Our View: Craig has only himself to blame for political mess

August 29, 2007 

During a brief — and largely defiant — public appearance Tuesday afternoon, Sen. Larry Craig apologized for bringing "a cloud over Idaho."

We're sorry, senator.

This cloud does not belong to the people who have elected you for the past 27 years. It's all yours.

It stems from your mistakes.

Now, in contemplating Tuesday's apology, Idahoans must also gauge the enormity of their senior senator's misjudgments.

Craig was arrested in a public restroom in a Minnesota airport, widely reputed as a hangout for men seeking anonymous sexual encounters. According to an undercover police officer, Craig made sexual advances toward him.

Nearly two months later, he entered a guilty plea, albeit to a lesser charge of misdemeanor disorderly conduct.

And for 11 weeks, Craig failed to mention the arrest to his family, his friends, his staff or his constituents.

Craig shed little new light Tuesday on his arrest and guilty plea; he did not provide Idahoans with the full account they deserve. Instead, a business-as-usual Craig indicated he planned to serve out his term. He said he would not deviate from his plan to announce, sometime next month, his plans on seeking re-election.

Idahoans have a lot to think about while waiting to hear what Craig says next. Including his rhetoric and record on social and gay-rights issues:

• In 1999, as one of the loudest Republican voices for President Clinton's impeachment, Craig dismissed the idea of censure. "It's a ‘Bad boy, Bill Clinton. You're a naughty boy,' " Craig told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Jan. 24. "The American people already know that Bill Clinton is a bad boy, a naughty boy."

Three weeks later, when two counts of impeachment fell shy of the needed two-thirds majority, Craig said, ‘‘My state doesn't support Bill Clinton on many of his policies, and they have rejected his personal lifestyle choices. ... It was not a difficult vote for me to make.''

• In July 2004, Craig voted for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages, which failed in the Senate. A few days after the vote, in a guest opinion co-authored by fellow Idaho Republican Sen. Mike Crapo, Craig decried "a campaign by activists to use state and federal courts to force recognition of a constitutional right to same-sex marriages, and so override the people and their legislatures."

• On Nov. 6, 2006, one day before the election, Craig released a statement saying he supported a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages and civil unions. The amendment passed. Yet in a May 14 interview with the Statesman, Craig said he supported same-sex civil unions.

Does Craig's arrest and subsequent guilty plea contradict his public comments about infidelity and homosexuality? When Craig tells Idahoans, "I am not gay and never have been," will they buy it?

Craig's political mess is one of his own making. And the least of Craig's problems may be with the gay-rights activists who have taken to the blogosphere to call him a hypocrite. A bigger problem may be with the Idaho social conservatives who have been among the quickest to call for his resignation.

And when politicians try to turn social and sexual issues into fair political game, they invite scrutiny of their behavior. Craig did not establish these rules of political engagement, but he operated under them.

It's all part of your cloud, senator.

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