Thursday, January 08, 2009

Another Pol Flush with Failure


Ex-U.S. Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) belatedly gave it all up today. One day before his deadline to appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court, he bugged out.
Pun-Relief Note: I am one of those guilty of toilet jokes related to Craig's 2007 disorderly conduct arrest and his clumsy attempts to avoid anyone finding out. I'll do my best to step back a bit and resist today (except for the evocative illustration and headline).
His pathetic posturing of innocence, entrapment and victimization have ensured his own niche in halls of infamy everywhere. Yet, he has done us a favor in helping highlight issues of government and law enforcement, and even journalism.

For today's action, this seems to mean he's headed back to exurban Idaho. He could do well to look to the likes of Jimmy Carter to see how a humble and saintly politician takes retirement, devoting himself to the good of others. He could start with that $4,600 plus defense fund he gathered by October when he pledged he'd fight unceasingly to clear his name.

However, that so far has not been Craig's temperament. He exhibits the arrogance of the long-term privileged, the wheedling dissemblance of a typical attorney, and the behavior of the personally stifled.

What Can We Learn?

I forever ask my sons when something bad happens, particularly if one of us causes it, "What can we learn from this?" Apparently Craig didn't grow up being asked that, which implies in part taking responsibility.

He is just one of many politicians who refuse to admit their errors, do what is necessary to prevent it from happening again, and take their lumps. We've had several recently here, a state Senator, a city councilor and the speaker of the House. Each has stonewalled, denied or played various tricks to stay in power and out of jail.

Craig's arrest was on a trivial matter, but it too revealed how the privileged are regularly astonished that anyone might think the laws and rules might apply to them as well. His matter has the further complication of possible sexual unmasking though.

It seems virtually everyone in Idaho and Minnesota is white (97% and 87%). So, Craig didn't get to play the race card, as a couple of our local politicians did. On the other hand, he was quick with the entrapment one, so beloved here.

Not What It Looks Like

I grew up in a simpler America. Honesty was a virtue.

In contrast, Craig took cues from the impeachable President Bill Clinton. What can I get by with? Aren't I clever enough to get out of this mess?

The answers for both of them, as it is for many politicians doing this nasty or that, are nothing and no. They could have learned from my mother who told me not to lie — I'd have to remember exactly what I said, be consistent from that point on, and likely get tripped up somewhere. Plus I wouldn't like myself.

In Craig's case, his disorderly conduct was two forms of cruising for sex, according to the arresting officer. He peered into the officer's stall for several minutes, with the fellow in that genitally exposed dishabille on the toilet seat. Then, so the records say, he entered the abutting stall, tapped his foot repeatedly and for a long time in a common gay cruising signal, before running his hand under the stall wall, also repeatedly.

Risibily, Craig contended that there were other ways of viewing his actions than considering them solicitation. No one, including the judges who have heard the evidence, buys that.

Yet this is a teaching opportunity beyond the obvious lesson of the risks of seeking sex in very public places. How meaningful and worthwhile was this sting operation that brought in Craig and 40 others over four months?

There's a good argument that this is a waste of policing for victimless crimes. Another view is that this is primarily directed at gay men, and as such is unfair legally.

On the other hand, the court in Craig's case noted that if there's a place where we have a reasonable expectation of being left alone is on the toilet in a closed stall with our pants and underwear around our ankles. Craig's peering into the stall initially was one egregious violation of that privacy.

Instead Craig and our own politicians under arrest love that innocent-until-proven-guilty chant. They fustigate the media, including bloggers, for covering their cases. Even publishing available evidence and comments in the most obvious failings is somehow un-American. We are to pretend that not found guilty in court and then sentenced means they are above reproach or even accusation. That's not what the law demands of the press, not how humans think, and not reasonable.

Prosecutors have burdens of proof for cases that go to court. Meanwhile, claiming that any mention of their accusations or evidence against them prevents the arrested and indicted from getting a fair shake is absurd. It becomes the job of judges and, where they come into pla,y juries to hear, see and consider evidence.

How refreshing it is on those rare cases when an accused criminal admits blame. As a former newspaper reporter, I recall more than one convicted felon in prison saying, "Yeah, I'm innocent. We're all innocent in here," and laughing.

Who You Callin' Gay?

Word in Boise has long been that Craig is and has always been gay. It's even made Wikipedia, with references to the articles published by the state's largest newspaper, The Idaho Stateman.

He would not be the only homosexual man in the state and may not have even suffered politically if he were publicly recognized as such. Yet, it appears as though his decision was to deny the perception, as well as to marry a woman with children. While there is common slang for both those, the bigger point is that when arrested in the Minneapolis airport toilet, he pleaded guilty after thinking about it for a month and paid the fine, hoping that no one would notice.

As awful as sexually based sting operations are, it must be terrible also to feel compelled to plead to a petty crime and accept the fine, all the time just hoping that it remains private even while being on the public record. Certainly if he was comfortable with himself, he instead could have made noise and brought a defense that the entrapment was unfair and illegal.

Simple Virtues

I also grew up, as Craig surely did, on books, movies and TV dramas with Western and crime plots and players. The simple virtues that found public presence so clearly in and after the two world wars could speak as clearly today.

Typically in a crime story, the bad guy would say something at the end like, "Okay, copper, you caught me fair and square." He'd put out his wrists for the cuffs and things would be right. Over in Perry Mason, there'd be an almost weekly courtroom confession by the evildoer.

Insidiously, the question has become, "How much justice can your afford?" In autocratic and deferential societies, the aristocrats and wealthy have always fared better under accusation. Now it seems almost like a contest to see what politicians and others can get away with after they are caught in the act.

At the most extreme, it brings to mind Senator Joe McCarthy, who was not accused of crimes himself. Rather, he seemed to live to destroy others in his Red baiting fits. That stopped after U.S. Army attorney Joseph Welch demanded of him in a public hearing, "Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"

Well, I think we can and should expect decency and honor from our politicians.

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