I've been waiting 12 years, since I first started writing columns, to write this one. I couldn't be certain the occasion would ever come, but I would have bet good money on it. I simply can't believe a public man can hide remarkable secrets from the public forever.
At least, not without plenty of help.
Long before I wrote my first word for BW, I'd been in discussions with Republican friends during which the subject of Larry Craig's sexual orientation came up. I told them the stories, and they refused to believe any of it. Said I was spreading lies for my side because we play dirty. Because we can't win any other way. Because we resort to the worst sort of slurs. "And hey," they argued, "aren't you Democrats supposed to be the ones who stick up for the gays?"
I argued back that none of his opponents had ever used the stories we'd all heard. (Still true. In eight Congressional campaigns Craig has waged, no opponent has raised the issue. In fact, prior to now, the only locally printed hint of Craig's homosexuality that I'm aware of was written by myself, over four years go.) And besides, I argued, it's never been a matter of Craig being homosexual, but of him being such an astonishing hypocrite. How can a person be a part of, and benefit so much from, a vicious crusade that feeds off the pain and persecution of others as he hides his own identical behavior behind a mask of conservative rectitude? What kind of man, I argued, would advance himself by using an entire population of Americans, of which he's privately an active part, as stepping blocks?
I didn't make much headway among my Republican friends. In their view, what matter is self-loathing homosexual betrayal if the guy isn't a homosexual to start with?
My personal familiarity with the rumors goes back almost 40 years, to when Larry Craig and I were both students at the University of Idaho. (He was student body president. I was an officer in the U of I marching band. I once had to grovel before him and appeal a drastic cut in the band funding. He turned me down. It's unlikely he remembers this incident.)
After a decade out of state, I returned home to find that Craig represented me in Congress. This was a year after the '82 page scandal, during which (as my cattier Democrat friends have joked) Craig held an unsolicited press conference to become the only self-admitted heterosexual on Capitol Hill. I didn't think much about him or his politics in those days. He appeared harmless enough, compared to a pair of more colorful characters in Idaho's Congressional delegation—Steve Symms and George Hansen. Next to those flaming twits, Craig seemed serene.
But the stories continued to stack up. As a working musician, I heard anecdotal inference from older musicians who had been playing clubs and parties in Boise for decades. (Musicians see a lot, you know. They're like the upstairs maid when it comes to noticing how the sheets are unusually rumpled or who's sneaking off to the bushes with whom.) As a volunteer for the Democrats, I heard other speculation: about why a certain someone married (hastily) and adopted his stepkids (as hastily); about how a certain Midvale-raised VIP was known for occasional jaunts to big cities for some clandestine GOKW (God-Only-Knows-What); about how a certain Boise daily had been approached by gay individuals with first-person testimony about a certain prominent politician (which that paper ignored—then); about how it was commonly known around D.C. that a certain Congressman from a certain tensely conservative state was not, definitely, conducting himself in a conservative way when he was outside the direct scrutiny of his constituents.
But it was all story. Anecdote. Speculation. Rumor. The only certainty about it was that every story centered on one and only one man. And if it was nothing more than politically motivated slurs, why hadn't the Democrats spread it around some to the other good ol' boys who have been running Idaho like a well-greased feed lot for two decades?
Now we know, don't we? Or maybe we don't. Maybe—just maybe—Larry told the truth at last week's press conference, and maybe he has been the victim of a treacherous smear by a long line of operatives stretching from Popkey back to an old frat bro in Moscow. Maybe Larry Craig isn't gay.
But I proceed on the final acceptance that he is. (I write this the very week of the revelation. By the time you read it, any remaining questions may seem quaint and naive. After all, the tactic Craig is taking dates back to his '82 denial, only he is taking it now in the Age of the Internet, in which lies are exposed at a rate of 186,000 miles a second.) I do it not to vilify Craig for being homosexual. (Remember, I have believed he was gay for almost 40 years, but I would have considered him a pompous jerk had I never had a clue as to where his genitalia have been.) Nor do I do it to emphasize his hypocrisy. There are plenty of others who will dwell on that aspect.
Where this column leads is back to my old Republican friends and all the other rank and file faithful out there in Idaholand who have so dutifully voted for Craig for over a quarter of a century. I would ask them not to obsess over Craig's homosexuality or even Craig's hypocrisy. Instead, I would ask them to consider the rest of Idaho's Republican leadership, the people who have thumped the drum of "family values" so incessantly. I would ask them to wonder if there is a chance in hell those leaders—Dirk 'n' Butch 'n' Crapo 'n' Risch 'n' those faceless background fellas who keep the GOP machine ticking—didn't know about this. I would ask them how it feels to be so thoroughly punked by the people they have so completely put their trust in.
Think it over. If lowly Democrats—who don't travel in Craig circles—have known about it for decades, how is it possible that the highest Republicans—who do travel in Craig circles—couldn't have? And if they did (as I know in my bones to be true), doesn't that make them about the most cynical, manipulating, fake-ass, scheming pack of phony bastards you ever heard of? Doesn't that make the "family values" slate nothing more than a scam to run until they get caught? Doesn't that mean that you— every last faithful Republicans out there in Idaholand—have been living a lie every bit as corrosive and corruptive as Larry Craig's?