The trouble with Larry

August 31, 2007

The speed and ruthlessness with which Idaho Sen. Larry E. Craig's Republican colleagues are trying to push him out of the world's most exclusive club are head-spinning.

His misdemeanor guilty plea and alleged attempt to influence a police officer with his Senate business card are merely the clubs, though, that his colleagues are using against him. They are not the reason that a party full of vulnerable candidates feels the imperative to cut Mr. Craig loose.

At the news conference Tuesday called to protest his innocence, the senator demonstrated that he well understood what his apparent offense was: "I am not gay," he insisted. "I have never been gay."

A party that turns to gay bashing whenever it needs to shore up its religious conservative base doesn't have the luxury to be understanding or compassionate in response to Mr. Craig's alleged men's room cruising and possible double life. It couldn't look the other way, as in the case of Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, who admitted to "a very serious sin" after his phone number turned up in the records of the so-called D.C. Madam.

Mr. Craig deserves no sympathy on this point. He contributed to this intolerance in part by supporting a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and similar measures designed largely to play to anti-gay sentiment. What's more, his explanation that he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in hopes the graver allegation that he solicited sex from an undercover cop would simply "go away" makes no sense if he was truly innocent.

Even so, the coldness with which his friends deserted him revealed their own political cravenness. Mitt Romney set off the stampede by dropping Mr. Craig as a state chairman of his presidential campaign and referring to the incident as "disgusting." Sen. John McCain, trailing Mr. Romney for the GOP nomination, raised the ante by calling upon his colleague to resign his Senate seat. Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman, facing a strong re-election challenge next year, soon echoed the call for resignation.

Meanwhile, the Senate's GOP leadership, of which Mr. Craig is a former member, stripped him of his committee posts and referred his fate to the Ethics Committee.

If the senator had pleaded guilty to being drunk and disorderly or had been caught in compromising circumstances with a woman, would he suddenly be a pariah?

Not likely.

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