· What happened on June 11 in that Minneapolis airport bathroom is a he-said-he-said debate. For the sordid details, read the entry.
· Even if the police officer’s account is accurate, what Larry Craig did was NOT a crime, and his charge was unfair and unjust. It was a very unfortunate mistake for him to plead guilty when in actuality he was innocent of any wrongdoing.
· The personal lives of politicians, insofar that they have or do not compromise the politician’s ability to dispense his/her public duties, should be off-limits to the public and should not be raised as an issue. They also do not constitute grounds for resignation, impeachment, or deprivation of seniority or chairmanships.
· When the hell are we as a country going to stop being distracted by what happens in people’s private lives and start focusing on what really matters?
I’m sure all (three) of you have been following the drama that has befallen Senator Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho). As I think that politicians’ personal life affairs that do not interfere with their professional lives and duties are their business and should be left alone by the public, I really feel sorry for Craig, and I most certainly think that he should NOT have announced his resignation, nor should he resign from office.
To properly comment on this sensational tale, I first will tell you exactly what happened.
(Visit the Wikipedia entry for general information on the whole story.)
On June 11 2007 Craig was in a mens’ restroom in the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and was subsequently arrested by airport police Sergeant Dave Karsnia. That’s about all that Craig and Karsnia agree on, as from there it becomes more of a he-said-he-said situation. I will present both sides of the story.
Karsnia was working undercover at an airport restroom based on several complaints about lewd behavior that the airport’s police department had been receiving. He had been sitting in a bathroom stall for 13 minutes when, at 1213 PM, he saw Craig standing outside his stall. Craig would repeatedly peer into the stall, then look down at his hands and fidget with his fingers.
At 1215, someone in the stall to Karsnia’s left exited the stall, and Craig went in, placing his roller bag in front of the stall door before sitting down. (Karsnia notes that the placement of the roller bag has been used in the past to obscure detection of those engaging in “lewd conduct”.) At 1216, Craig tapped his right foot several times and moved his foot closer to Karsnia’s. Karsnia interprets this as an invitation to engage in the aforementioned lewd conduct. Karsnia moved his foot up and down slowly in response. Craig moved his right foot all the way so that it touched Karsnia’s left foot. At 1217, Craig swiped his left hand under the stall divider from front (door side) to back, palm up, three times.
At 1219, Karsnia held his police ID with his right hand under the stall divider to show Craig, and with his left hand pointed towards the exit. Craig responded, “No!” Karsnia pointed again, and Craig left the stall. Karsnia left his stall and motioned Craig to leave the restroom. After some initial resistance and hesitation, Craig complied with Karsnia’s requests and went with him to the Police Operations Center, where they had a nice chat. (Note: Craig shows Karsnia his business card in or outside the POC, not in the bathroom.) Craig was photographed, fingerprinted, and released at 105 PM.
Craig’s story (as it appears in the transcript of the interview with Karsnia in the POC):
Craig entered the bathroom and waited (“a minute or two at the most”) for a stall to open. He looked not at Karsnia’s stall, but at the one next to it, which he entered when it was vacated. He went in, sat down, and positioned his legs: “I’m fairly wide guy… I had to spread my legs… When I lower my pants so they won’t slide.” He bumped his foot with Karsnia’s, then reached down with his right hand to pick up a piece of toilet paper. Craig disputes Karsnia’s contention that he slid his hand under the stall divider.
Mugshot of Craig upon arrest. Source: Wikipedia
Okay, so there you have the two stories. (For more information about bathroom signaling, read this Slate article.) Craig was charged with Interference with Privacy under MSS 609.746 Subdivision 1(c) for allegedly peeping into Karsnia’s stall (this charge was later dismissed) and Disorderly Conduct under MSS 609.72 Subdivision 1(3) (it is assumed that this charge was for allegedly soliciting sex with the foot tapping and hand swiping).
Unfortunately for Craig, even though he denied Karsnia’s account of the story, he pleaded guilty to the charge of disorderly conduct; the guilty plea was processed on August 8 2007. Craig claims to have plead guilty in hopes of putting it behind him and making it “go away”, and has since regretted that decision.
