Leader Blues

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

EDITORIALS>>Hypocrite in the closet

The overwhelming impulses after the fall of U. S. Sen. Larry Craig, the Idaho Republican, for soliciting sex in a men’s room stall ought to be sadness and understanding for another politician who like ordinary mortals could not master the frailties of flesh.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton expressed those impulses, solemnly, and nothing else when David Letterman surprised her Thursday night by asking her take on her colleague’s troubles. She hoped he and his family could work things out.

Sen. Craig had been one of the leading jeerleaders in the impeachment proceedings against her husband in 1999, when with a big grin on a national TV show he called the president “a nasty, bad, naughty boy” who deserved more than a slap on the wrist for having oral sex with an intern and for not being completely honest about it.

Craig wanted the president removed from office. Now it’s Republicans, embarrassed and on the defense again, who are asking Craig to quit his office.

Understanding would be easier were it not for the hypocrisy, for which Craig is only the latest poster boy. Craig’s preening righteousness in the Monicagate scandal could be chalked up to the political gamesmanship of the era, in which practically everybody on both sides took part, but it has characterized much of his political life.

Craig, who is expected to resign Saturday, was a family-values Republican, who was happy to sponsor and promote anti-gay legislation and to claim moral superiority for himself and for his party. He led the way on banning homosexual marriages and against making violence and intimidation of homosexuals a hate crime.

His press conference after Roll Call, a Washington journal, reported his guilty plea in the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport sex-sting operation was given over to a screed against the Idaho newspaper that had been investigating his illicit sexual escapades for a year.

He said he was so upset over the newspaper’s harassment that he had committed the terrible misjudgment of pleading guilty when he was actually not guilty of propositioning the undercover policeman. He said it was a misunderstanding.

The Idaho newspaper then published a massive account of its investigation, mainly stories by men who said they had sex with Craig or were propositioned by him going back to his college days.

There seems to be a spirit running through the universe that wants to expose hypocrisy. Sen. Craig’s undoing is just the latest affirmation, and it has left the national Republican Party in shambles.

In the moral fervor over Clinton’s sleazy conduct, which held that high officials must set a higher standard of personal conduct, Republican leaders demanded that he be removed from office and not merely condemned.

One by one, the leaders had to admit sexual indiscretions at least as bad as Clinton’s: serial adultery and homosexual and heterosexual escapades. House Speaker Newt Gingrich was having an affair with an aide.

Rep. Bob Livingston of Louisiana, who was to be his successor, had to resign his leadership position and his seat after his adulterous affairs were exposed. His successor to the Louisiana congressional seat, the pious David Vitter, now a senator, was caught up this year in the Washington call-girl scandal.

The avuncular Henry Hyde, chairman of the Judiciary Committee that recommended impeachment of Clinton, had to own up to adultery. So did Jack Ryan, the great Republican hope in Illinois.

Rep. Helen Chenoweth, another Idaho family-values ideologue, had to admit to a six-year affair with her former boss but said that was different from Clinton’s dalliances with Monica Lewinsky that she had so vehemently condemned.
Then there was Rep. Mark Foley of Florida, who victimized male pages.

One of the leaders of the impeachment drive, our own clean-living Asa Hutchinson, a prosecutor for Hyde’s committee, thankfully has escaped a sex scandal.

But while Congressman Hutchinson was prosecuting Clinton before the Senate in 1999, his Washington roommate, brother Tim, who as a senator voted to convict and oust the president, was carrying on with a female member of his Senate office staff.

Sen. Hutchinson left his wife and married the woman, but Arkansas voters turned him out of office in 2002.

Sen. Craig’s cardinal sin seems to be that he has embarrassed his party. Sen. John McCain said he had harmed the Republican Party’s “reputation with the American people.”

Senate GOP leaders removed him from all his leadership responsibilities, and there were calls for him to resign for the good of the party. But party has nothing to do with it.

The good, if any, that comes from Sen. Craig’s sad downfall will be the final surrender of the idea that a political party has a singular claim on moral rectitude and wholesome values. It doesn’t. Character is an individual journey. And the closet is a roomy but lonely and miserable place that Larry Craig has not helped to liberate.