Why Social Conservatives Can’t Keep It in their Pants

September 7th, 2007 Posted in larry+craig, social+conservatism | 10 Comments »
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These are tough, tough days to be a social conservative. The home town fans back in Iowa, Colorado, the Florida panhandle, and all the other medieval backwaters of this great country are hanging their heads in shame because their team is getting slaughtered out there. You can’t swing a dead cat in a public lavatory without hitting a deeply conservative, self-righteous, holier-than-thou congressman, senator, or mega church pastor, leaving the true believers to wonder–why?

“Why, Oh why, Lord?” they beseech in prayer, “The perpetual aura of remonstrance that emanates from my curdled visage serves only to bring order and obedience to the narrow confines of this humble home. Thus I selected these my public servants, these Godly warriors, these paragons of probity, to serve as my proxies and enforce the same sour rectitude on my town, my state, and this whole nation. I empowered them so that they might bring low the mighty Babylon of Hollywood, so that they might purge the filthy halls of that Gomorrah on the Potomac, so that they might drive the accursed liberals from the reeking dens where they plot, fornicate, and watch masterpieces of Italian cinema on DVD. I charged them to raise high the torch of decency, restore the fear of god, and enshrine your holy will in law.”

“So why do they keep getting caught in public restrooms with their peckers out?! I mean, forgive me Lord… but son of a bitch, I’m having a hard time seeing the bigger plan here.”

These and other questions I will soon answer. But first a warning, a second warning, a lament, an apology, and finally a profane sentence fragment.

To our young readers of the Only Sayin Scouts Club, I must ask you to leave now. Things here are going to get ugly fast. Go to some wholesome site that society deems more appropriate for those of tender years. Like this. Or this. Or how about this?

Are they gone? OK. Much of what follows will deal with the difficult subject of SEX. Like all writers, I want to be read and appreciated by as large an audience as possible, and I realize that by selecting SEX for my subject matter, mass appeal will be out of the question. But the issues at hand are of profound importance to the public weal. It will be dry reading and a hard slog. This is medicine I serve, not candy. But I know in my heart that what I say will serve to better inform the citizenry on these critical matters, and an informed populace is the foundation of good government.

So SEX it must be. Sometimes just good old fashioned boy-on-girl action, conducted in such physical manner as to allow–nay, compel–continuous eye contact between partners. Sometimes it will be boy-on-boy, or girl-on-girl, or girl-girl-boy. Or with people who are not quite boys or girls. Or with toys, outfits, leather and/or latex, in locations not limited to the home, public and non-public areas of hotels, office buildings, or mass transportation systems. It may also be necessary to say “pecker” again. I really can’t tell yet.

For all of this I am very, very sorry. But what the hell.

Let us return now to several of the “why’s?” that events like Larry Craig’s arrest bring to mind.

First, a pedestrian topic too central to be ignored: Why a public restroom in an airport? This question has been explored from many angles in the news and on talk shows. Some explanations focus on the psychological dimension, emphasizing the anonymity provided by that locale and the sense that it is a welcoming setting for furtive acts. Others prioritize the logistical advantages of using a transportation hub as a meeting venue. Analysts more inclined to accentuate the mechanical and practical dimensions in these matters highlight the element of physical convenience. A bathroom is after all a forum in which all the relevant anatomical appendages and orifices (query copy editor: orifi?) are exposed and accessible. Amidst all the rationalizing, some shrewd commentators argue that an airport bathroom is a terrible choice of location for a sexual tryst. They note that it would seem, given the well-documented symbiosis between terrorists and civil aviation, that only the naive would consider airport bathroom stalls to be a suitable location for secretive acts. I mean, isn’t that the first place you would expect a terrorist to go to give the bomb a final check? That major public figures would expect to be discreetly blown in such a place may be testament to the compulsive allure of risk. I hope that’s the explanation. Because what are we to think about the competence of those charged with providing for our security if a Senator privy to the innermost operational secrets of the Homeland Security Department is confident that he can have illicit anonymous sex in an airport toilet?

All of this is valid insight, and we are indebted to our beloved media punditry for the enlightenment they bestow. Yet, mind-bogglingly, they have ignored the elephant in our living room. Which is this: Who seeks sex in public restrooms!? Public restrooms are revolting. I’m not even comfortable knowing that the soles of my shoes are touching the floor in a public bathroom. I function as if I have lost both arms in a combine accident, manipulating all handles and controls with my elbows. I tentatively open each stall door with nauseous trepidation and the expectation that what I am about to see will be paramount to a fresh tableau of ritual murder, and in this I am seldom disappointed. And, if all I am told is true, these bathroom hookups result in such varied and energetic skin-to-surface contacts that, as far as I’m concerned, these people might as well be licking the floor and bathing in the toilets. I find this image shattering. Never, in contrast, has a semen-stained hotel bedspread seemed more innocuous, even appealing. From this perspective, what we’re dealing with here is not lewd conduct, but the same kind of mental illness exhibited by those that play with their own feces.

But there is a much more important question. Why is it that there seems to be a disproportionately large number of social conservatives amongst the religious and elected leaders whose mugshots festoon our n
ation’s news dailies? Is it coincidence? Perhaps it’s just a false perception, stemming from the fact that those who run for office on a platform of incorruptibility naturally garner the most attention when they fall off the wagon. I suspect that the voters of Massachusetts have a pretty good idea what Barney Frank does of an evening at his condo in South Beach, though they may opt not to meditate upon the visual.

