Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Republicans and sex: the lethal combination

Larry Craig is a top Right-wing, Theopublican Senator from Idaho. He is also one of those Theopublicans who happily joined the villagers with the pitchforks and torches who were out chasing the gay monster. Now, Mr. Craig has been arrested for soliciting an undercover police officer in a toilet at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

Actually, I should say he was arrested in June and had managed, until now, to keep his arrest quiet. Craig says his actions were misconstrued and that police had misunderstood him. He did, however, plead guilty to the charges at the time but says he did this to keep things quiet, and to handle them as quickly as possible. He paid a fine and is on a suspended jail sentence.

This is not the first time that Senator Craig has had issues of this type. In 1982 a former Congressional page claimed that various member of Congress plied male pages with drugs and alcohol and solicited sex from them. Please note that while the news report below claims the pages are “under age” this is not necessarily true. The media stupidly and incorrectly uses “under age” to mean anyone under 18 years of age. While 18 is the age of majority, age of consent for sexual activity is 16 in Washington, D.C., as it is in many states.

It should be noted that today the minimum age to become a page is 16 which is why, despite the media hype, Republican Congressman Mark Foley was not involved in sexual misconduct with minors. Actually, one of the main incidents took place with a former page who was 18 years of age and the only sexual liaison that is known took place with an ex-page who was 21 years old at the time.

But this change was instituted in 1983, after the first scandal. In the following report you will see that, while no names were specifically mentioned, that Larry Craig held a press conference to deny it was him. So it is possible that in 1982 under aged pages were involved. However, given the media’s sloppy reporting it could mean either under 18 years of age, or under the age of consent, which is 16.

What was shocking in the 1982 case is that the hypocrites in Congress were using illegal drugs. Yet, none of these Senators or Congressman are willing to legalize the drugs they used. And many bash gays while secretly having gay sex -- or in some cases, not so secretly having gay sex.

Last year one blogger specifically named Larry Craig as a Senator who regularly sought out male companionship. This year old article from USA Today notes covers that. (This report also incorrectly claims that the two congressman who admitted having sex with pages in 1982 did so with under aged pages. That is false. Both pages were over the age of consent and one of them, the male page who had an affair with Congressman Gerry Studds, publicly defended Studds and stated that they were both consenting adults. But the media still prefers the sensationalism of exaggerating the facts. The media doesn’t mind a little gay bashing by distorting the facts to sell papers or up their ratings.)

USA Today noted that a “gay rights” blogger exposed Craig last year. The blogger, Michael Rogers, did so because Craig had an antigay agenda. However, Rogers uses the term very broadly to mean any view contrary to that of the Left agenda of some gay political pressure groups. In some cases the label applies, and in others it does not. Unfortunately the Left can’t distinguish between the two and conflates them into one category. Most Leftist, like most Rightists, have no coherent theory of rights. Rights are whatever they like. That said, Senator Craig did support legislation that denied equal citizenship to gay people.

Craig has bought into the Theopublican Religious-Right agenda and proclaimed himself a defender of “traditional family values”. The media reports he is married and has three children. It is usually left out that this marriage took place rather late in Craig’s life and that none of the children are his own but were born to his wife during her first marriage. Rumors regarding Craig’s sexual life were floating around long before the marriage. The film clips above make clear that Craig only married after he was publicly denying any involvement with male pages since he mentions that he came forward because he was single and suspected he would be implicated.

The question for the media is when does a private life become a matter of public interest. Bill Clinton’s sexual unfaithfulness to Hillary (which may have been mutual) was private except that Clinton was charged with sexual harassment. He was supporter of the very laws which netted him -- as was Foley, by the way. In both their cases they were harmed by legislation they endorsed.

Clinton, however, also lied while under oath. And it appeared that he was easily blackmailed by Monica Lewinsky, who was able to use her affair to pressure him into giving her positions apparently in exchange for the positions she gave him or, by implication, for her silence. Once Clinton lied in court, and was open to this sort of improper pressure, the matter took on a more ominous nature. At that point his private live became public concern. Unfortunately the Republicans were so horrified over sex that they never got to anything of substance.

Foley’s problem was that he was stupid and he proposed legislation that he was happily violating himself. In addition he was supporting political policies that denied equal rights to gay people. That doesn’t change the fact that Democrats used crude gay stereotypes to hype the Foley incident for their own benefit and that they falsely accused him of being a pedophile even though the rude messages he sent were to sexually mature individuals above the age of consent. I thought the Foley incident showed how seamy the Democrats could be and how they would use antigay stereotypes just as quickly as the Republicans, if they see a clear benefit in doing so.

