Idaho Senator Larry Craig pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for his Minnesota men's-room encounter with the vice squad, but the real trial began when the arrest became public and everyone with an opinion or agenda had a chance to testify. Mitt Romney, finding himself without his Senate liaison and Idaho campaign chairman, declared, "It's disgusting," before reminding the jury that sin is bipartisan: "I think we've all heard the story about Bill Clinton and the fact that he let us down in his personal conduct with a White House intern." John McCain called Craig's conduct "disgraceful," but to him the crime was political--"It harms our reputation with the American people"--as though the current public contempt for politicians weren't actually driven by the same partisan, poll-parsing instinct he was demonstrating. On the other side, one gleeful wing of the commentariat seized on Craig as just the latest family-values conservative unmasked as a hypocrite for opposing gay marriage in public while soliciting gay sex in private--even though if Craig truly believes homosexuality is wrong, his fault would be weakness, not hypocrisy. Craig felt compelled to call a press conference, with his wife standing by his side in sunglasses the size of hubcaps, to declare that he had done nothing wrong. "I am not gay. I never have been gay," he insisted, as though that were the charge that had to be knocked down, not the accusation of recklessness or infidelity.
There was so much cynicism and comic fuel in the whole bonfire that the sadness of it was easily lost. The closet remains a dark and roomy place, full of attitudes we won't admit to and contradictions we can't explain. We can be a country that commemorates gay marriages in the Sunday papers and exalts gay characters in our sitcoms but still views it as career suicide to be an openly gay actor or athlete or politician unless you represent some very select ZIP codes. So who are the real hypocrites here, and how do we decide, publicly and privately, what conduct to encourage or condemn? Maybe we'll know when the day ever comes that the real political scandal is the discovery of a Senator cheating on his husband.