James Werrell

Some advice for the embattled Sen. Craig

Here's a novel approach Idaho Sen. Larry Craig might use to lay to rest all the rumor-mongering and calls for his resignation: He could run for re-election as an openly gay man.

It's such a simple solution. He could dispense with the unconvincing "I'm not gay" press briefings. He no longer would have to cruise public restrooms for hookups. He could hang out with other gay men at more respectable and hygienic spots, or arrange for discreet liaisons via the Internet.

He could drop the masquerade of the happily married straight guy. He could join a support group of other gays who have recently exited the closet. And he could minimize chances of new encounters with undercover cops.

There is one slight problem with this scenario. Craig might find it hard to get re-elected as an openly gay Republican in Idaho or any state, largely because of ... people like Larry Craig.

Craig is one of those over-the-top family-values crusaders his party likes to cultivate. In 1999, for example, he was among the shrillest critics of President Clinton's infidelity and one of the most enthusiastic cheerleaders for his impeachment.

"It's a 'Bad boy, Bill Clinton. You're a naughty boy,'" Craig said on "Meet the Press" at the time. "The American people already know that Bill Clinton is a bad boy, a naughty boy."

Craig also has been an outspoken opponent of gay marriage and same-sex civil unions. He voted for amending the U.S. Constitution to ban gay marriage and supported a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages and civil unions. Craig also voted to bar gays from the Boy Scouts and opposed bills that would have prohibited job discrimination based on sexual orientation.

He's not alone.

Only a year ago, the GOP was hammered with revelations that Florida Rep. Mark Foley was sending salacious e-mails to congressional pages. Foley, ironically, had nurtured an image as a protector of children. He chaired the House caucus on missing and exploited children and wrote the sexual-predator provisions in the Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006.

He resigned abruptly, right before the 2006 congressional elections, once his sexual proclivities went public.

Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana may have beaten the drum for family values even more loudly than Craig. He, too, declared that Bill Clinton was "morally unfit to govern." He also said that there was "no more important" issue facing the nation than changing the Constitution to protect us from the threat of gay marriage.

Vitter recently admitted to unspecified sins after it was revealed that his number was in the phone records of Deborah Jeane Palfrey, the alleged "D.C. Madam." The next day, the madam of a high-priced brothel in New Orleans told reporters that Vitter had been a frequent visitor to her establishment.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has asked why a growing number of Republicans have demanded Craig's head on a platter while largely ignoring Vitter's fall from grace. Good question.

Why is it worse to solicit sex from a woman than a man? Could the nation's arbiters of family values have a double standard?

One shared sin weaves its way through all these incidents: hypocrisy. Republicans want Craig to disappear but give a wink and a nod to Vitter. GOP leaders knew for years about Foley's fondness for pages but did nothing about it.

As a party, the Republicans have prospered by reviling gays, denouncing Hollywood, pushing abstinence-only education programs, posing as saintly role models, promoting a faith-based agenda and, in general, presenting themselves as more God-fearing than their opponents. Now, deservedly, it's coming home to haunt them.

Maybe the whole party needs to come out of the closet.