Wednesday, August 29, 2007

His own private Idaho

Why do errant “family values” Republicans seem to have so many problems with cops?

When these politicians are on the stump, they’re always lauding the police as our front-line protectors. Yet, apparently, when some of these same politicians go to a public bathroom, and allegedly engage in misdeeds that contradict the GOP’s family-values platform, and the police arrest them for those misdeeds…well, all of a sudden these moral paragons start insisting that the cops are all wrong.

First it was Bob Allen, a Florida Republican legislator and diehard opponent of gay rights, who was arrested a few months ago after he allegedly sought to solicit gay sex from an undercover cop in a Florida rest-stop bathroom; in his defense, Allen (who reportedly had tried to worm his way out of the arrest by telling the cop that he was a lawmaker) said that it had all been a big misunderstanding. On the cop’s part, of course.

And now, thanks to an arrest report unearthed by the Roll Call newspaper on Capitol Hill, we have Larry Craig, a Republican U.S. senator from Idaho and diehard opponent of gay rights, who was arrested at the Minneapolis airport on June 11 after he allegedly sought to solicit gay sex from a cop sitting in an adjoining toilet stall; in his defense, Craig (who reportedly tried to worm his way out of the arrest by flashing his Senate ID card and asking the cop, “what do you think about that?”) said that it had all been a big misunderstanding. On the cop’s part, of course.

And the way these guys described the purported misunderstandings…really, it’s priceless. Allen said he was just trying to talk his way out of a scary situation, owing to the fact that he is white and the cop was black and therefore he felt racially threatened. Craig’s explanation, however, is even more inspired. The family-values senator, a diehard opponent of gay marriage and other gay-friendly legislation, who pled guilty to disorderly conduct on Aug. 8, has introduced something brand new in American jurisprudence:

The Wide Stance Defense.

This is nonfiction bathroom humor at its best. The plainclothes police officer, Sgt. Dave Karsenia, had been tasked to investigate reports of lewd conduct in that airport bathroom. He entered a toilet stall and sat down. Soon thereafter, as he related in his arrest report, a well-dressed older gent appeared outside, and repeatedly sought to peer through the crack in the door. This gent, who turned out to be Craig, entered the adjoining stall. Then, “at 12:16 hours, Craig tapped his right foot. I recognized this as a signal used by persons wishing to engage in lewd contact. Craig tapped his toes several times and moves his foot closer to my foot…he moved his right foot so that it touched the side of my left foot which was within my stall area.” Craig then swiped his hand under the stall divider, several times. He was arrested moments later.

And that’s when Craig came up with his novel defense. In the words of the arrest report, the senator explained “that he has a wide stance when going to the bathroom and that his foot may have touched mine” as a result.

If Craig is ultimately forced to resign his seat, he should hook up as a comedy writer for Bill Maher or Jon Stewart, because this is great stuff. I had always considered “wide stance” to be merely a baseball term, used to describe a batter who plants himself at the plate with his legs far apart. Ryan Howard of the Phillies? Wide stance. Moises Alou of the Mets? Wide stance. Baseball great Willie Mays? Wide stance.

But as a term for rest room visitation…well, I don’t want to get too personal about this, but, since a U.S. senator on the public payroll brought it up, I have to ask the question:

Is there anyone out there who regularly utilizes a “wide stance” in a public rest room, to the point where you play inadvertent footsies with your neighbor?

Or is this merely the kind of excuse that a hypocrite is likely to dream up on the spot, when cornered by his own behavior? This is the same guy, after all, who waxed morally indignant about President Clinton back in 1999, when he declared on NBC, “I’m going to speak out for the citizens of my state, who in the majority think that Bill Clinton is probably even a nasty, bad, naughty boy.” This is also the same guy who recently signed on as co-chair of the Mitt Romney presidential campaign, because Romney “has very strong family values. That is something I grew up with and believe in.” (Craig is no longer co-chair of the Mitt Romney campaign.)

And the excuses continue. Craig’s introduced a new one at his press conference yesterday. It turns out that there have been scads of allegations that Craig over the years has engaged in furtive lewd acts with men in public bathrooms, and the Idaho Statesman newspaper had spent months examining the claims. It had published nothing all summer, but Craig insisted yesterday that his nervousness about the uncompleted press probe had somehow clouded his judgment and led him to plead guilty on Aug. 8 to the disorderly conduct charge. (The newspaper finally ran a piece on its investigation yesterday, signaling that several allegations might well be true.)

So, bottom line: Craig’s explanation is that he admitted guilt in a lewd-conduct criminal investigation only because he was stressed by a lewd-conduct newspaper investigation into allegations that he continues to deny. This guy needs a lawyer, pronto.

No doubt there will be some Republican partisans who will simply try to change the subject (“What about Democratic congressman William Jefferson, and the money that was found in his freezer?” or “What about Kristian Forland, that Nevada Democratic party official who’s currently wanted by the authorities for failing to appear in court on charges of writing bad checks?”). But the smartest conservatives know that Larry Craig, and Bob Allen, and Mark Foley, are blots on the party that claims to stand for moral rectitude, and that cases like these have a damaging impact on grassroots conservative morale.

As Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said in an interview yesterday, “There is an expectation that leaders who espouse family values will live by those values. And while the values voters don’t demand perfection, I do believe they want leaders with integrity.” And as for Craig’s wide-stance defense, not even Hugh Hewitt, the normally compliant conservative radio talk show host, can bring himself to stomach that one: “I don’t believe him. Read the statement by the arresting officer. (Craig) must think the people of Idaho are idiots.”

But if Craig continues to insist that the arresting cop misunderstood the whole incident, I can envision his final line of defense, his last-ditch rallying cry to his fellow conservatives:

Ronald Reagan, in his shining city on a hill, sat with a wide stance!”