The news of the incident in the men's room at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport needs to be absorbed layer by layer. It can already be referred to as the "infamous" meeting between Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho and the police officer.
Freeze the story at this point, and you have simply a pickup story, another one of those "dirty old man stories," as one might have it.
Several arguments were instantly made. The first, which will be the most enduring, is simply the tale of sexual freedom. Its formulation, boiled down, is that as long as someone is not exercising coercion on an unwilling partner, the enforcers have no defensible interest in what goes on in bedrooms. But of course, this was not a bedroom, and there are laws against soliciting sex in a public facility.
The defense will seek to wipe away the distracting qualification, relying on the argument that what is truly being prosecuted here is a failure to uphold "family values." They will say that if the engagement had been between the senator and an enterprising whore, the story would not have been considered newsworthy -- who cares about one more successful procurement done by a practitioner of the oldest profession in the world?
But the defense is wearing down a bit. It is a long way from freedom for gay sex in the bedroom, to freedom to solicit gay sex from a stranger. That one could be fought over, and the paradox certainly exists, of relative permissiveness toward straight sex as compared to gay sex. It is not unreasonable, even in contemporary America, to wince rather more sadly over homosexual promiscuity than its heterosexual complement.
When it comes to solicitation, you will find, certainly in New York City -- and probably in Minneapolis and most other big cities -- fliers that advertise both kinds of sex. That such fliers advertise activity that is not in fact legal points to the waywardness of law enforcement, not the crystallization of new civic codes.
So the defense might edge over in the direction of entrapment, leaning on the convention that someone should not be prosecuted if the crime he allegedly committed was brought on by a contrived temptation. When my brother James was in the Senate, he defended an American soldier who was jailed in Turkey for trafficking in foreign currency. What had happened was that the soldier had forked over some dollars, accepting local currency in return, to an apparently desperate petitioner who said his wife was dying for want of a medicine that could only be purchased with U.S. dollars.
But entrapment does not wash here. The defendant did not accept an illegal solicitation; he was its initiator. It was he who made the signals that were understood as an offer to engage in sexual activity. The defense, in short, has nothing to rest on save the pitiable renunciation by the senator of his own guilty plea.
What the Senate will now do is a matter of public interest. As we have seen, there is no supervening moral doctrine that can be adduced in an effort to obliterate what went on in that men's room.
It isn't only with legal concern that one focuses on the case. Consider, first, the utter, incredible, suicidal stupidity of Larry Craig. Postulate that he suffers from a satyriasis that stuns any capacity to think -- but what is such a man doing as a seated member of a legislative chamber that passes laws regulating other people's conduct?
Second, what do we learn from the situation in general? Does every washroom in every airport need to be patrolled for sex hounds? How many undercover policemen are out there, and how frequently do they bring in regular folks on these charges? Banks need guards, races need timekeepers, tennis matches need umpires, but do airport restrooms really need police officers? Are the economics of air travel affected by the ghost of Idaho? Here, certainly, are matters for congressional investigation.