The current flap over Sen. Larry Craig, the Idaho Republican who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct after an undercover police officer accused him of soliciting sex in a Minneapolis airport men's room, raises a whole series of interesting questions and observations.
There is, first of all, the fate of Craig himself, who has announced his resignation, effective Sept. 30. The people of Idaho knew him as a married man with three children, and a good many of them will not take kindly to the discovery that he allegedly acted on homosexual impulses. (The senator stoutly denies he is "gay," and, as of this writing, is trying to retract his guilty plea, but the record speaks for itself.) As a purely political proposition, therefore, he is badly damaged goods, killing any re-election hopes.
The Democrats are entitled to the political benefits that will, accordingly, accrue to them. But it is interesting to note that most of them carefully avoid condemning Craig for the sexual traits that have upended him. The Democratic Party, after all, is the political home of the "gay lobby" and cannot afford to appear intolerant of so many constituents. Instead, the Democrats note Craig's record of vocal support for "family values," and in particular for the institution of marriage, and his resolute opposition to such pro-"gay" proposals as same-sex marriage and even the more innocuous "civil unions." This, they declare, opens him to the charge of "hypocrisy," which nowadays, as sexual and even financial standards are relaxed, is probably the gravest accusation in the whole lexicon of politics.
How could Craig, they demand, build a career on support for "family values" while secretly engaging in conduct so violative of those values? And then, having nailed Craig to the cross for this alleged hypocrisy, they quickly go on to suggest that the whole issue of "family values" has no business in our politics anyway. As Democratic political analyst Bob Becker declared triumphantly on a TV talk show the other day, "Those who live by family values die by family values."
It is, in other words, not Craig, and not even his alleged hypocrisy, that is the Democrats' real target here. It is "family values."
The Democratic Party has long resented the Republicans' championship of family values as part of the GOP's political strategy. It appeals enormously to the Christian Right, and more generally to everyone who believes in the importance of moral standards to society. As already noted, the Democrats have responded by sympathizing openly with the "gay lobby" and more generally with the broad concept of moral "tolerance." This is now a familiar divide in American politics. How delicious it is for the Democrats, then, when a Republican leader like Craig -- and one, moreover, with a record as a loud supporter of "family values" -- is discovered to be contravening those values in secret!
No doubt about it, the inconsistency is toothsome. But does it really follow that Craig, and all the other supporters of family values (and there must be many) who share his weakness, or have some other weakness, are hypocrites? Isn't it possible that Craig truly regards the institution of marriage as valuable, even indispensable to society, and considers his own lapses into homosexual conduct as an unfortunate disorder -- or even (if he is religious) as a sin?
These are difficult questions, and I respect the view of anyone who takes a different position. But I hesitate to condemn anyone who takes the position I have outlined above as a "hypocrite" unless he (or she) privately regards that position as false, while espousing it publicly. And I most certainly think the issue of "family values" has a place in our politics, and in the life of every responsible society.