Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

When is sex politics?

Posted by metaphorical on 30 August 2007

Craig allegedly peeked through a crack in the door and then took the adjoining stall, where he “tapped his right foot” and then moved his foot to touch the officer’s shoe.

Combined with other moves by Craig, Karsnia said, “I recognized this as a signal used by persons wishing to engage in lewd conduct.”

 — Star news services report on 27 August 2007

I talked yesterday to my friend Pam, an ex-girlfriend who relocated to Idaho two decades ago. Apropos of nothing, she asked, “Is the gay Craig fiasco news in New York?” I had to ask her what she was talking about. At first I just assumed she meant one of the many fundamentalist anti-gay gay minister scandals. It turns out she was talking about her U.S. Senator.

Today, though, there’s at least four stories at nytimes.com, including one that’s blurbed on the front page of the print paper. Interestingly, it’s what we call a second-day story….. that is, it’s all about aftermath, and mostly assumes the reader knows the basic facts of the scandal.

I didn’t, not really. (It’s not entirely my fault. An Aug. 28th Editor & Publisher article takes up the question of “How Did News Outlets Miss Senator’s Arrest for Nearly Three Months?”)

Anyway, here’s what happened. On 11 June, Craig entered a stall in a restroom at the Minneapolis airport and checked out his stallmate for a sexual encounter. He was arrested, and, earlier this month, pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. A USA Today story notes that that charge requires conduct that “will tend to, alarm, anger or disturb others or provoke an assault or breach of the peace” and questions whether any of his behaviors meets that standard.

The Seattle Times gives more of the mating ritual details than the Star news service:

According to the report, an undercover officer entered an airport restroom stall on June 11 and saw Craig standing outside for about two minutes. “Craig would look down at his hands, fidget with his fingers and then look through the crack into my stall again,” wrote the officer, Sgt. Dave Karsnia.

The officer said Craig entered the next stall and placed his roller bag against the door. “My experience has shown that individuals engaging in lewd conduct use their bags to block the view from the front of their stall,” the officer wrote.

The officer said Craig tapped his right foot, “a signal used by persons wishing to engage in lewd conduct. … [Craig] moved his right foot so that it touched the side of my left foot which was within my stall area.”

Craig then passed his left hand under the stall divider into Karsnia’s stall with his palm up and guided it along the divider toward the front of the stall three times, the complaint said.

[UPDATE: Pam sent a link to some audio of Craig’s arrest interview, made available by KTVB in Boise.]

The second-day developments are these: Mitt Romney has distanced himself from Craig with the same speed he would presumably use to get away from someone making restroom advances toward him. Craig was co-chair of the U.S. Senate Mitt Romney for President campaign. Craig has already given up his position on one Senate committee, and some senators, including Republican ones, are calling for Craig to step down. They may or may not be influenced by the coincidence that this summer, the head of McCain’s Florida campaign was charged with soliciting gay sex in the restroom of a public park. (Oh, and Guiliani’s Southern regional campaign chair’s name was one of the many on the D.C. Madame’s rolodex, and his campaign’s South Carolina chair has been indicted on drug charges.)

Craig is regretting his guilty plea and, absurdly, blaming the Idaho Stateman for its “witch hunt.” (As it turns out, the paper didn’t print anything until the senator pleaded guilty.)

The Editor & Publisher’s question about how this went unreported for three months is just the tip of the iceberg.

Detailed accusations against Craig had been available since last year through an Internet-based activist who had a hand in outing several Republican politicians, including former Rep. Mark Foley, the focus of a House page scandal.

The activist, Mike Rogers, went public last October with allegations that Craig engaged in sexual encounters with at least three men, including one who said he had sex with Craig twice at Washington’s Union Station.

The Idaho Statesman went even further back into Craig’s life, talking to other men who claimed they were solicited by him.

It also mentioned a scandal in 1982, in which a male page reported having sex with three congressmen, and Craig — although not named by the youth — issued a statement denying any wrongdoing.

Rogers noted that some politicians, when confronted with evidence about same-sex encounters, have acknowledged their homosexuality — such as Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and the late Rep. Gerry Studds (D-Mass.).

Others persist in denial, and Rogers contends they are fair game for exposure if they vote against gay-rights causes.

That is, then, the question. Are those of us who, say, argued that Clinton’s sexual proclivities weren’t proper fodder for a independent prosecutor’s investigation, in a position to turn around and go after Craig for his? The obvious answer is that Craig is the one who has, for decades, argued for making the details of someone’s sexual interests a matter of concern for the body politic. Clinton did not.

