2024-05-27 12:59 PM

Memorial Day 2024 Issue!

Nicholas F. Benton: Larry Craig

With the events of this week, it’s starting to seem like the entire right wing in America is made up of some combination of self-loathing closet gays, brazen hypocrites, and downright mean people.

The only question is the proportion of each. There are times when it seems like any one may be close to 100%, and, of course, the categories also overlap. The revelations about U.S. Senator Larry Craig, that staunch “family-values” right winger from rock-ribbed Idaho, on top of all the others like it make you wonder just how prevalent the closet gay category may actually be.

There are so many cases like his piling up now, including but by no means limited to Rep. Mark Foley, evangelist Ted Haggard and the late Jim West, a mayor from Spokane, not far from Idaho, who had a political profile similar to Craig’s. 

But apart from politics, the personal profiles of them all are cookie-cutter. Stridently straight, they champion the cause of those so-called “family values,” reliable champions at repressing and holding the “gay agenda” at bay. At the same time, their appetites for sexual contact isn’t contained, and they’re forced to lurk, like so many sad cases of the gay closet throughout society, in dark shadows and dangerous places to seek impersonal encounters.

When they get caught, or exposed, it triggers a “deer in the headlights” reaction, overwrought denials and eventually, total political and personal destruction.

Like President John Tyler, who got elected as a Whig but, when William Henry Harrison died, put his veto pen to every piece of significant legislation that Sen. Henry Clay’s Whig-led Congress put on his desk, these people wind up with no friends, no family, no loyal constituencies. In Tyler’s case, his entire cabinet resigned and no one from either party ever trusted him.

Mayor West’s case was indicative. He was “outed” by a Spokane newspaper in 2005 the same way an Idaho paper was preparing to “out” Sen. Craig before the Washington-based Roll Call newspaper beat it to the punch. West tried to stand his ground and would not resign.

But his party deserted him, not surprisingly. The local gay community organizations wouldn’t touch him. With almost no support, he was put out of office in a recall election. Racked with terminal cancer, he spent his last days as a lonely man attending a predominantly Afro-American church. Even though the church denounced homosexuality, West said he went there because they accepted him.

The pain of the gay closet is not confined to any one political persuasion, of course. We’ve seen in the cases of New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey, Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank years earlier, and others that the closet, and the particular anguish associated with having public light shined into it, knows no one party.

There is nothing comparable when the transgression involves the opposite sex, as much as the consequences in terms of disgrace, broken families and cut-short careers can appear similar. The public shakes its collective head but on some level empathizes. The hypocrisy, especially as it pertains to a right winger’s commitment to “family values” (I always put that phrase in quotes because it’s a slogan for the right wing that has nothing to do with what the words actually mean), is considered to be understandable, manifestations of human imperfections.

But men’s room antics?

The only “way out” for a closeted right wing gay is to stop. Not to stop being gay, as they may think, but to stop being right wing, first of all, and then to stop being closeted. They must realize that the lure of bronze plaques and cheering crowds are cold demons, deceitful fakes, when it comes to their own personal integrity and happiness. Those adoring smiles in the big crowds can turn to hateful daggers on a dime.

They would have to face up to the fact that you can’t be happy spending your adult life nurturing the loyalty and intimacy of another person if you’re always living just one police badge away from having it all ripped asunder.

As much as I hate the hypocrisy and damage to human souls that the right wing brings, I can’t help but feel sad for someone like Larry Craig or Jim West. My sorrow is legitimate even as it stands alongside the sorrow I feel for all the people who’ve been made to suffer because of them.





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