A lot of libertarians are making him out to be the victim of overzealous police, and perhaps the victim’s of society’s homophobia as well. Come on: neither is true. First, if you think this is a gay thing, try going to the nearest airport, go into the bathroom of the opposite sex, and do what Larry Craig did. My guess is that you’ll be treated much more harshly than he was; certainly nobody is going to say that there’s no problem with that behavior, even most of the pro-Craig libertarians.
But wasn’t it just an old-fashioned “get the gays’ sting in the first place? Well, no. This wasn’t raiding a gay bar or a bathhouse or something–this was a public restroom in a busy airport. I think ordinary flyers have a reasonable expectation not to be pestered by U.S. senators and other disreputable persons in public restrooms. And, by the way, no Craig was not arrested simply for having a “wide stance” or for tapping his foot. He was arrested only after he put his hand under the stall of the guy next to him–who happened to be a police officer–and motioned for him to come on over. That’s why one of the charges against Craig, dropped as part of his guilty plea, was infringement of privacy. There may not be strict property rights involved, but as a general policy, something that would be reasonable on private property and that is no less reasonable on public property, it’s fair to say that reaching into other people’s toilet stalls is improper and ought to be penalized.
As for the penalty, Craig was fined less than $600 after his guilty plea. That’s aint exactly harsh persecution of an embattled minority, now is it?
Mind you, I do agree that having police officers lurking in bathrooms is not a good thing: but if there were reports of public sex and importuning of people who didn’t want people like Larry Craig reaching into their stalls, I don’t see what better course of action the police had. Should they not act upon reports of crimes in men’s rooms? There was no entrapment here, and Craig was, again, not arrested just for anything as innocuous as tapping his foot or brushing against the foot of the person in the next stall (which, by the way, may not be so innocuous after all: how many readers have ever accidentally brushed against somebody’s foot in the next stall in a bathroom airport? I’ve never heard of such a thing.)
Then there are the hypocrisy and meta-hypocrisy angles. Conservatives were quick to say, in some venues, that liberals were being hypocrites for attacking Craig for hypocrisy, since Craig was never that big of a family values guy (though he did support the usual anti-gay-marriage efforts), and besides, liberals are tolerant of Barney Frank’s behavior. And then there was Mitch McConnell, the Republican senate leader, who was flummoxed when asked why Craig should be expected to resign for his sexual peccadilloes while Sen. David Vitter’s visits to prostitutes are tolerated. (I would have said that prostitution is a private matter, while reaching into other people’s bathroom stalls is very un-private.) All the talk of hypocrisy inevitably puts me in mind of Jeremy Lott’s book In Defense of Hypocrisy. Should Craig’s misbehavior be overlooked or forgiven because he votes in a reliably socially conservative way, despite his private life, or should the GOP purge him?
Well, it’s more important to me that Craig voted against reauthorizing the Patriot Act, which is perhaps one reason he hasn’t been getting much support from the Bushies. As for hypocrisy, the question I have is: just what do conservatives think they can accomplish when they have a political leadership like this? That applies, if anything, a fortiori to economic issues: if Larry Craig can be publicly against homosexuals but privately engage in anonymous gay sex, how much easier it is for all these “conservative” Republicans in politics to talk about shrinking government while actually voting for its expansion? Larry Craig is an outstanding symbol not so much of hypocrisy as of political doublethink: say one thing, vote one way on symbolic matters, but behave in completely another way. That’s at the very root of conservative fecklessness in either remoralizing the country (which is not a job for government in any event) or cutting down on spending and the state power.
I seem to recall that Thomas Aquinas says the worst thing about lying is not the intent to deceive other people, but rather the willful abuse of reason involved in misidentifying what is true and what is false. I don’t know if I’d agree that that’s worse than deceit–I bet Larry Craig’s family might have some doubts on that score as well–but Aquinas is on to something. A willful disregard for reality is, after all, a defining characteristic of the modern Republican Party. Admittedly, Craig’s problem in that regard is not as extreme as others in his party. But it all adds up. And a willingness to lie and evade reality in one regards probably helps one to lie and evade reality in other, more serious matters.