Third Party & Independents Archives

Sen. Larry Craig: How not to do it

See if any of the following quotes ring a bell:

  • “I am not a crook”
  • “I did not have sex with that woman”
  • “I did nothing wrong at the Minneapolis airport”

Yes- here we go again.

Politicians never seem to learn the most important lesson of public life: tell the truth and tell it right from the very start. Never lie. Never. Because you will almost always be caught. And, as we’ve seen so many times in the past, the lie becomes worse than the act you sought to conceal.

Think how the course of history might have changed if, the morning after the Watergate burglary, President Nixon had called a press conference and said something like this:

“Last night some people working for me did a terrible thing. They broke into the offices of the Democratic National Committee in an attempt to help my re-election effort. I take full responsibility for their actions and beg every American’s forgiveness. I promise this will never happen again”.

Just think: we would have been spared two years of agonizing investigations, a constitutional crisis that almost wrecked our government and Nixon would have gone down in history as one of our great presidents, instead of holding the dishonor of being the only president forced to resign in disgrace. It’s also possible Jimmy Carter would never have been elected President, since much of his support came from people disgusted with Nixon’s dishonesty.

Ditto for Bill Clinton. If he had admitted his little indiscretion with Monica right at the very beginning, he would have pre-empted all the investigations and avoided any talk at all of impeachment. It’s also quite likely that George W. Bush would never have been elected President. Remember, Bush’s 2000 campaign was largely based on “restoring integrity” to the White House. In the closest election in U.S. history, it wouldn’t have taken too many votes to give the victory to Gore.

Which brings us to Sen. Larry Craig. He did something really stupid in the men’s room at the Minneapolis airport last June. By his own admission, he reached under the toilet stall partition and touched the man in the stall next door. That man, of course, turned out to be an undercover cop.

Like Nixon and Clinton before him, Craig panicked. He entered a guilty plea to a charge of disorderly conduct, in the hope no one would ever find out. Of course, someone always finds out. Even if the local news media is asleep, as they apparently were in this case, your political enemies will find out. And in politics, there are always enemies waiting for a chance to bring you down.

So what does Craig do? He calls a news conference and tells the world he did nothing wrong. He says it was all a misunderstanding. He admits his foot strayed under the partition, touching the foot of the guy in the next stall. And he admits reaching down with his hand, under the partition. But he says he was only trying to pick up a piece of paper from the floor. Jay Leno nailed that one the other night when he said: “I don’t even like it when my shoelaces touch the floor” in the men’s room. Even his fellow Republicans said Senator Craig’s explanation “was not credible”.

What should Craig have done? I’ll offer the same advice I’d offer any public official in a similar situation:

  1. Talk to your lawyer. That’s why you hired him.
  2. Talk to your family and prepare them for what is to come.
  3. Tell your political associates so they’re ready when the news breaks.
  4. Tell your staff.
  5. Last- and most important- tell your constituents. Call a press conference and confess. Tell the whole truth and accept the blame completely. Don’t try to blame anyone else and don’t make excuses. Just admit you made a mistake that you really regret and then beg for everyone’s forgiveness.

A funny thing happens when you do that last step. People will forgive you. Voters actually admire public officials who have the enormous courage to admit their shortcomings because everyone knows how difficult it is. So instead of earning everyone’s disdain, you wind up earning their respect.

No, it’s not easy. Yes, you’ll feel humiliated for a few days or a few weeks. But you’ve ended the ordeal. It’s over. And you and everyone else can and will move on.

The public loves stories of redemption. You just have to find the courage to give them the chance.

Posted by Dan Schillinger at September 17, 2007 5:43 PM
Comments
Comment #233232

Dan… you’re asking a lot of our public officials when you ask for straight-forward honesty!

I agree with everything you said… Tricky-Dick likely would have served out his second term… as to whether or not he would have been ‘one of the greatest’ is a topic for another discussion.

Until Slick-Willy took the stand and lied under oath, there was no crime committed. The fact that that detail made it all the way to a Grand Jury (which was supposed to be investigating White Water?) reeks of pure partisan politics. By any objective measure, Clinton had a very successful presidency, despite how much the far right loathes him…

You are correct, though, about the idea that had he told the truth from the beginning, it would have all blown over… we should remember, he was not impeached for having an affair… he was impeached for lying about it under oath.

Posted by: Doug Langworthy at September 17, 2007 6:11 PM
Comment #233241

I think gay men in Idaho should be happy. They finally have a senator they can get behind…

Posted by: Snardius at September 17, 2007 6:55 PM
Comment #233249

It’s amazing how just a few words can completly change the course of history.
Good Article, Dan. Welcome to WB.

Posted by: TheTraveler at September 17, 2007 7:55 PM
Comment #233277

I have to agree with ya Dan. If Nixon had told the truth from the get go he’d have served out his second term. He wouldn’t be the only President to resign from office. Ford would be the only President that no one voted for. And Carter would never have been elected.
If Clinton had of admitted to having sex with Monica nothing would have come of it.