Slate’s John Dickerson picked up on that theme effectively in an article yesterday:

Nick Gillespie, the editor of Reason, seized on the Craig affair to make a version of this argument in the Los Angeles Times, where he said that the GOP should get back to its fundamental principles as articulated by Barry Goldwater. Republicans should stop trying to tell people what to do in their bedrooms and bathrooms, either by stinging a Singing Senator or passing an amendment banning gay marriage. This drew criticism from the National Review’s John Hood, who argued that Gillespie had misappropriated the memory of Barry Goldwater. “I’m going to go out on a not-very-long limb here and suggest that if Sen. Goldwater was still around,” wrote Hood, “he’d be urging Craig to take personal responsibility for the disrepute he has brought upon himself and the Senate.”

We don’t have to guess about what Goldwater would do. During the 1964 presidential campaign, he faced almost precisely the same issue. In October, the Goldwater campaign learned that Walter Jenkins, LBJ’s closest aide, had been arrested on a “morals charge” in the YMCA bathroom. According to J. William Middendorf’s account of that campaign, A Glorious Disaster, Goldwater’s aides wanted to use the scandal against Johnson, who was well ahead in the polls. Jenkins was not only a security risk—open to blackmail— but long before he was arrested, there were allegations he’d used his influence with then-Vice President Johnson to get an Air Force general who had been busted on a morals charge reinstated. The Goldwater aides even tried out slogans: “Either way with LBJ.” Goldwater insisted that they make no use of it. The story never came up during the campaign.

This may say more about Goldwater’s personal decency than it does about his governing philosophy. Jenkins had served in Goldwater’s Air Force Reserve Unit, and as Goldwater later wrote, “It was a sad time for Jenkins’ wife and children, and I was not about to add to their private sorrow. Winning isn’t everything. Some things, like loyalty to friends or lasting principle, are more important.” Mitt, you’re no Barry Goldwater.

Neither is Larry Craig. Oh, and by the way Pam, yes, the Craig story has hit New York. Finally.

3 Responses to “When is sex politics?”

  1. ClaireDePlume said

    After reading this post yesterday, I got in my car and turned on the radio. There, for the “first” time (that I am consciously aware of this unhappy gay fiasco) was this story on the hourly news update. The station was likely CBC, and the report included Craig’s marital status, number of children, word of his apology, and his claim of innocence. It’s confusing – how can an apology and a claim of innocence coexist truthfully?

    In any event, I’ll save my muddled thoughts on this one, with only a comment that the story has reached Toronto. If not for your article Meta, I might never have listened with much interest. Yet thanks to you, I have at least a basic understanding of something which would very likely have escaped me altogether.

    One final thought: It’s to our detriment as a society that far too much of our news is “bad news” and for this I “feel badly”, grammatical crimes & all.

  2. digglahhh said

    I was at a party on Sunday night, a table of people I didn’t really know were talking about the Craig incident. I found that surprising. I guess, some people hadn’t seen the South Carolinian beauty pageant contestant…

    Anyway, I found it strange that one woman was talking about how she really felt bad for Craig, because he was forced to live a lifestyle that was untrue to who he was. I forced my way into the conversation to call bullshit. This man happened chose a career path, and built an identity that was firmly at odds with something essential to who he was, that’s his problem. He is not a victim. A gay guy becoming a Republican Senator is like a black guy joining the Klan – once you do that, you no longer victim-eligible. You have volunteered to endorse and contribute to the oppression we are supposed to feel sorry for you having to experience.

    BTW, this shouldn’t have come as a shock to anybody who remembered Craig’s appearance on Meet The Press, in ’99, after the Clinton BJ fiasco.

  3. ClaireDePlume said

    Digglahhh, I’m glad you carry your bullshit meter with you at all times, particularly to parties where bullshit has a tendency to run rampant.

    I’m not a Republican, nor a Democrat yet misplaced altruism tends to “make me crazy”. We are cutting out our own brains to spite our minds.

    Is Craig a man who operates outside of his own truth? I’d say anyone who apologizes for his behaviour and then claims innocence has either lost the ability to speak (and behave in accordance with) his truth or has a questionable and skewed view of himself AND reality. My personal bullshit meter is sounding the red alert, and screaming, “Liar Liar, pants on fire…”. Craig’s list of misdoings really does not touch my life in anyway. Except that his behaviour and all ensuing behaviour from others watching this fire affects us all. Rome is indeed burning. I’d feel BAD about that except that now seems a good time to invent and market asbestos pants.

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