When the story broke in the last week of August, the vilification and condemnation came swiftly – and none of it from Democrats, all of it from Craig’s fellow Republicans. No one stood up for Craig, with the possible exception of Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA-4) who stated that Craig should not have to resign. Under enormous pressure from Senate Republicans, Craig announced his intent to resign effective September 30 barely a week later, on September 1.
Senate Republicans defend their swift punishment of Craig as opposed to their lackadaisical attitude towards the sexual escapades of Senator David B. Vitter, who was discovered to have used the services of a D.C. prostitution ring, on the basis that Craig pleaded guilty to a crime and Vitter did not.
But, as The Volokh Conspiracy, a website that serves no purpose for me and does not interest me outside of the context of writing this entry, asks, what was Craig’s crime? First off, we don’t even know whose story is actually correct. But even assuming that Karsnia was telling the truth and Craig did tap his foot and swipe his hand, so what? How is that a crime?
…engaging in offensive, obscene, abusive, boisterous, or noisy conduct or in offensive, obscene, or abusive language tending reasonably to arouse alarm, anger, or resentment in others, in a public or private place, knowing, or having reasonable grounds to know that it will, or will tend to, alarm, anger or disturb others or provoke an assault or breach of the peace.
In other words, it’s something the police can use when people do something the police don’t like. Because there’s no other way to explain how this charge could be applied to Craig. What part of what Craig supposedly did reasonably fits under the definition provided? The language seems to state that the conduct not only has to be offensive, obscene etc. but also that the offender has know that it will alarm, anger or disturb others. Considering that Craig initiated the process with foot tapping and Karsnia responded in kind, Craig obviously would not have known that Karsnia would be alarmed, angered or disturbed!
Even if Karsnia had not responded in kind, what Craig did is still not really a crime. First, the foot tapping and hand swiping would have to be proven to be actual signals for soliciting sex. Otherwise, I could get arrested for swiping my hand in the bathroom even if I was not intending to ask for sex. Second, mere solicitation of sex is not a crime. If it were, I think a lot more people would be paying fines.
Let’s face it, the story of Larry Craig is something that has been blown way out of proportion. His only mistake was to plead guilty to a crime that doesn’t exist. The act that he supposedly did itself does not constitute a crime and the charge of disorderly conduct was unfair and unjust. Moreover, Craig should not have to resign. The personal lives of politicians, insofar that they have or do not compromise the politician’s ability to dispense his/her public duties, should be off-limits to the public and should not be raised as an issue. They also do not constitute grounds for resignation, impeachment, or deprivation of seniority or chairmanships.
Even worse, personal intrigues serve as a distraction from more important and pertinent public issues, and this distraction can sometimes be useful. Look at me – instead of writing about Iraq and the impending progress report, I’m blogging about what Larry Craig did in a Minneapolis bathroom. (The Iraq entry is forthcoming, I promise!) When are we as a country going to finally grow up and be able to focus, like serious adults, on what matters, instead of constantly being distracted by sexual escapades and giggling like little five-year olds when someone’s naughty-naughties pop up in the news? When are we going to let private lives be private? And yes, public officials still deserve to have private lives.
Dave Karsnia lamented in a different context, “No wonder why we’re going down the tubes.” Some people say it’s because of sex, drugs, violence, etc. Others say it’s because of scary gay people. A couple of dumbasses I read about in the news say it’s because of the Democrats. I say that the reason why we’re going down the tubes is because there’s been a mutual failure – by both the people and the government – to focus on what really matters in society and in our country.
SEPTEMBER 30 2007 ADDENDUM: Today is the day when Larry Craig is supposed to resign – but lo and behold, he is still in office. He’s said that he will not resign until the Hennepin County court rules on his motion to withdraw his guilty plea. Good for him.
OCTOBER 4 2007 ADDENDUM: Larry Craig has decided to
serve out the remainder of his term even though the court ruled against his
motion to withdraw his guilty plea. Good
for him! I’m glad he decided to stay –
it will send a vitally-needed message that personal matters that do not
interfere with public duties are not grounds for resignation.