Will he or won't he? Let's consult the Ouija board of Washington sex-scandals past:
- Bill Clinton: Democrat, had actual sexual contact with female intern in the Oval Office. In.
- Sen. David Vitter: Republican, had actual sex (we assume, or he should get his money back) with female prostitute. In.
- Rep. Mark Foley: Republican, wrote flirtatious messages to male pages (which, unless you're a wishful thinking 14-year-old, doesn't constitute actual sex). Out.
Thus, in all likelihood Sen. Larry Craig, Republican, who did nothing more than play footsie with an undercover male cop in an airport restroom, will likely be out. Out of his job, that is. Definitely not out of the closet yet.
Because both parties, though they like to dress up in puritanical values like a little girl in a white dress on confirmation day, are clearly all-too-comfortable in the sweat-stained wife beater of homophobia. This isn't exactly a grand revelation when it comes to the Republicans. Increasingly over the last several decades, Republicans have relied on right wing moralizing to unite voters around them by inflaming bigotry against others.
But in denouncing Craig, the Democrats are revealing their own true nature isn't very different. Yes, Craig attacked gay rights while seeking male companionship in public restrooms. Studies show that very often, the most virulent homophobes are, in fact, closet cases. Indignation at Craig's hypocrisy can be tempered with downright pity for a prominent Senator so ashamed and repressed in his sexuality that he was forced to troll for action in the Minneapolis airport of all places. Still, Craig's hypocrisy --- born out of self-loathing and desperation --- is nothing compared with the Democrats, whose hypocrisy is calculating, manipulative and far more destructive in the long haul.
After all, Craig is just one hypocritical senator from Idaho. The Democratic party, on the other hand, is responsible for half of the political playing field in our country --- and deciding what constitutes a foul versus fair game. In this case, they've taken some cheap shots themselves --- and, just as problematically, have joined teams with Craig's homophobic critics, the Democrats angling to gain points from political backlash instead of blowing the whistle against injustice.
So when Bill Clinton boinked a White House intern in the Oval Office, the Democrats defended him. When Larry Craig did a few hand signals with a consenting adult in a bathroom stall, Democrats are positively giddy with the opportunity to attack. For instance, on its website, the Democratic Party includes Craig on it's list of Republican Embarrassments. Of course, the site doesn't mention that Craig's "disorderly conduct" was with a man. We already know that, and now know that the Democrats think that gay sex is embarrassing.
(Mind you, the Democrats don't say anything about Craig's hypocritical anti-gay public policy. How could they when they're not exactly Episcopalian choir boys on the subject, if you know what I mean.)
The lesson here is that homophobia knows no party. Either party is happy to tap into anti-gay undercurrents in our society to ingratiate themselves to the homophobic masses. Never mind that the majority of Americans support rights like civil unions and death benefits for gay couples. The very nature of discrimination is that people can concede to granting a community rights even though they think that community is decidedly inferior. The same can be said with race and racial justice. White folks say they support creating opportunities for African Americans and other historically marginalized communities of color. But politicians are nonetheless quick to use racialized stereotypes like the "welfare queen" to trigger and manipulate deep racism among voters. And the voters, in turn, respond.
In other words, when push comes to shove, the Democrats are just as likely to throw the gay folks and African Americans and other communities they've courted overboard to appeal to presumably racist soccer moms and homophobic Nascar dads --- the coveted "swing" voters who don't seem all that important if the base of the party is lost. But Democrats, who should already be ashamed of their pathetic lack of leadership on gay rights, should be even more ashamed that they have helped to fan the anti-gay flames engulfing Larry Craig.
Craig didn't actually have sex with anyone. For all we know, had he successfully picked up the gentleman in the next stall, the two would have gone off to a nearby airport motel --- since there wasn't an oval office nearby.
Flirting isn't illegal. Even with a man. Even in Minneapolis. Nor is it immoral. What is immoral are Democrats trying to tell us otherwise.
Sally Kohn is the director of the Movement Vision Project, working with grassroots community-led organizations across the United States to identify our shared, long-term vision for the future.