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Tough Trying to Be Perfect

By Froma Harrop

Larry Craig did wrong, but what did the Idaho Republican really do wrong? A penchant to focus on the part of sex scandals that don't have to do with sex has long been my curse.

According to the police report, the senator was in a bathroom at the Minneapolis airport when he allegedly came on to an undercover cop in the stall next door.

The partisan throngs jumped on the carnal -- or in this case, pre-carnal -- act. The family-values crowd vented frustration at yet another Republican ally accused of unauthorized sex. The left charged Republicans with "hypocrisy" on their claims of moral purity and hetero superiority, as though that's anything new.

The part that bothered some of us was Craig's "what do you think about that?" comment. "That," in this case, was his senatorial business card, which he handed the officer. This could have been a plea for VIP -- Very Important Politician -- treatment, which means he gets to beat the rap. Or, perhaps, he was trying to show that he was a cut above the Joe Bucks of this world. Buck was the sweet loser in "Midnight Cowboy" (played by Jon Voight), who pursued gay sex in a 42nd Street movie theater.

Why oh why did the Craig scandal have to happen? So many questions.

First off, is the taxpayers' money best spent trying to expose gay men about to make a connection? Of course, people should be able to use public spaces without being propositioned for sex. But still, couldn't the airport authorities have just posted a sign or something?

The next question is, why can't gay people just be gay? Republicans would save themselves a lot of trouble if they didn't require politicians unmoved by the opposite sex to fake a life of heterosexual domesticity.

Sure, if Craig had come out of the closet, he'd have lost some support. But the homophobic vote tends to be overestimated, even on Republican turf. Idaho is full of libertarians and Californians who could care less about a candidate's sexual orientation. Casper, in neighboring Wyoming, is not a particularly liberal place and has an openly gay mayor.

But then we must ask, why do some Republicans who feel they must play the "straight" do everything in their power to get caught in a gay tryst? One immediately thinks of Floridian Rep. Mark Foley. The ex-congressman not only went after congressional pages, he did it online.

Republicans also have their misbehaving heteros, and they play an equally unpleasant double game. Remember when Louisiana Sen. David Vitter threw a news conference to express remorse for patronizing prostitutes -- his wife, Wendy, by his side in drained misery? Vitter seemed to be enjoying the public confession as an advertisement for his unbridled virility. Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich also delighted in cheating on wives while issuing calls for national renewal. It spoke of his awesome power to seduce women and social conservatives at the same time.

Every time a Republican is accused of sexual indiscretion or taking payoffs -- we refer to Californian Randy Cunningham and Ohio's Bob Ney, both former congressmen now in prison, plus others now under investigation -- party loyalists yell, "Well, look at William Jefferson!" Jefferson is the Louisiana Democrat accused of stashing $90,000 worth of bribes in his fridge.

Now the congressman, who says he's innocent, is almost certainly not. But asking a lonely Democrat to balance the sins of a dozen or so Republicans seems an unfair burden.

Why have so many Republicans lost their compass? Perhaps a career of demonstrating moral perfection created an unbearable strain. And, of course, William Jefferson has been such a bad example.

fharrop@projo.com

Copyright 2007 Creators Syndicate Inc.


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