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Archive for Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Fear spurs implausible denials

September 5, 2007

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Not even the Hulk has a stance wide enough to make that story plausible.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, congratulations on waking up from that coma. The rest of us have been grappling since last week with the tale of Sen. Larry Craig, a conservative Republican from Idaho, who was arrested in June for allegedly propositioning an undercover cop in an airport restroom. According to police, Craig tapped his foot against the foot of the man in the next stall, peered inside and ran his hand beneath the divider. These, we are told, are signals used by men seeking sex in public restrooms.

After the officer identified himself, Craig allegedly produced his Senate business card and said, "What do you think about that?"

What the officer thought may be inferred from the fact that Craig found himself under arrest. Eventually, without telling his wife, much less his constituents, he pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct. He just wanted, he said, to make it all go away.

Which only goes to show that even on the shady side of 60, hope springs eternal. The secret came out, of course. Craig declined to follow.

Instead, he claimed in a news conference that his foot accidentally touched the officer's because he has a "wide stance" in the toilet. He also said he pleaded guilty because the mean old media have been harassing him so badly he couldn't think clearly. Meaning the Idaho Statesman, which had been investigating - and I'm sure this is just a coincidence - rumors of Craig having sex in a men's room.

Finally, Craig said he is not gay. Even repeated it for emphasis. For all the good it did. Saturday, under pressure from his party, he announced his resignation.

You have to feel sorry for the guy. Not just because of the humiliation and the loss of his career. No, you have to feel sorry for the way he clings, like a man from a skyscraper ledge, to the claim that he is not the terrible thing his ideology abhors, not gay.

Two of his kids said last week that they believe him. I doubt anybody else does.

To the contrary, I'm reminded of quotes I've read from men who swear they're not gay; they just enjoy having sex with other men. Point being that in a political culture that has painted gay as the horror all right-thinking, God-fearing folks must vote against with both hands, gay is often the last thing anyone - particularly a conservative anyone - wants to admit to. They will torture truth like a Cold War spy to avoid that admission.

So you get the Rev. Ted Haggard saying he used to be gay, but then he got cured. And Spokane Mayor James West telling the local paper, "I wouldn't characterize me as gay" and then telling the same paper four days later, "I am being destroyed because I am a gay man." And Florida Rep. Bob Allen arrested for offering to pay $20 to fellate an undercover cop and giving as his excuse the fact that the cop was a "stocky black guy" and there were all these other black guys around and he didn't want to "be a statistic."

Now, here's Larry Craig and his wide stance.

Look, I know gay people make great scapegoats. I know it plays well with the conservative base when they are demonized. But can anyone honestly say this would not be a healthier world if a Larry Craig had felt free to say, long ago, before marriage and kids, "Look, I like guys."

Because he could not say that then, his career is in tatters now and his credibility looks good only when compared to Alberto Gonzales.' Like many others before him, he tried to straddle the gap between being gay and hating gay. His failure to do so comes as no surprise.

No one has a stance that wide.

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Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald.

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