Saturday, September 1, 2007

Into the sunset, too

"I am not gay," Republican Idaho Sen. Larry Craig volunteered today, on his way to became the latest casualty within a party that's become its own latest casualty. "I apologize for what I have caused," he said in an announcement. "It is with sadness and deep regret that I announce that it is my intention to resign from the Senate effective Sept. 30th."

By now you know the back story. Sen. Craig, a picture of, uh, rectitude representing the rock-ribbed-red state of Idaho, was arrested in June after apparently propositioning a male undercover police officer in the Minneapolis airport. Craig later pleaded guilty in the incident. The whole sordid mess was brought to light last week by Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper.

The Bushies, and the GOP generally, will start damage control. Owing to his pleading guilty, Craig's political career is now effectively over. The leaders of the party will wave their fingers and shake their heads, taking a quiet glee in hanging Larry Craig's career as high as possible.

But as bad a specific problem as Craig is to the Republicans, he's in some ways just a symptom of a more general ailment that should be more troubling: the onset of irrelevance.

It's always sad when an apparently capable, responsible politican is forced to step down under an ethical cloud. To judge from his long tenure as a public servant – and from the tears of some of his constituents at the Saturday announcement – Craig was well-regarded by the people of the state he served.

But the swiftness of his fall, and the abandonment of Craig by his own party, point to the deeper underlying tragedy not for him or for Idaho but for the Republican party: the GOP's reflexive antipathy to life experiences outside its own has led again to the downfall of one of its own.

The legal dimensions of the Craig affair almost don't matter; the greater impact will be felt by a party whose tireless self-promotion as arbiter of Family Values has painted it into a corner, confined the GOP to a retrograde, outdated perception in the public mind – a vision of a party that chooses to be out of touch with the diversities of family values.

As the American mosaic gets more multiculti, more varied, more tolerant of distinctions, more complex than ever before, the Republican party has hitched its wagon to a stone, holding fast to a vision of the American people so outdated as to beggar the imagination.

The gay aspect of this emerging fiascette is the frisson for the tabloids; it gives the whole thing that little extra charge to the watercooler public, but in many ways the gender dimension is irrelevant. It wouldn't matter if Craig was caught propositioning a woman in a bathroom stall. If that were the case – crossing another ethical line, touching the third-rail nerves of a hypersensitive political party that has mortgaged its past and its future on the idea of being the Party of High Morals – nothing would have changed. Larry Craig would be just as dead politically in that scenario as he is right now.

The GOP's in a zero-tolerance mode right now, even more than when David Vitter went down. As the bedrock of the administration exit from the White House -- Karl Rove and Alberto Gonzales the two most emphatic departures -- and as the party tanks in opinion polls, they can't afford not to be. Right now the Republican leadership is grappling with the idea of redefining itself, of attempting to again reshape itself along populist lines. But some of them are only now realizing that the populist contours of the early 21st century aren't the same ones Republicans relied on to begin the Reagan Revolution in 1980.

Even small-town, Norman Rockwell America speaks Spanish these days.

The GOP's under siege. When that happens, the last resort, the only recourse, is to fall back hard on the principles they started with. That means zero tolerance for transgressers like Larry Craig.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...