Larry Craig

Our View: Craig's saga was one of too much information

The Larry Craig saga was a Too Much Information political story — once the story got out, that is.

The wide stance? The alleged stray piece of toilet paper? The foot contact? Great material for the late-night talk show hosts, of course. But listening to the audiotape of Craig's June 11 arrest interview was awkward, to put it mildly, for Idahoans more accustomed to hearing the career legislator discussing federal lands policy or immigration reform.

Let's set aside the tawdry details of the Craig story, so we will not lose sight of the substantive lessons from this sorry chapter.

The first and perhaps most obvious lesson: Honesty matters.

Craig failed his voters by failing to be upfront about his June 11 arrest. Even after he pleaded guilty to a disorderly conduct charge, paying a fine and agreeing to one year's probation, Craig kept his criminal case quiet. As the unsavory details of the case surfaced, it's understandable why Craig would be uneasy about discussing it — and tempted to make the case go away. But that does not excuse secrecy. Voters should be able to expect and demand honesty from their elected leaders. It is a burden of leadership: hardly an unfair one.

The second lesson, an offshoot of honesty, is a reminder that voters expect consistency from their leaders.

The Craig story resonated with some Americans because, for the past week, the senior senator has been a poster child for one of the ugliest breeds of political stereotype. He represented the politician who espoused one set of views in public and, according to the police allegations, may behave differently in private.

When this longtime opponent of gay-rights legislation was arrested in a lewd conduct investigation, in an airport restroom known as a pickup spot for anonymous sex, Craig was branded a hypocrite in the court of public opinion.

At the very least, the Craig saga provides a cautionary tale for politicians: If you feel you must talk the talk on social issues, make sure you walk the walk.

Perhaps, however, politicians will take an even more constructive lesson from the episode. Perhaps they will keep forays into social issues to a minimum and refocus their energies on more urgent legislative priorities.

After all, Craig's critics were quick to cite his support of a failed federal constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage — a dead-on-arrival amendment that had no chance of passing, and only forced senators into a litmus-test vote on gay rights. We may never know whether Craig's support of the amendment was indeed hypocritical. We do know that the process of forcing the vote was futile. We also were reminded, in sadly sobering terms, that anti-gay politics appears alive and well. Many people saw this first, and perhaps exclusively, as a homosexuality issue. Craig played into that, with his strident insistence that he is not gay and has never engaged in homosexual sex.

In writing about this case this past week, we tried to view this not as a matter of a senator's sexual orientation, but instead an issue of trust between an elected official and his constituency.

We'd like to believe that the onetime political allies who abandoned Craig — both within Idaho and on Capitol Hill — shared our outrage that the senator tried to keep his constituents in the dark about his criminal case.

Perhaps some did. Yet we suspect some were more upset by the suggestion that Craig may be a homosexual. Presented with homosexuality in an ugly, stereotypical form, many people fixated on that one image. Maybe it was hard not to. Sex scandals, after all, are a political guilty pleasure, more reality show than C-SPAN. This one had seaminess aplenty, but substance beneath the sleaze. Too Much Information. And a few valuable lessons.

"Our View" is the editorial position of the Idaho Statesman. It is an unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman's editorial board.