August 31, 2007
Make the punishment fit the scandal
Posted by: Chris
As news broke today that Larry Craig is expected to resign tomorrow, I've thought better of my post a couple of days ago when I said in passing that I agreed with the calls for him to leave the Senate.
The National Gay & Lesbian Task Force has been among those to remind us that GOP calls for Craig to resign are in sharp contrast to the standing ovation received by Louisiana Sen. David Vitter after it emerged that his phone number was in the records of the so-called "D.C. Madam." Matt Foreman, the head of the Task Force highlighted the disparate treatment of the two senators this way:
Let’s see — one Republican senator is involved in soliciting sex from a man and the Republican leadership calls for a Senate investigation and yanks the rug from underneath him. Another Republican senator admits to soliciting the services of a female prostitute and there’s not only no investigation but the senator is greeted with a standing ovation by his Republican peers. What explains the starkly different responses? I’d say rank and homophobic hypocrisy.
It's a fair point and it's also noteworthy that Foreman does not call on either Vitter or Craig to resign. He's pointing out that the Republicans treated Craig's admission of guilt very differently than Vitters, based on homophobia, hypocrisy and, I would add, empathy. Member of the Republican congressional caucus, who allegedly delivered that standing ovation in response to an emotional apology by Vitter, can imagine themselves in his position much more easily than Craig's.
But those who would like to see both Craig and Vitter gone should remember the scandal that enveloped Barney Frank, the prominent Massachusetts Democrat, who was caught up in his own scandal involving a (male) prostitute back in 1990, just a few years after he publicly acknowledged for the first time that he is gay.
Like Vitter, Frank admitted hiring a prostitute, in his case Stephen Gobie, whom the congressman then befriended and allowed to share his Washington, D.C., townhouse. Even more damaging, however, were the House Ethics Committee findings that Barney used his office to influence the dismissal of 33 D.C. parking tickets and inappropriately encouraged Virginia officials to act favorably in Gobie's probation on a felony charge.
The committee decision, adopted by the House, was to reprimand Barney, who resisted calls including from the editorial page of the Boston Globe, to resign. He has gone on to serve with distinction, becoming an important and influential on a range of issues, including Bill Clinton's impeachment, gay rights and banking regulation.
In an interesting historical footnote, Larry Craig was an Idaho congressman and member of the House Ethics Committee member at the time of the Frank/Gobie scandal, and voted for the more serious punishment of censure. Apparently he believed about Barney, as he would later say famously about Clinton, that "he's a nasty, naughty, bad boy."
There are a few differences, of course, among these scandals. Craig was the only one to plead guilty to a crime, albeit a misdemeanor, and he's the only one not to admit the accusations, thus showing a lack of remorse. I'm not sure either of those difference rise to the level of requiring his resignation, and certainly Barney's use of his office is not unlike Craig's attempt to intimidate his arresting officers by flashing his Senate business card and saying, "What do you think of that?"
Of course the scandals involving Vitter and Craig highlight a hypocrisy with their "family values" posturing and opposition to equality for lesbian and gay Americans. But if hypocrisy were grounds for resignation, we'd need a lot more resignations and on both sides of the aisle. I would much rather have Vitter and Craig serve out their terms, as reminders of GOP hypocrisy, both now and next year, when both are up for re-election.
TrackBack URL for this entry:
The comments to this entry are closed.