Doug

Until Slick-Willy took the stand and lied under oath, there was no crime committed.

Maybe not. But he still acted inappropriately by having sex with a subordinate.
Again though I don’t really think much if anything would have come of it if he had just told the truth.

The pattern of misconduct by elected official continues to plague us. This misconduct is caused by their arrogance. And they’re arrogant because the voters keep reelecting them even though they have proved time and again that they are irresponsible, and unfit to hold office.
Only when the voters start kicking these arrogant irresponsible politicians out and replacing them with politicians that will be accountable to the voter will this kind of crap stop.

Posted by: Ron Brown at September 18, 2007 12:06 AM
Comment #233280

Welcome Dan

Posted by: Richard Rhodes at September 18, 2007 1:01 AM
Comment #233289

Ron… you are absolutely correct… what he did may not have been illegal, but it was highly innappropriate, and, had he come clean to begin with, it would have certainly blown over a lot sooner than it did.

You make a good point about arrogance in our leaders…

Posted by: Doug Langworthy at September 18, 2007 9:57 AM
Comment #233303

Welcome Dan,

While I generally agree honesty is a good policy, mostly because it’s easier to remember, another important lesson: If you find transparency too difficult to live with…get out of public life.

I’m not sure telling the truth always is as easy as it sounds. Remembering a lesson of the Bible, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” We lie as a matter of being humans. Learning how not to say too much in public, seems a bit more relevant, and when in a hole….stop digging, of course.

Finally, I don’t believe for a second that Idaho’s conservative voters would have been forgiving of a homosexual Senator. They think homosexuals are perverts and sinners.

Posted by: alien from the planet zorg at September 18, 2007 12:31 PM
Comment #233307

Dan said: “Never lie. Never. Because you will almost always be caught.”

Absolutely NOT true. Politicians lie all the time; few, only a very few, over many years of lying, are ever forced to pay a consequence for it.

I do subscribe to the theory that if you violate the rules, the more you get away with it, the more you are rewarded for it, thus increasing motivation to violate the rules for the sake of expedience. Given long enough, the person’s chances of getting caught go up significantly overtime. Sen. Orrin Hatch is a prime example. He finally got caught up in the US DA scandal, after years of playing political games with official government business. He has not, and likely will not suffer a legal consequence, this time. But, his risk just got larger, as his behavior will now be more closely scrutinized as a result.

And old habits are very hard to break. But, no, lying politicians are rarely made to pay a public or legal price for lying. There are so many ways to lie, most of them come with sophistry escape routes.

Posted by: David R. Remer at September 18, 2007 1:07 PM
Comment #233439

Dan Shillinger:
“Think how the course of history might have changed if, the morning after the Watergate burglary, President Nixon had called a press conference and said something like this:

“Last night some people working for me did a terrible thing. They broke into the offices of the Democratic National Committee in an attempt to help my re-election effort. I take full responsibility for their actions and beg every American’s forgiveness. I promise this will never happen again”.”

Yet, that would have just been another lie, since Nixon was the one who arranged for the break in to help his reelection effort. Are you saying that it would have been okay for Nixon to be dishonest and make a false apology, as long as he had made a show of it having nothing to do with him?


“5. Last- and most important- tell your constituents. Call a press conference and confess. Tell the whole truth and accept the blame completely. Don’t try to blame anyone else and don’t make excuses. Just admit you made a mistake that you really regret and then beg for everyone’s forgiveness.

A funny thing happens when you do that last step. People will forgive you. Voters actually admire public officials who have the enormous courage to admit their shortcomings because everyone knows how difficult it is. So instead of earning everyone’s disdain, you wind up earning their respect.”

I disagree that simply admitting what he did and asking for forgiveness would have been enough to get that forgiveness in this instance. And in this case the ability to earn respect is right out. Craig was trolling for sex with strangers in a public place — and his being gay after being a very vocal opponent of gay civil rights and liberties is just too much. Not only does the public expect dignity and upstanding behavior from U.S. Senators, but they can’t stand the hypocrisy of a gay man preaching family values, while voting against giving gay people their rights.

The saddest thing of all was the fact that Craig’s public statement was that he “was not gay” and “was never gay.” It pointed directly to the pathetic fact that the GOP treats being gay as a crime and an abomination. But the awful truth is, if his party didn’t do that, and if he hadn’t been so willing to play along, he could have been a gay Senator who didn’t need to sneak around trying to score furtive anonymous sex with men in public restrooms.

Btw, the ongoing disgusting and creepy GOP sexual perversion scandals continue with the pedophile (Republican) Assistant US attorney from Florida:
Child Sex Sting Nets Federal Prosecutor

Posted by: Adrienne at September 19, 2007 11:34 AM
Comment #234965

Larry Craig made me cr#p my pants.

Posted by: NationalSquib at October 1, 2007 5:32 PM
Post a comment