Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Ruinous Snickers

Clarity in scandal observation surely belongs to the British. While I have my qualms over police intrusiveness, I can't justify the simple-minded lying of the disgraced ex-Senator from Idaho Larry Craig. Over in the Financial Times, it took Gideon Rachman to put the buffoons and buffoonery in perspective.

In his It is the snigger factor that sees off an erring politician, Rachman distinguishes between the survivable blunders and the Craig moments. I don't know that the Brits have had more sex, murder and other scandals than we, but they certainly seem to relish them in greater detail.

Consider such players as:
  • Larry Craig — caught in a public restroom obviously to all but himself making repeated overt requests for sex. He is married with kids, denies homosexuality or bisexuality, pleaded guilty to a disorderly conduct charge in an attempt to keep this secret, and may be stupid enough to challenge the bust, thus redisplaying his extraordinarily clumsy lies and deeds. He has been a regular gay basher and sponsor of legislation that would hinder or harm homosexuals.
  • Bill Clinton — arrogantly dancing around his adulterous fellatio and cigar moistening with a young woman. He is married with a daughter, lied openly and was impeached but not removed by a vindictive Republican Senate likely still smarting from the Richard Nixon disgrace.
  • David Vitter — the Louisiana Senator who was on the customer lists of prostitutes in his state and D.C. He has been a long-term blue nose and moralizer. He is married and allegedly the moral leader for their three daughters. He tried to deny all more than once since 1990.
  • Mark Oaten — an MP and leader of Britain's Liberal Democrats used male prostitutes, sometimes multiples simultaneously. He was married with two daughters. He tried claiming that he was under a lot of stress and feeling bad about going bald.
  • Ron Davies — the MP and Welsh Secretary managed to produce the most absurd lie, making Craig's I-was-picking-up-paper-from-the-john-floor one almost plausible. Despite photos showing him leaving a gay cruising wooded area, he first claimed not to have been there for 15 years and then that he was looking for badgers.

Does It Make You Laugh?

Rachman puts all this asininity in perspective with the simple test. While the French and Italians may yawn at sexual exploits by politicians, Americans and Brits generally do not. What causes the ruin of some and permits the survival of others seems to be how risible the details and defense are.

Put simply, neither Sen. David Vitter nor President W.J. Clinton lost all dignity. In contrast, badger watching and non-existent paper picking are instant and memorable jokes. Moreover, the always illogical and often delusional columnist Jeff Jacoby was one of several who strained mightily to pretend that Craig's hypocrisy was something else. There may be some brilliant essayist or orator who could manage that deceit, but the small brains at work recently do not have the skills.

Rachman, in far more mannered terminology, noted that lying about a blow job was not justification for removing a president. So Congressional Democrats ended up supporting Clinton. "But he survived politically because – despite all the excruciating details – he never totally lost his dignity. By the end it was his prosecutors and persecutors – with their monotonal, prurient questions – who came to seem rather odder than the president himself."

He added that Clinton was also already perceived as a womanizer. Unlike Vitter or Craig, he did not scold others while behaving in bad ways. Rachman added, "Politicians are often unusual people who have to pretend to be regular guys. When the gap between image and reality becomes too glaring, they begin to look ridiculous and political death follows. Senator Larry Craig is just the latest to learn this bitter lesson."

What causes the ouster of offenders is "the snigger factor – that seems to be the truly fatal element in any sex scandal.":
Lying, hypocrisy, even a little law-breaking – all of that can be survived. But when politicians lose their dignity, they are finished. Frequently, it is the small details of a scandal – and the bizarre little lies – that do the real damage. Mr Craig suffered more than Mr Vitter in large part because far more details of his indiscretion were revealed to a delighted public. Tapping your foot in a public lavatory will never seem safe again. Waving your hand under the cubicle was probably never a great idea.

Levels of Offense

Rachman notes the hierarchy of offenses that combine with the absurdity of defense all well. "Breaking a law is worse than breaking your marriage vows. Gay sex is more politically hazardous than the heterosexual variety. Brazening it out is better than lying."

Unfortunately for Craig, as a conservative, his peers and previous supporters at least feign horror at homosexual activity. In addition, he actually has a conviction of a crime as part of it. "And after admitting to his crime, Mr Craig’s later denials made him look daft and dishonest."

Craig was also naive enough to play the entrapment card with the arresting officer. Yet the details in his arrest transcript indicate that if he tries to overturn the guilty plea and conviction, he will become the clown in the center ring yet again.

It is difficult or impossible for those of us without the compulsion for anonymous sex in public places to understand that drive. On the one hand, it seems our police should not be interfering with consensual adult sexual activity. On the other, it doesn't take much sense to realize that overt sex in public is almost always against the law and just looking for all manner of trouble.

Yet it is the cover-up, the stupid, clumsy, arrogant cover-up that can undo a politician. Sometimes, the sheer absurdity of the details is enough to forever taint the offender. It was bad enough that Clinton quibbled over the definition of is. The paper-retrieving, badger-watching claims push moral lapses into memorable jokes. It might be time to construct a hall of shame for politicians who make themselves the punchlines.

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Anonymous said...

So far, Bob Allen (R-FL) has managed to come up with memorable moments twice, but has yet to be drummed out of the FL legislature. Maybe he's just too small a potato for the Party of Sexual Hypocrites (POSH) to bother with? His excuses for offering a plainclothes cop $20 and a blow bob are:
1) he was scared of the black guy and offered to do him as a means of self defense, and
2) he thought a lightening storm was coming, and ducked into the bathroom for safety. i guess he wanted to employ the cop's dick as some sort of grounding device? Pam Spaulding has a number of posts up on Allen. Here's one:

massmarrier said...

Well, Rachman put him in the "caught" class because he got kicked off McCain's campaign as a result of his solicitation of the cop. That is not a steep or far enough fall, but it's a lot more suitable than Vitter's free ride.