Saturday, September 01, 2007

Stall tactics

Sen. Larry Craig's stated intent to fight his guilty plea to disorderly conduct stemming from an airport restroom sex sting could cause Democrats more problems than l'affaire Craig has already caused the GOP.

Much has been written about Republican hypocrisy in this case - that Craig, an apparently gay man, had been making life miserable for gays for most of his legislative career. But few are talking about the facts of Craig's arrest and asking the simple question "What did Craig do wrong?" Esquivalience asks the right questions:
Ok, he placed his bag against the stall door, which is, apparently, something "those intending to commit lewd acts" do. Also those who don't want to leave their bag by the sink, and have it stolen or detonated. It's a cubicle. He's supposed to maybe balance the bag on his head?

By the cop's own admission, he (the cop) "pumped his foot slowly up and down in response." In other words, Craig asked for sex using an arcane code extremely unlikely to "alarm, anger, or disturb" -- according to the the equally arcane code defining disorderly conduct in Minnesota -- an uninitiated fellow-lavator, and the cop knew what it meant and said yes.

Where's the victim?
Of course the Republican law and order crowd doesn't want to ask these questions. Craig plead guilty to disorderly conduct, which is the legal system's equivalent of Put Them in Jail Free card. The DC charge has been used for decades to harass and arrest gay people, the criminal code equivalent of fire hoses and police dogs. And for decades society has looked the other way when it's applied to men cruising for icky restroom sex.

Until now. Craig's high profile arrest, and his publicly-stated intent to fight his guilty plea, promises to keep icky restroom sex in the headlines for months to come, possibly through the 2008 elections. That's where things could get interesting.

Though I don't expect to see Craig marching in San Francisco anytime soon, the former Idaho senator and homophobe is positioned to become a champion for gay rights by virtue of hiring a legal team to take on an allegedly discriminatory application of the law. I can't pretend to know how serious Craig is about clearing his name. It would be easier if he just came out - it's not like anyone believes he isn't gay.

But should he fight the charge (and not being a laywer, I'm not sure what he can do to change a guilty plea), he will unwittingly become the poster boy for the civil rights of men who choose to have icky restroom sex. That could become a huge problem for the Democrats next year.

It's easy for Republicans distance themselves from Senator Wide Stance. There's no political cost since most Republicans are comfortable with their gay bashing party. And so far Democrats have had the luxury of sitting back and enjoying the spectable of the GOP throwing one of its own under the proverbial bus.

But that dynamic will change on Sept. 30, the day Craig officially vacates his Senate seat, and slouches back to Boise, an outed, gay, 62-year-old man in denial. At that point the GOP spin machine will make sure he becomes the Democratic Party's problem. And the spin might get enough traction to help Republicans next year.

The secret is to position icky restroom sex one foot tap away from gay marriage, no big deal for the GOP spin machine and its media echo chamber. With Craig's pathetic legal challenge slowly winding its way through the courts, Fox News, Rush and the rest will have plenty of ammo.

That will leave the Democrats with little choice but to distance themselves from Craig's own fight for justice, which will leave them open to charges of hypocricy and cause problems with their own base.

Of course none of this will happen if Craig admitted what everyone already knows, that's he's a gay man trapped in misery by icky red state politics as well as by his own denial. And by his curious loyalty to a party that pitched him overboard for no good reason.

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