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Chasing Larry, finding David

Larry Craig will soon be gone — and if Republican leaders have their way, quickly forgotten. However, his case leaves behind a trail of questions about the slippery standards employed by police, the press and the GOP leadership that abandoned Craig while apparently condoning David Vitter’s solicitation of prostitutes.

Despite the constant refrain of TV talking heads, including some with law degrees, Craig was not arrested for soliciting sex in the Minneapolis airport men’s room, and pleaded guilty to no such offense.

Reading the criminal complaint against Craig reveals the more serious charge was peeping into a restroom stall, though it was dropped as part of the plea agreement.

Craig did plead guilty to disorderly conduct — “engaging in offensive, obscene, or noisy conduct tending reasonably to arouse anger, alarm or resentment in others …”

The arresting officer, with his intimate knowledge of bathroom sex, may have been angered, alarmed or resentful, but if someone in the stall next to me put their “roller bag against the front of the stall,” I would have experienced none of these emotions. Rather, I would have assumed, based on my experience, that restroom stalls have limited space for a person and his suitcase, and that the space between the door and the senator was the only place to put it.

Of course, that was not the only sign the officer observed. There was also the telltale toe-tapping. Again, ignorance would have precluded me from becoming alarmed at such behavior because neither I, nor anyone I have spoken to recently, would have understood that act as an invitation to sex. I would have guessed the well-advertised trauma of Restless Leg Syndrome.

I do understand the catcalls directed at women walking down the street as invitations to sex, and I know many women who are alarmed and offended by such behavior, but I have seen very few police stings directed at ferreting out catcallers. Nor have I seen undercover cops arresting men for the lewd invitations to sex they extend while seated on barstools. Why arrest Craig for ambiguous signals while ignoring men shouting, or even whispering, obscenities to women?

Craig’s arrest also resulted in the Idaho Statesman detailing its five-month investigation into the senator’s sex life. To their credit, the editors refrained from publishing the report until the arrest, but is it really appropriate for a media outlet to interview 300 people about a person’s sexuality? Among the interviewees were 41 fraternity brothers who knew the senator 40 years ago (three of whom recalled jokes about Craig’s effeminate manner) and a college girlfriend who could not remember Craig holding her hand. (Who dates a guy for a year, at the height of the sexual revolution, and doesn’t even hold hands? For heaven’s sake, how did she even know they were dating?)

The Statesman’s investigation strikes me as offensive precisely for being so exhaustive. Will they be cited for “arousing alarm or resentment” in me?

My greatest resentment, though, is directed at the hypocrisy of a Republican leadership for whom political expediency seems to define morality. Oh, they’re tough when a colleague admits to arousing alarm in others — but they do nothing when another colleague admits to soliciting prostitutes. Yes, one mailed it into a court of law while the other merely admitted it in front of the entire nation. Do Republican leaders believe Sen. Vitter was being dishonest about his solicitation? Or do they want to teach my children that there are no consequences to crime unless the police catch you?

Larry Craig may be a hypocrite, a fool and even a criminal, but whatever the underlying facts, this episode brought disrepute onto plenty of others.


Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has worked for Democratic candidates and causes since 1982. Current clients include the majority leaders of both the House and Senate.