Friday, September 14, 2007

A sex scandal to make you squirm

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — Through the thrush of evergreen forest and the Salmon River Mountains, it's about 319 miles to Larry Craig's hometown.

I will not be making a pit stop there — I have a date with the azure shores of Crater Lake — but I wonder how the locals view the voyeuristic feeding frenzy about their favorite son.

Because it's been making me queasy, and I don't even know the guy.

In case you've been even more lost in the wilderness than me, Craig was busted for allegedly putting the moves on a fellow stall dweller in an airport men's room.

The guy turns out to be a cop, the Republican senator cops to disorderly conduct and the sordid story turns out to be just what we all need to survive the Indian summer doldrums, since there are no shark attacks or abducted little girls to terrify us.

And what, evidently, could be more petrifying than a gay guy who likes to get it on in the filthiest of public places? Deadbolt those bathroom doors, gentlemen. No one is safe.

After a couple days of crucifixion and callow mockery ("Ooh! Craig called Bill Clinton a 'nasty, bad, naughty boy' and he is one!") the sexagenarian senator was forced to step down.

Look, Craig pleaded guilty. His explanations seem confused at best. Politicians should be held to a high standard.

But I'm having trouble understanding how his minor offense warranted automatic ejection from the Senate. And I find it amusing that the GOP was so eager to throw one of its own under the tracks quicker than posturing Democrats.It's not because it's sex.

If that's the case, what in God's name is David Vitter still doing in Senate chambers after admitting "a very serious sin" involving a D.C. cathouse? Where was the stampede to throw the deviant out?It's because it's gay sex — the ickiest kind. The kind the Religious Right — which still holds a noose around the GOP — believes is a randy rest stop on the highway to Hades.

Cavorting with a buxom hooker is a sin they can understand (remember that tramp, Mary Magdalene?) It's practically a beltway rite of passage.

But man-on-man congress in the public sphere, no less? That's incomprehensible. And wrong.

And it's precisely that kind of muddled thinking, masquerading as morality, that has turned so many people off of what used to be the Party of Lincoln.

As for the media, the Craig case brought out our worst.Sex scandals seduce networks into actually covering politics — if you call it that, and I don't.

Why bother delving into the specifics of Hillary Clinton's health care plan or Fred Thompson's views on anything besides playing tough guys on TV?

If the president boinks an intern or a congressman solicits a page, that's something we all can understand, right?

Sure, if your goal is winning the race to the bottom instead of informing and inspiring debate. We have so many things to report. Why is it that the cheap and tawdry win out every time?

That's why while I have written my share on political personalities, I have never touched stories shopped around by operatives about Senator X's sexual proclivities.

My questions always are: Do you have proof? How is this relevant to the campaign or the office? If the flacks can't answer them, then I ain't buyin'.

There was a right way to report on Larry Craig. And it wasn't news anchors feigning outrage at the hypocrisy of the senator's anti-gay votes, just to take a break from the illicit gay sex storyline.

The story could have been a textured exploration of public figures who preach family values and practice more profane ones. We could have asked the big questions, like what this says about our real ethics.

At least that way, my only reason for nausea would be writing this column while whipping around a wriggly mountain road.

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