Virtue, Vice and Sen. Larry Craig

“Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue.” — Francois duc de la Rochefoucauld, French epigrammatist (1613-1680)

Oh for the good old days when Jimmy Carter lusted only in his heart. Now deviancy’s downward spiral has reached the level where a United States senator pleads guilty to cruising an airport men’s room in search of an anonymous “quickie” and is forced to resign.

Sen. (until Sept. 30) Larry Craig of Idaho labored as a second-tier Republican member of Congress until news that he pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct became public. He then rocketed to first-tier status, though not for the reason any politician would wish. His sins, not his legislative skills, had found him out. He became fodder for late-night comedians and a problem for the self-righteous community, which hoped that Senate voters would not penalize Republicans come election time, if they expunged Craig from the Senate.

During the last election campaign, now-Speaker Nancy Pelosi charged that a “culture of corruption” exists in Washington. She was right. The political culture is corrupt and that corruption is not the exclusive property of Republicans, as anyone with a sense of even recent history knows. Like a virus that does not discriminate among those it seeks to infect, the culture of corruption threatens almost everyone who comes in contact with it. Even the most noble of freshmen members of Congress must eventually compromise when it comes to fund raising and pork barrel projects, if they want to remain in office. Sex gets our attention; waste, fraud and abuse of our tax dollars less so. That says something about us and about our scandalous priorities, even more than it does about those we elect to office.

When the goal of a “public servant” is a never-ending political career and not doing what’s best for the country, that is when whatever immune system he might have brought to Washington begins to break down. It is extremely difficult for a senator or house member to remain in Congress 20, 30 or more years and either not be corrupted, or become separated from the real world. Politicians can quickly get out of touch and embrace an entitlement mentality that, at the extreme, results in Oval Office shenanigans (Bill Clinton), or its trailer trash equivalent (Larry Craig and Sen. David Vitter, Louisiana Republican, whose name showed up on the D.C. Madam’s client phone list), or fund-raisers who break the law (fugitive Norman Hsu, who raised lots of cash for Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and others.)

There is something else about the sexcapades — whether heterosexual or homosexual. The media bombard us with images of Hollywood tarts and other “alternative lifestyle” practitioners, who behave not only badly, but also recklessly. Every move they make; every breath they take, we are watching them. Virtue, like virginity, seems to be a relic of an ancient past, but these traits are, in fact, a rebuke to our corrupt present. The very condemnation that fell upon Larry Craig — from fellow senators to the most liberal editorial pages — affirms a standard that may no longer be practiced sufficiently in the public square, but still resonates in our private hearts.

That great theological nag named Paul speaks to this in his letter to the Romans when he writes of those who ignore God’s requirements for humankind: “Although they know God’s righteous decrees that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.” (Romans 1:32)

Does that not fit our present state of mind and cultural condition? Don’t liberal activists and their judicial enablers regularly tell us that to affirm an immutable standard, especially if it comes from God, violates church-state separation? But then we quickly hark back to the standard to hold even United States senators accountable.

In our reaction to Larry Craig’s misdeeds, we affirm the standard. We also seek to be quickly rid of him because he serves as a reminder that the standard still exists and who among us does not fall short of it at some level?