There was something exceptionally satisfying – in a sense wholly without honor, I’ll admit – about busting David Vitters for engaging in prostitution transactions. I found it amusing and a sort of just deserts. Now there’s this thing with Larry Craig. It’s the front story everywhere, so we all know a thing or two about it. Since I’m from Idaho (Boise!), I feel some sort of compulsion to read everything and say something.
After reading Yahoo! news, CNN.com, The New York Times, and a couple of other sources, I concluded two things. First, everyone is basically reprinting the same story. I don’t mean just the content. After all, this isn’t such a complicated story, so the details are short. I actually mean the words themselves. Not a bad job, if you want the easy life: download the AP or other write-up, change a few words, now it’s your story. What a scam. You see this over and over. Journalism as an idea is surely sad inside. (Yes, I think ideas get sad.)
Second, I concluded that most of the write-ups missed one of the most – for me, the most – important details. And it was the detail that drives the editorial in my childhood paper. A paper, I should add, that makes USA Today look like Democracy Now! The editorial staff writes:
Did Craig try to use his title to make the case go away? According to the police report, Craig handed the plainclothes officer a U.S. Senate business card during an interview with police, and asked the officer, “What do you think about that?”
This suggests an inexcusable abuse of power. Craig was elected to represent Idaho’s interests in the Senate — not to use the title of U.S. senator in his own self-interest during a police interrogation.
The abuse of power is considerably more important, to my mind, than his alleged moral or legal crime. That needs to be front and center in the conversations about what is “wrong” with this arrest, admission, etc.
The legal crime is really strange. Slate.com has an exchange that looks at that, though only in snippets. I mean, really, he was arrested for soliciting sex. Single people solicit sex all the time. It’s called the optimism of dating. Unless he was engaged in the act or paying for it, this is a strange crime to have constructed. For intent. You are guilty. I’ve read and sought it out, hoping that he’d paid for something or exposed himself. But apparently desiring sex is a crime. I guess it is a kind of conspiracy? Falls under that logic? Wow. You know, I really prefer to pee by myself or with my boy without people humping next to us, but this is a way too far kind of approach, criminalizing intent and arresting people for showing sexual interest in one another. I’m sure some women would be very interested in how this law might be expanded.
The moral crime discourse is interesting. The senator is a “contradiction” or something like that. I know, I know, Craig jumped on the anti-Clinton bandwagon, shaming Clinton for indiscretions and the like. So did everyone. And most people are hypocrites, just as folks jumped on Bush for declaring war and intervening with violence in the internal politics of other countries, having said little or nothing as Clinton did similar things. I get the scale difference. But the scale difference is important here too, as Craig was soliciting anonymous sex at an airport, rather than having sex in the seat of power as the president. Etc. My point: there are too many hypocrites to get a thrill from naming hypocrites. Consistency is our rarest virtue.
And the moral crime is a tough sell on the gay marriage issue, as some have tried. Sure, Craig is anti-gay marriage, but I was stunned to find out that the senior senator from Idaho favors civil unions. This is something that reminded me of Idaho’s conservatism. It’s libertarian, with a dash of religion (typically Mormon). But it isn’t the crazy Southern speaking-politics-in-tongues we’ve come to identify with new conservatives. Idaho conservatism is rancher conservatism. Weird. Conspiratorial. Black helicopter following you crazy as shit (I respect that crazy), or just plain dumb crazy, as when Helen Chenowith declared that salmon aren’t endangered – after all, there are shelves full of salmon at Albertson’s! But not the crazy religious stuff.
So there he is, closeted and caught. Convicted of something fairly sketchy in terms of law, a hypocrite for finger-pointing Clinton, a conservative who favors civil unions. OK, so Craig is hard to figure out. Facebook revision: it’s complicated with Larry Craig.
That seems a fairly small story compared to the abuse of power when a senator presents his card and says “what do you think about that?” Trying to move outside the law because you have the power of governance.
The “outrage,” which is barely distinguishable from the glee of saying “hypocrite!,” is just another sad symptom of how we’ve replaced a sense of what we expect from those who represent us with a spectacular order that enjoys the unfolding images: bald, now more perverted looking when photographed in profile (for real!), defensive, and all that stuff. There we are. It’s not that “we get the government we deserve because of this shit” that bothers me. It’s that we get the story we deserve. And this story misses everything that seems important to think about.
Never thought I’d say it. Nice work, Idaho Statesman!