`Moral values' party stumbles again

September 05, 2007|By Thomas F. Schaller

Idaho Republican Sen. Larry E. Craig's June arrest in a Minnesota airport men's room, and his guilty plea last month to a misdemeanor, are further evidence that Republicans operate on a preach-but-not-practice standard.

This is the party that not only has exploited the gay marriage issue with ballot measures and even a proposal to amend the U.S. Constitution but also deigns to stand atop its self-erected pulpits and lecture liberals, Democrats and the rest of the country about the need to affirm and protect America's "moral values."

Yet this is also the party that, in recent years, included a Florida congressman who used his role on the U.S. House page program's oversight committee to prey on teenage male interns, a gay male escort working for a bogus news service reporting from the White House press room, and a Florida state legislator arrested earlier this summer on charges that he offered an undercover police office $20 to perform a lewd act on him in a Titusville park bathroom.

Now comes Senator Craig, the same man who in 1999 - when the Grand Old Preacher party was in its highest of high dudgeon - voted to convict President Bill Clinton during the impeachment trial. His humble, mumbling resignation speech Saturday at a historic Boise train station was notably less self-righteous than his condemnation of Mr. Clinton eight years ago:

"Well, I don't know where the Senate's going to be on that issue of an up-or-down vote on impeachment, but I will tell you that the Senate certainly can bring about a censure resolution, and it's a slap on the wrist," Mr. Craig told Meet the Press host Tim Russert during a 1999 appearance. "It's a, `Bad boy, Bill Clinton. You're a naughty boy.' The American people already know that Bill Clinton is a bad boy, a naughty boy."

The Republicans' sexual issues run deeper than legal transgressions or the obvious hypocrisies of espousing one set of values while practicing another, however.

There is also a sexual orientation double standard here, one that is painfully evident when one contrasts the way the party treated Senator Craig and former Florida Rep. Mark Foley with the way it treated still-serving Republican Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana.

This summer, Senator Vitter admitted to having engaged in "a very serious sin in my past" (read: extramarital sex) after his phone number turned up in an investigation of a Washington-based escort service (read: prostitution). Though he didn't cop to it publicly, Senator Vitter's "sin" apparently included paying for sex.

If true, his sin was not merely biblically enjoined adultery with another, consenting adult. If he did it, Senator Vitter committed a misdemeanor - an offense at least as serious as the one to which Senator Craig pleaded guilty.

Yet he remains in office, partly because key national Republicans, from the White House to the Republican National Committee, supported him in ways they dared not support Mr. Foley and Mr. Craig, who were run out of town faster than you can say "don't ask, don't tell."

Mr. Vitter even received an ovation from his colleagues when he first returned to the Senate Republican caucus. The clear double standard within GOP circles is not so much "hypocrisy, but homophobia," says gay blogger Mike Rogers, who attempts to out politicians who work against gay rights despite privately gay lifestyles.

To be fair, in Mr. Foley's case, the Republicans' position is more justifiable. His actions involved children; had they involved girls instead of boys, he still needed to go. But Senator Craig's actions, like Senator Vitter's, involved soliciting adults.

There is something downright creepy about a party that views Senator Vitter's wink-and-nod admissions about consummating an illicit straight-sex act as more acceptable than an attempted gay act that involved nothing more than furtive, but ultimately failed, bathroom signaling.

Thomas F. Schaller teaches political science at UMBC. His column appears Wednesdays in The Sun. His e-mail is schaller67@hotmail.com.

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