The casualty list of senior Republican politicians nailed for frequenting hookers, propositioning policemen, sending hot emails to pageboys and so forth is beginning to look like one of those interminable genealogies in Chronicles or the Book of Kings. The name of David Vitter, Louisiana's Republican senator, was recently discovered on the "D.C. Madam's" escort service list. Vitter was regional chair of Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign. Last year, two congressmen, Mark Fowley (R-Fla.) and Don Sherwood (R-Pa.), lost their House seats because of problematic interactions with underage male interns (Fowley) and adultery (Sherwood).
At least Vitter and Sherwood were nailed for what Republicans used to categorize as natural practices. But many of the Republican fallen are closet cases, repressed and desperate, battling Sodom by day in the halls of Congress, by night trolling for rough trade in Gomorrah. They gave the liberating Seventies a wide berth, hammered homosexuality at a thousand prayer breakfasts, fought to protect Family Values. What does them down is usually some high-odds piece of risk-taking, sexually exciting until the moment the object of desire flashes his Police ID and the jig is up.
Latest to tumble from high estate into the political graveyard is three-term U.S. Senator Larry Craig of Idaho, a serf of the mining and timber companies who direct the affairs of that small mountain state. En route to this sanctuary of Republican virtue on June 11, Craig, co-chair of the Mitt Romney presidential campaign, used a stopover at Minneapolis-St Paul airport to prowl through a lavatory in the Lindbergh terminal. He spotted under a stall door lower extremities belonging to a man we now know to have been undercover cop Dave Karsnia.
Americans following the case are learning with fascination how easily some innocent action in a public convenience — known in the argot of gay patrons as "tearooms" — can be misconstrued. Don't put your bag in front of the door. That's what Craig did, and Karsnia, a youthful-looking blonde decoy, says in his report, "My experience has shown that individuals engaging in lewd conduct use their bags to block the view from the front of their stall. " Keep your feet still. "At 12:16 hours," Karsnia relates, "Craig tapped his right foot. I recognized this as a signal used by persons wishing to engage in lewd conduct. Craig tapped his toes several times and moves his foot closer to my foot. I moved my foot up and down slowly. The presence of others did not seem to deter Craig as he moved his right foot so that it touched the side of my left foot, which was within my stall area."
Craig then swiped his hand under the stall divider several times. That did it. Karsnia put down his police ID for Craig to check out. Craig quickly plead guilty to disorderly conduct and "peeping." He copped a $500 fine and hoped no one would notice. No one did for a few weeks until someone leaked the story to the Capitol Hill paper Roll Call. Craig's trying to back into his guilty plea, saying it's all a dreadful misunderstanding and that he traditionally "adopts a wide stance" in public lavatories.
Republicans, barely recovered from the Foley scandal a year ago, acknowledge glumly that it's hard to defend Craig's conduct and that he's a goner. Then they try to change the subject to Monica Lewinsky and say that it's all the fault of Democrats who have corrupted America's moral fiber for so long that even honorable men like Craig are unable to resist the beckoning finger of Temptation.
Craig's been touted as a closet case for years, hence targeted by militant gays as a public figure who should be outed because of his support for laws penalizing homosexuals. A well-known senator from the Southeast is now being battered by rumors that he, too, will be outed soon. This would bring the Republican casualty list of fallen gays in the U.S. Senate to three in a year, an amazing rate of attrition in an institution where the advantages of incumbency are almost insuperable.
Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through www.counterpunch.com. To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.