Wide stance: Weiner's, Craig's expressions unscandalous

If slavery was America's original sin, Puritanism was its original curse.

In recent years, the United States has made significant strides towards greater equality and freedom. Racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry have been significantly curtailed by new laws and cultural education. But we still have work to do. Four centuries after people so uptight they couldn't get along with the British invaded the New World, however, the United States remains one of the most sexually repressed Western countries.

It is not good for us.

"If expression of sexuality is thwarted, Christopher Ryan wrote in Psychology Today last year, "the human psyche tends to grow twisted into grotesque, enraged perversions of desire. Unfortunately, the distorted rage resulting from sexual repression rarely takes the form of rebellion against the people and institutions behind the repression."

In other words, mean parents, churches, and right-wing politicians.

"Instead," Ryan observed, "the rage is generally directed at helpless victims who are sacrificed to the sick gods of guilt, shame, and ignorant pride."

Like, for example, gays. Fourteen states– including Virginia– still had sodomy laws on the books by the time the Supreme Court invalidated them in 2003.

And the occasional politician.

Former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner is the most recent in a long line of elected representatives to step down because of a "sex scandal."

I use scare quotes here for a simple reason: Sexual expression should never result in a scandal.

Weiner resigned after getting caught sexting naughty pictures of himself to women via Twitter. Weiner was a liberal, so ideology wasn't at issue.

Most of the Democrats I talked to had the same weird take on Weiner. They weren't offended. Not personally. They themselves didn't think he had done anything immoral, or illegal, or that he had betrayed his constituents. They didn't care.

They questioned Rep. Weiner's judgment. Didn't he know he might get caught, and what would happen if he did?

What Weiner did wasn't bad, at least not bad enough to warrant resignation or impeachment. To most Democrats, including the House leadership, Weiner's mistake was tactical– his failure to anticipate the outrage of other people that reflected lousy judgment– a personality flaw that required him to fall on his (much photographed) sword.

They didn't care what he did. They didn't like Weiner's failure to be discreet.

It is time– well past time– that we Americans grew up.

No one, not even a politician, should be pressured to resign because of sex.

Even when they're a hypocrite.

I snorted when Larry Craig, the anti-gay Idaho senator was arrested (and plead guilty to) cruising a men's room with his "wide stance." Here was a right-wing Republican who opposed gay marriage, opposed allowing gays to get domestic-partner benefits, opposed banning employment discrimination against gays, cruising for hunky tail at the Minneapolis airport.

"Let me be clear," he told a press conference, "I am not gay. I never have been gay."

Fun stuff. And hardly the first time a gaybasher got caught with his, um, you know, in a, well, um, nevermind. Miraculously, Craig got to finish his term. But his political career is over.

Looking back on Senator Craig now, however, I think we progressives missed a teachable moment. Rather than ridicule the man, we ought to have defended him as a victim of an unjust law. In the 21st century, why should anyone go to jail for soliciting consensual sex?

Also, we should have exploited Craig's predicament as an opportunity to create a dialogue with him, to ask, given his own status as a gay or bisexual (he was married) American, that he reconsider his antigay politics.

One day, I hope, we will live in a nation where another person's sexual expression is no one's business but theirs and their sexual partners. We will be allowed to do whatever we want with whomever we want, as long as what we do is with a consenting adult.

Even if we take pictures and post them online.


Ted Rall's most recent book is "Wake Up, You're Liberal! How We Can Take America Back from the Right" (Soft Skull Press).