Larry Craig and all that: A mirror of our confusions

Posted: Sep 10, 2007 8:32 AM
Larry Craig and all that: A mirror of our confusions

Can any aspect of the strange, sordid saga of Larry Craig offer the least satisfaction to any thinking observer of American politics and society?

After a week of the kind of tawdry soap opera that so often makes up the news of the day, a U.S. senator from Idaho announces that he plans to resign, having pled guilty to disorderly conduct. (Although he now says he wishes he hadn't.)

Yet other members of Congress have been less than orderly, and some have even pushed around police officers without feeling the need to submit their resignations. Why must he resign in disgrace? Because his real offense was being caught up in a sex sting in a men's room at the Minneapolis airport - a police operation set up to net homosexuals seeking assignations.

Yet the senator said he was resigning only because he "had little control over what people chose to believe" about his conduct - even though his resignation will surely be taken as a confession by those who will assume he did just what the arresting officer accused him of.

The whole story is as pathetic as it is murky. It says something sad about a senator and man who is unwilling to fight for his now professed innocence; about a society in which cops have to be assigned to duty in men's rooms as decoys; about the kind of politicians and commentators who have used the senator's troubles to tar his political party or maybe his political ideas in general; and about the general tendency even in this post-Freudian society to base a whole range of two-bit psychoanalysis on the most meager foundation of fact.

This is the kind of scandal du jour that should inspire a little more humility on the part of us professional kibitzers, and remind us that fashion can be as fickle in law and medicine as in any other human endeavor. For there was a time when the psychiatric establishment officially proclaimed homosexuality a mental illness; now we're told by an opposite but equally certain band of Advanced Thinkers that any human grouping and groping is the functional equivalent of the traditional family - despite millennia of history, myth, sacred ritual and human development to the contrary.

What fools these mortals still be. For there will always be those who think of the past as only something to outgrow, not learn from.

Torn between its puritanical roots and the latest libertine fashion, a society like ours can seem as confused and uncertain as Sen. Craig himself.

Perhaps the most shameful aspect of the whole story is the legion of politicians, commentators and just plain snickering yahoos of every persuasion to whom the sad story of Larry Craig proves Š exactly what they believed before he became front-page news. Namely, that he exemplifies (a) right-wing hypocrisy, or (b) the evils of homosexuality. Choose up sides and let's fight. The facts in this case may not be clear but that doesn't keep a lot of us from passing all-too-clear judgments.

In all the hubbub, the basic values that have often guided Americans through changing cultural times tend to disappear. Basic values like tolerance, fairness and simple decency. All need to be upheld, but how balance them?

Political and ideological passions tend to push aside reason and experience at such times - whether the subject is the nature of family, the distinction between private conduct and public propriety, or the relation between law and morality.

The mess we make when we adopt arbitrary attitudes toward such questions is illustrated here in Arkansas by a proposed initiated act that its sponsors are trying to get on the ballot next year. It would prohibit "Unmarried, Cohabiting Sexual Partners, Both Same Sex and Opposite-Sex" from adopting children or serving as foster parents. No exceptions.

It's hard to imagine such a law being proposed if homosexuality were not such a bugaboo in our society-as hard to imagine as a U.S. senator's resigning in disgrace because he'd pled guilty to simple disorderly conduct.

Do we really want to prohibit unmarried couples, whatever their sexual orientation, from adopting a child who needs a good home, or from serving as foster parents? Doesn't it all depend on the individuals involved, and the needs of the individual child? Not to mention the particular circumstances in each case.

But reasoned judgment, subtle distinctions, a concern for the facts of the matter, a sense of restraint Š they all seem to go out the window when the subject is homosexuality. And snap judgments abound. One might as well make snap judgments about the strange, sad and not very clear case of Larry Craig.