti-gay, or work directly for anti-gay causes. Many despise the party’s anti-gay rhetoric and actions. They are Republicans because they are pro-life, or support low taxes, or want a strong national defense, or desire an exciting job in public policy, or for any of a hundred other reasons. You could call it hypocrisy to be gay and work for a generally anti-gay political party, regardless of the gay person’s own views or what she does within the party to oppose its anti-gay policy positions, but if so, this is surely a watered-down form of the vice.

What unites these cases is not really hypocrisy. It’s two other things. First, nearly all the gay Republicans working in Washington or elsewhere are to one degree or another closeted. Second, at a personal level, very few Republican officials around them care whether someone is gay.

From the top of the party to the bottom, few Republicans personally and viscerally dislike gay people. President Bush has had friends he knew were gay. So has Vice President Cheney. Even the most prominently and vigorously anti-gay Republican, Sen. Rick “Man on Dog” Santorum, had a gay spokesperson whom he defended when his homosexuality became known.

The big, open secret in Republican politics is that everyone knows someone gay these days and very few people — excepting some committed anti-gay activists — really care.

So far, so good. But then the train of thought jumps the track. After going into a short diatribe about how the RNC has laid down its own version of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, he wings out the ultimate nonsequitur:

For the closeted gay Republican, this alloy means a life of desperation and fear and loneliness, of expressing one’s true feelings only in the anonymity of the Internet, of furtive bathroom encounters, of late nights darting in and out of dark bars, hoping not to be seen. It means life without a long-term partner, without real love.

Riiiight…. because there were no other choices except toiling away under the noonday sun, cramming your mouth with distressful bread under the auspices of the Evil RNC. Check. Why is it that everyone one runs into on the InterTubes these days seems to have fallen victim to the same diabolical Tradeoff Thief?

But wait! There’s more! Apparently the Dark Overlords require the ultimate sacrifice (No, not a virgin at dawn. It’s worse than that, even):

Worst of all, it may mean a life of deceiving a spouse and children. It’s hardly surprising that most of the men caught cruising in parks, bathrooms, and other public places are deeply closeted and often married. They don’t see themselves as having many other options.

You know, I’d heard the first thing that happens when you accept a job with the RNC is that they remove your spine…

The second is that all-important home visit wherein KKKarl Rove personally checks to make sure the marital bed hath been consecrated with frequent conjugal visits. Rumor has it his Evil Eye is so powerful it can force you to propose Holy Matrimony to a bleached blonde in under 20 seconds…

…but as we all know, Nature Simply Will Not Be Denied. Because all gay men, dahlings, hang out in seedy rest rooms swiping the bottoms of the stall next to them looking for a quick encounter with the Accidental Tourist:

Nevertheless, it seems to work until the day you get caught tapping your toe next to a cop. Desperation sets in and you say things that bring everyone much mirth at your expense, like, “I’m not gay, I just have a wide stance.”

Honestly, if I’d had any idea Republican ideology had mind altering effects only slightly less powerful than that of TAG Body Spray for Men, I’d have changed my voter registration years ago. Who knew??? What troubles me most about the Craig affair is the issue of proportionality. In 1987 Rep. Barney Frank revealed that he had paid a prostitute for sex. On the Richter Scale of Congressional sex scandals this is about a 7.5 to Craig’s 2.
A subsequent ethics investigation revealed Frank had taken the man into his home, from whence he ran a brothel. And that wasn’t all.
Of course, Frank is still in the House. And Larry Craig is being run out on a rail by his own party. There’s something to be said for sticking to your principles, but which principles are we sticking to, and are they worth going to the mat for?

Let’s take the issues one by one:

Is this entrapment? It seems hard to make that case unless someone can show the officer somehow enticed Craig into physically crossing the barrier between the stalls. The usual elements of the defense of entrapment are that police somehow:

1. tricked or coerced
2. an otherwise unwilling or unpredisposed defendant
3. into breaking the law

Keep in mind that I am not a lawyer and am not using a Minnesota statute, but merely citing the general common law understanding of entrapment. Is merely sitting in a stall minding your own business “tricking or coercing” Craig? I don’t think so. It presents opportunity, that’s all.

Was Craig unwilling or undisposed to solicit sex in men’s rooms? Arguable, but given his outing last fall that may not be an argument he wants to raise. But the third element is more promising:

…Broke the law. Is it against the law to stick your hand under a stall? To tap your foot or play footsie? Does that constitute “lewd conduct”? Craig pled guilty rather than go to court to find out.

Issue 2: Ethics and the Senate. Are conservatives “fair” to run Craig out on a rail when Barney Frank is still around after having sex with a prostitute? What do you think?

And what is the real issue here? Is it his sexual orientation, his arrest, or his dishonesty towards his wife that troubles you the most? Or do you think he’s being unfairly treated?

Issue 3: Proportionality: Does the punishment fit the ”crime”: John Podhoretz (long Corner quote above) thinks Craig is being too harshly punished for a “crime” that never even took place.

What do you think?

Before you start in on each other, the editorial staff has only three words of wisdom for you:

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Lighten up, Frances!

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