On Wednesday, Idaho Senator Larry Craig’s disorderly conduct case will return to a Minnesota courtroom; there, he is attempting to withdraw his plea of guilty, and service of his sentence, on the charge. Within a few days after that, the Northwest’s senior senator (and its second most senior member of Congress) may – or may not – resign from the Senate. This the third of four essays considering the case, its causes and its effects.
You’ll see the question posted quite a bit, sometimes in the most unexpected place: What, exactly, was the offense here? What was it that Larry Craig did that was so horrifically wrong as to generate the kind of ferocious reaction, the nearly instant calls for resignation, that it has? And are they justified? What kind of response from Craig is warranted?
Don’t jump to a conclusion. This is more complicated than it seems, and not only because so many people – when you pin them down – give so many different answers. It’s because some of the answers may lie in the recesses of our souls, back in places few of us like to visit or even contemplate.
And some of the reasons have a good deal of validity, too.
One that makes no sense:
Being convicted of a misdemeanor. There’s a reason you got your felonies and you got your misdemeanors: One is considerably more serious than the other, and one is taken as an indicator of a person really not to be trusted, while the other is simply a significant mistake. Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell used Craig’s misdemeanor conviction in Minnesota as rationale for why he should resign from the Senate. This is a complete crock: By that standard, the nation’s president and vice president should be gone too. (Which many people might say should happen anyway, but not for that reason.) Get convicted of a felony, and you’re out of the Senate, all right, but lesser offenses aren’t, in and of themselves, quite so weighty.
But he pleaded guilty to a crime. Under the law, pleading guilty to a crime and then being convicted is really no different than pleading not guilty and being convicted anyway: Either way, you are formally determined by the law of the land to be guilty. There seems to be considerable difference between the two in the minds of some people, though why exactly is less clear. Is it that the guilty plea more or less removes all doubt that he actually did it? Except, of course, that he now is denying it anyway.
There’s also a real question about the seriousness, though, of exactly what Craig did. If you point a gun at someone and demand their money, there’s no question what were the specific things you did that violated the law. But tapping a foot on the floor – what’s that? Is that a crime? Should it, could it be? What sort of innocent behavior might be snared into something like this? Who knows what’s criminal?
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