My view is that a politician who doesn’t make himself out to be some defender of “traditional values” or isn’t legislating the sex lives of others, ought to have his private, sexual life respected and kept private. Larry Craig was willing to make the sex lives of others a matter of public concern. He was caught soliciting a male police officer in a toilet -- the cruising spot of the closeted, something which the Theopublican agenda of pushing gays into the closet encourages. Craig also denied gay people equality before the law. I would not have outed him myself, as did the one blogger, but I can’t be too upset he was caught either.

His actual arrest changed the facts sufficiently that it is worth reporting. And it should be noted that this is not the last Theopublican moralist who will be hoisted with their own petard. Their desire to regulate the sex lives of others means they are willing to turn the private affairs of people into public business. How they expect their own sexual lives to stay private I don’t know. If the sex lives of the citizenry are the affairs of legislators then the sex lives of legislators are the affair of the voters. But political officials who haven’t tried to make private sexual activity a focus of state intervention ought to have their privacy respected. Larry Craig was not that kind of elected official. And his party represents the organized forces of state control of sexuality.

According to the police report, which I have read, Craig appears to have attempted to use his political office to avoid arrest. After his arrest he was asked for his driver’s license. Craig, however, handed the officer his U.S. Senate business card instead. He said: “What do you think of that?”

I should also note that there is no clear indication that Craig was planning on engaging in sexual activity in a public location. He supposedly used gestures to indicate that he was willing to engage in sex. The location was never indicated or discussed. If indication of willingness to engage in voluntary sexual conduct is “lewd conduct” than 99% of the American people would have been arrested at some point in their life and the other 1% are lying about it.

If a man had indicated to a woman that he was interested in sexual activity, I suspect that it would not normally be considered a criminal matter unless he did so in an especially graphic, offensive, or aggressive manner. Craig seems to have been a victim of the double standard -- one standards for straight activity and another for gay activity. But then Craig has done a great deal to encourage that sort of standard of inequality before the law. Anti-gay fundamentalist minister Lonnie Latham had been arrested for exactly the same thing -- suggesting to a police officer they go to his hotel room for sex. The officer was hanging around a hotel where gay men sometimes meet other men. Latham didn't offer money nor did he suggest sex in public. But he was arrested anyway -- this is not an unusual way for police to harass gay people. Latham, was acquitted because the sex act itself was legal as was his suggestion to the officer. Chances are good that Sen. Craig would have been acquitted had he fought the charges. But he, like many gay men, copped a plea to try to avoid the trauma of being publicly outed in a culture where being gay is still a social handicap.

I should note that one way Senator Craig differs from many on the far Right of the Republican Party is that he doesn’t engage in the shameless, racist attacks on immigrants. His analysis of immigration has been sound. And his knowledge of the economic benefits of immigration can’t be disputed. So, at least, on that issue, Senator Craig is heads above the many fake “free market” advocates who want to restrict immigration and bash immigrants. On that front, at least, he was not a bigot though he did pander to the Religious Right on the antigay campaign.

Craig was a victim in some ways. The worst he did was indicated a willingness to engage in sex and that is not “lewd conduct” except to the homophobes who think anything that indicates sexuality, especially homosexual sexuality, is automatically lewd. Craig did not offer money so it wasn’t solicitation for prostitution. He merely indicated a willingness to engage in legal, sexual activity. And since the issue of where one would have sex was never raised it was not a matter of public lewdness either.

So Craig was arrested on charges that normally are not applied to people other than to gay men. He was the victim of the uneven view of rights that permeates the law when it comes to homosexuality. But he was also a victim of the Religious Right ideology that he willingly promoted -- one that required him to be closeted and seek out such activity in a manner that was meant to be furtive and secretive, one that relied on “cruising spots” with hand gestures or foot tapping to indicate willingness. His own ideology, and that of his political party, made it impossible for him to be open about who he was. And that sort of closeted attitude distorts one’s sexuality.

What happened to Senator Craig was, to a large extent, self inflicted. The fault lies in a legal system which Craig endorsed and promoted. It lies in a belief system that is based on mythology, lies and wishful thinking and opposed to the facts of reality. As long as the Republicans continue to embrace the destructive values of religious fundamentalism they will churn out the tortured examples of people like Ted Haggard, Senator Larry Craig, Mark Foley, Rev. Coy Privette, Rev. Lonnie Latham, State Rep. Bob Allen, Senator David Vitter, or Young Republicans leader Glenn Murphy.

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