Tuesday, August 28, 2007

With Craig Outed, It's Time for the GOP to Abandon Its Alleged Moral High Ground

It looks like we have yet another gay Republican on our hands. "Not that there's anything wrong with it," as the characters on a famous episode of "Seinfeld" repeated over and over again.

News reports yesterday revealed that earlier this month, Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct after he was arrested in a Minneapolis airport bathroom for allegedly using signals to make sexual overtures to other men. (Click here for the New York Times article on the incident.) Craig now claims his actions were misconstrued, and he should not have pleaded guilty. Craig denied last year that he was gay after someone claimed the senator had engaged in sexual activity with men.

When the media outs someone as being homosexual, my first reaction is, generally, who cares? I am a firm believer that an adult individual's consenting bedroom habits are irrelevant to me. I don't care what my straight friends do with their spouses and lovers in their bedrooms, so why should I care what gay and lesbian people do behind closed doors?

If Craig had been a normal Joe Citizen, I wouldn't have cared less that a man was looking for sex with other men in an airport bathroom, other than to be outraged at the idea that someone could be arrested for that conduct. If anything, I would have felt bad that a successful guy felt the need to keep his true sexual desires a secret and look for anonymous sex in a bathroom rather than pursue a more overt relationship.

But politics has a way of making the irrelevant relevant, and Craig is not just another closeted gay man. He is a sitting U.S. senator. More than that, he is a Republican, a member of a party that has made great political hay bashing homosexuals. According to the website OnTheIssues, Craig voted for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution banning gay marriage, against prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation, and against adding sexual orientation to the hate crimes statute.

I don't think Craig is immoral for wanting to have sex with men, but I certainly think he is immoral for acting so hypocritically. He is a man who has profited politically from the hysteria against homosexuality encouraged by the GOP, and he affirmatively voted for legislation that attacked the rights of homosexuals, all while he was, himself, allegedly a homosexual. There is something especially pathetic about someone who is so weak he has no problem publicly engaging in hateful behavior against an innocent group even though, privately, he may very well be a member of that group.

I hope the Craig affair (pun intended) once and for all puts to rest the idea that Republicans occupy some kind of moral high ground. It is often estimated that about ten percent of the population is gay. It's time to recognize that this figure means ten percent of all people, not just ten percent of non-Republicans or non-Christians.

Craig's alleged outing is just the latest in a recent rash of Christian conservatives who turned out to be hypocrites. Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) was a crusader for family values issues and child protection, but he resigned after being caught sending suggestive emails and text messages to teenage boys who used to be pages in Congress. Reverend Ted Haggard, founder of the New Life Church and a crusader against homosexuals, bought crystal meth and visited with a male prostitute. James Guckert, using the name "Jeff Gannon," posed as a kind of faux journalist in the White House press corps to toss softball questions to President Bush. Turns out he was also offering his services on gay escort websites under the name "Bulldog."

And it's not like straight Republicans are paragons of virtue, immune from the immoral behavior they crusade against. Newt Gingrich assailed President Clinton for his sexual indiscretions, all, it turns out, while he was cheating on his wife with a staffer. His apparent successor as Speaker of the House, Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.), had his candidacy derailed when Larry Flynt uncovered his extramarital affairs. More recently, it was revealed that Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), another family values crusader, had engaged the services of a noted Washington, D.C. madame (which I wrote about on July 11).

The bottom line is that the Republicans have been very successful in recent years getting certain sectors of the electorate to vote against their own interests on the idea that the GOP was more likely to look out for their conservative, Christian beliefs on issues, especially gay marriage. In light of Haggard, Foley, Gannon, and now Craig, isn't it time that this dysfunctional connection is cut once and for all?

I'm sick and tired of hearing that the Republicans are the party of family values. The top three Democratic presidential candidates are still in their first and only marriages. John Edwards is still married to his college sweetheart, Barack Obama has remained with the woman he met when he was a summer associate, and Hillary Clinton, despite the hate thrown at her by the right wing, has remained with her husband (some guy named Bill who allegedly had an eye for the ladies). This pattern lies in stark contrast to three of the top four Republican hopefuls, with the front-runner on his third marriage, the so-called "conservative" candidate on his second wife (who is nearly 25 years his junior), and the "straight talk"-turned-conservative establishment entrant having left his first wife to marry his second one.

To be clear, I am not necessarily casting aspersions on or judging the conduct of any of these individuals (except Foley, because he was not dealing with consenting adults). But I am arguing that the Republicans should not be allowed to portray themselves as the presumptive candidates of family values, when their personal lives no more adhere to these values than those of the Democrats. And since the GOP has profited so greatly from the politics of hating homosexuals, the party has to be called to task on the fact that many of these bashers turned out, in their private lives, to be engaging in this very activity.

After all, shouldn't true "values" include judging people by how they treat others, not who they choose to have sex with behind closed doors? And shouldn't "values" teach tolerance and love of others, not organized campaigns of hate and intolerance?

It's time for politics to concentrate on issues that matter, like Iraq, Islamic fundamentalism, the environment, education, and the economy, rather than focusing on "wedge" issues like gay marriage that are brought up solely to sway voters, not because the issues are especially important. And it's time Americans recognize that party and religious affiliations are no clue when determining if someone is gay or straight, committed to his/her family or not. There are homosexual Democrats and homosexual Republicans, and there are family-oriented Democrats and family-oriented Republicans.

Republicans do not have an exclusive on family values, although they seem to have a hold on hypocrisy and using hate to gain votes. I'm sure most Americans, including the "Seinfeld" characters, would say there certainly is something wrong with that.