As we ponder this question, let us expand our sphere of inquiry to include moral failings beyond the licentious behavior of men who do not know each other meeting in washrooms strewn with human waste. For such examples of promiscuity are mere peccadilloes elevated to the level of the reprehensible only by the hypocrisy they reveal. Though conservative radio doesn’t give a lot of airtime to rants against avarice or the neglect of the poor, mainstream social conservatism does proscribe activities beyond homosexual conduct. Indeed, the hands of right wing leaders keep showing up in all kind of places that those hands were certainly not elected to be. Yes, primarily on other mens‘ asses. But also on the asses of teenagers and children, and on the asses of other mens‘ wives, and on the asses of women that are not their own wives. And if you see an ass without a hand on it, you can bet the absent hand is somewhere else that is wasn’t elected to be. Like in the till. Or on the take.

An aside: Notably absent from this list is abortion. I’m sure if Larry Craig could have an abortion, he certainly would have had one when he saw that badge underneath the stall divider. But he, like most right-wing social conservatives, is a guy, which may be a factor in the low incidence of abortion scandals among socially conservative public figures. We were keeping a close eye on Ann Coulter in this regard, but it turns out that she is a guy as well.

With this oh-so-modestly broader view of what constitutes bad behavior, it is astonishing to consider how many prominent public figures have been violating the traditional values they profess to treasure. For every name you recognize–Larry Craig, David Vitter, Ted Haggard, Ralph Reed, Jack Abramoff, Tom Foley, Tom DeLay, Randy Cunningham, John Doolittle–there are hundreds at the state and local level whose hypocritical transgressions never show up on CNN. And let’s not leave all those pedophilic Catholic priests out of the mix. They count too.

So–is it coincidence? Is it a misleading perception?

It isn’t. In fact there is incredibly simple, obvious, and intuitive reason that those who align themselves with social conservatism are far more likely to engage in inappropriate behavior than those who call themselves liberals. It is not rocket science.

You see, we all have urges. Our urges may be violent. (I have an almost irresistable urge to bitch slap John McCain.) Or our urges may be covetous (Sure, I’m the parking attendant. Just give me the key.) They may be benignly sexual (Julie Andrews, if you’re reading this, call me at 555-5153.) Or perversely so. (Bring the nun’s habit and a single, live she-goat.) Some people process these urges in successful, healthy ways. Generally, that means shining as much conscious light on them as we can, asking ourselves why we feel the way we feel, and determining whether it would be appropriate to act upon them, or whether there are channels for our urges that would allow us acceptable modes of fulfillment.

This is why so many of my lovely and accommodating girlfriends have worn the nun outfit.

But there are many people who have never been able to bring their urges out into the light. Why do they lack the skills of introspection? They may be the product of a household where feelings were hidden. They may never have learned the value of critical thinking. Or perhaps they were never exposed to the arts and literature, where we can connect with and learn from the internal struggles of others. And the repercussions of their stunted emotional state are likely to be exacerbated because the same factors that make self-examination impossible–loveless parenting, for example–also tend to amplify their less-savory natural urges.

And so we grow up, until one day we are ready to take our place as citizens. Timidly we peek out around the frayed, gauzy edges of our newly rent chrysalis. We are innocent, our minds unmade. We understand so little of what government is and how it works. We know only that it exists to constrain us so that some will not bring harm to the rest, and that we want it to constrain us no more than is required to achieve this end. We watch people streaming by on the street, their faces like ciphers, unreadable. What would they do if allowed to give free reign to their inner desires, we wonder? Would they try to molest us in the mens‘ room? Might they molest our children? Would they steal from us, and cheat us? How can we know? How can we judge?

And then the solution comes to us. What, we ask ourselves, would I do if I could give free rein to my inner urges?

That is how it happens. That is why social liberals want to expand civil liberties, to enlarge freedom of action and thought. Because they can only assume that the balance of humanity would use that freedom to do good, just as they would. This is how many conservatives of the libertarian stripe have found their comfort zone as well. It takes great confidence in the essential benevolence of man to advocate for the abolishment government controls.

And that is how so many social conservatives, doubtful of their ability to control their own base desires, projecting their own weakness and confusion on the rest of humanity, come to be what they are. That is why they rail for strictness in the home and to have morality encodified in law. They perceive an imminent threat from which we must be protected, but cannot grasp that the source of the danger lies within themselves.

Does this mean that the mass of those who appear to be values-obsessed Republicans are in fact pedophiles-in-waiting, repressed homosexuals, thieves but for the opportunity? Far from it. They are, like all people everywhere, generally decent, doing their best to get by and willing to live and let live. But it does mean that there is something in their experience with their family or with their community that leads them to believe that people are not to be relied upon to contain their malign urges.

No, it is not hard to identify those who pose the greatest danger to us. Like all who are incapable of self-examination, they are oblivious to their own transparency. They are the ones that shout the loudest, that spew warnings of moral decay and transgression, that seek to harness the fear they engender to advance th
eir own power and influence, that seek to raise an army of the self-righteous to march on the seat of wickedness and hypocrisy.

Imagine their shock when they realize that the seat of wickedness and hypocrisy is made of porcelain. That they themselves are the one besieged and the army they raised waits for them. Right outside the stall door.