Thursday, September 06, 2007

Restroom Round-Up

What to think about Senator Larry Craig's "disorderly conduct" in the airport men's room? I admit I felt some schadenfreude(*) at seeing such a die-hard anti-gay legislator suffer such an ironic fall. (The man scored a complete zero on the HRC gay policy report card. That's not just incidentally anti-gay, that requires real focus.) But the episode elicits a complex mix of reactions.

Is Craig guilty? You bet. His immediate reactions unquestionably belie his guilt. There are a number of unbelievable aspects to Craig's version of the story. For example, he says he has a "wide stance" when going to the bathroom, and may have unknowingly put his foot into the next stall. Right. I don't think anyone has that wide of a stance. Moreover, Craig wasn't standing, he was sitting. But the real clincher for me was his immediate reaction when the officer flashed his badge and asked him to leave. Craig said "No!". Think about that. An innocent person would never have said "No!", they would have said "Huh??". But as soon as Craig saw the badge, he knew exactly what he was being busted for. Why? Because he knew what he was doing in that restroom, and it wasn't the nominal innocent purpose. And then this business of the guilty plea, hoping to make it go away quietly, without even talking to an attorney? Is that the reaction of a falsely accused Senator? I think not. Why on earth would Craig have attempted to just handle this himself without consulting with legal and political advisors? There's only one reason. He was scared to death to talk to anybody about it. Guilty, guilty, guilty.

Was there really any crime committed? I don't think so. While I'm certain that Craig's intentions for using that restroom are everything that he's denying, I don't see how that amounts to a crime. What he is being accused of is sticking his foot and his hand slightly into the next stall. While most would find this behavior bizarre and off-putting, I doubt most would view it as criminal. The charge behind the charge comes from the meaning behind these coded rituals, making them something akin to winking at someone. But is winking a crime? Insofar as these actions were coded communication, they were a more subtle equivalent of of going up to someone in a restroom and baldly saying "you're hot, I'd like to give you a blow job". But even that, while many would find it quite disturbing, is not criminal. Freedom of speech, you know. One might argue that Craig was looking to have sex right there in the public facility, which would be illegal. Admittedly, but things never got that far, did they? Perhaps in Minnesota they do things differently, but generally one can't be charged for something one merely intends to do, but doesn't actually follow through with. Making a larger point, Arianna Huffington asks whether such sting operations aren't an obvious misallocation of law enforcement resources (especially in an airport, where far more ominous potential crimes weigh heavily on all our minds).

Is Craig a victim of anti-gay animus? Indeed he is. The double-standard is painfully apparent. We have the contrast in Craig's fellow Senator, David Vitter, who just a couple months ago was exposed as having used the services of a prostitute in DC. Apparently, heterosexual prostitution is a forgiveable sin, as nobody is looking for Vitter to resign. But what Craig did was "so reckless and repulsive as to demand an immediate exit" (in the words of Hugh Hewitt). This contrast has been pointed out, and various excuses are offered, such as that no charges have been brought against Vitter, or that Vitter's offenses were years ago. But let's cut the crap. This is about the gay stigma. What has been Craig's most vehement public denial? "I am not gay." Note that he seems far less concerned with countering charges that he has been having sex outside of marriage, or engaging in extra-marital affairs via particularly seedy avenues. One gets the distinct impression that if Craig could somehow trade his peccadillo for Vitter's, he'd put his name on the DC madam's list as fast as you can tap your foot. (Hilary Bok also is right to point out the double-standard of men vs. women suffering sexual harrassment.)

What's the appropriate Christian response to this sort of thing? I think we saw that last year with Ted Haggard. He confessed (eventually), and he was forgiven by his family and church, not rejected by them. Contrast that with Craig, who is embracing denial, and the likes of Mitt Romney, who quickly threw Craig under the bus. Bill Clinton (who knows a thing or two about peccadillos) was far more charitable: "Well, first of all, I think we ought to recognize that this is a very traumatic time for him and his family. And whatever happens or doesn't, most of his political career was behind him. So whatever your party, we should be hoping that he and his family can work through this in a way that leaves them as whole as possible. I think that that is more important than the politics of this."

(*) If you don't know what schadenfreude is, then you need to go see Avenue Q.

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