Tuesday, September 04, 2007

It's Not The Democrats Campaigning on Controlling What Happens In Your Bedroom

Who would have thought that Larry Craig would be really old news by Sunday? It still got a rise out of two ‘wingers, who wanted to yell about Clinton. But after Sen. Vitter, they can’t really yell about Clinton anymore. (Unless Republicans want to campaign on the basis that unlike Democrats, they have to pay for sex?)

I wrote back to one guy still angry at the Big Dog that I’d take a bet, that the 2008 election should be a contest between people who think George W. Bush was a better president and people who think, like me, that Clinton was a better president. Let’s have a vote! He’d vote one way, I’d vote the other, but I’ll take my chances with everybody else. I haven’t heard back from him.

If you don't have time for the column, read a great Tom Tomorrow cartoon on the same point (but obviously, without my anecdote). My suggested headline was "Family Values" Is What Other People Need” but the editor went in a different direction.

East Valley Tribune, Sep. 2, 2007

You'd think this week I'd be delirious with all the comedic possibilities, but I just don't know to compete with the most dour-faced guy in Congress, Sen. Larry Craig, R-Wide Stance, who's suddenly funnier than me.

We've learned a couple new political rules. First, regarding family values, it's not really about breaking the law. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., admits to hiring prostitutes, which is also a crime, but no Republicans called for his resignation. Sen. Craig's misdemeanor guilty plea becomes public, and Republicans are tripping over themselves calling on Craig to resign.

We've got two different sets of moral rules in play. Behavior that's illegal and destructive of those oft-praised family values can be apologized for and overlooked, so long as it's heterosexual. (Well, provided it's males straying over the line, heterosexually; I'm not at all sure that a heterosexual female politician could skate by.) But as far as Republicans are concerned, "don't ask, don't tell" isn't just for soldiers anymore; senators should lose their jobs, too.

The other rule is that what really matters is your state's governor party registration. Louisiana's governor is a D, so if Vitter resigned, she'd appoint a Democrat. Idaho's is an R, so if Craig gets forced out, the GOP gets another, less unsavory Republican. So when Arizona's John McCain calls for Craig's resignation, he isn't just principled, he's being politically expedient, too. It's a candy mint, and a breath mint!

As Scott Lemieux wrote, "family values" politics is all about making yourself feel virtuous by imposing burdens on other people. When Arizona banned abortion, the affluent always could visit California for safe, legal procedures. Police don't stop people for driving-while-white. And the supply of gay voters willing to support Republicans, after being bludgeoned repeatedly by GOP base-whipping, is dwindling to the same numbers as Jewish Republicans, so they're now "other people" too. (GOP Jews and gays share another attribute; while statistically, they're less than rounding error, apparently every single one either has a blog or writes letters to the editor.)

I once had a lengthy phone conversation with a Jewish Republican who supported displaying the Ten Commandments in public buildings, because after all we're a Judeo-Christian nation and the Commandments are the foundation of our democracy, or something like that. Of course, it wasn't clear which of the several versions she wanted displayed, and of course she claimed that the people fighting to display the commandments had absolutely no religious intent.

But the fun part was my caller's personal history included a divorce and exceedingly rapid second marriage to the similarly-recently-divorced husband next door, which violated one of the Ten. (She could have gotten off on a technicality, because most translations say you're not supposed to covet your neighbor's wife, but even if it worked, her second husband couldn't use that semantic defense.)

For all I know, she's much happier now, her first husband granted the divorce willingly, and all concerned now get along just peachy. But here was somebody who insisted that we needed to install in public buildings, as a foundational moral document which all Americans needed to obey, something that she had happily violated in her own life.

Displaying the Ten Commandments was important to her, but the Commandments themselves could be violated in her own life. She could justify her own behavior -- can't we all? But she believed we had to use the power of the state to impose family values on other people who may not be as nice, or as principled, as she thought she was. It's the Eleventh Commandment: Exceptions for me, but not for thee!

It's a mindset that so enjoys controlling other people that shame never entered the equation. Walking into a public building with a display of the Commandments wouldn't be any reproach to her -- the actual words didn't apply to her, she rated an exception. The Commandments, and family values? Those are for all those "other people" whom we have to watch and mind.

Sen. Larry Craig, proud sponsor of "don't ask, don't tell," just found out that he's "other people" too.

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