Dr. David Shevin photograph

LARRY CRAIG STORMS ZANESVILLE

March, 2008

Ebenezer Zane gave Zanesville, Ohio its name, as well as his descendent Zane Grey, author of countless Westerns. Grey had some deep understanding of human nature as well. The author of RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE observed, “People live for the dream in their hearts. And I have yet to know anyone who has not some secret dream, some hope, however dim, some storied wall to look at in the dusk, some painted window leading to the soul.”

Zanesville is one of those conservative communities in rural Ohio where the civic organizations and Republican party line generally rule. It is also in the district where disgraced Congressman Bob Ney pleaded guilty to accepting bribes from Jack Abramoff and went to jail. Following this disgrace, the 18th Congressional District voted in a Democrat for the first time in … well, forever. Republicans have targeted the first-term congressman and are looking to raise the profile of their candidate, former Magistrate Jeanette Moll.

For the moment, we will leave Zanesville for the wilds of Minnesota, where Idaho Senator Larry Craig continues in his struggle to withdraw his guilty plea to the charge of lewd conduct in a men’s room of the Minneapolis airport. The Craig Case, in addition to being a Rosetta Stone for political comedy, raises some fascinating civil liberties issues. In fact, as the story broke, I got to thinking about what the Senator was nailed for. Foot bumping? Finger waving? Had a crime actually been committed? Senator Craig seemed to think so, since he entered a plea of guilty. Then Senator Craig did not think so, and thus came closer to my own way of thinking.

In the way that bedfellows make for strange bedfellows, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) decided to weigh in on the Craig case. The amicus brief filed by the organization criticizes Minnesota’s law punishing “offensive, obscene or abusive language” which tends to arouse “alarm, anger or resentment” in others as being overly broad, and limiting of free speech. Further, the organization argues, the practice of a sting operation which resulted in the charge on Craig violated previous Minnesota law, which proscribes spying on people in places where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy: specifically, a public bathroom stall. In the press release and web posting announcing their position, the ACLU explained: “The ACLU is in no way advocating sex in public bathrooms. If law enforcement is genuinely interested in stopping sex in public bathrooms rather than ensnaring people in sting operations, posting a sign prohibiting it and announcing police patrols would be much more effective and would meet constitutional requirements.”

Now we are ready to return to the congressional campaign to represent Zanesville. Comes now Jeanette Moll, “lawyer and former Magistrate”, candidate for Congress, who has made it her campaign issue to attack the ACLU for its stance in the Craig case. Various blog sites have publicized her release of the letter she sent to members of the Ohio Affiliate Board of the organization, calling upon these board members to either denounce the organization’s stand, or to resign from the body. As a recipient of said letter, I need only read the first sentence to learn that the ACLU has “chosen to involve itself in the infamous case of Senator Larry Craig by filling [sic] a legal brief that ridiculously claims that people who engage people who engage in sex in a public restroom have a constitutional right to do so.”

Magistrate Moll then proclaims her mastery of the U.S. Constitution, drawing on that document’s “God-given freedoms”. She then leaves her magistratical cloth for the domestic garb of a concerned mother. Having established that her 11-year-old relieves himself in public restrooms like the one where Senator Craig was apprehended, she writes: “I believe a mother’s right to send her young son into a public men’s room without worrying that he will be exposed to homosexual sex acts is a right that actually is consistent with the protections in our constitution … Homosexual sex in a public restroom is most certainly not a right envisioned by the founding fathers and it has no place in the constitution.”

The nature of a “straw man” argument is that no one will stand for the straw man when he’s knocked down. While I can not speak certainly for James Madison’s intentions regarding “homosexual sex in a public men’s room”, I think it is indeed a safe assumption that this was not the first thing on his mind as he set pen to paper to forecast the future of the republic. Having established that, would it not have made some sense for Moll to have read up on what the ACLU’s position in the Craig case actually is?

I gladly grant that that electioneering politics often gives rise to elaborate fictions being composed to advantage the speaker. Usually such fictions are aimed at the opponent. What is curious about Moll’s charge is that her fiction seems to have little to do with her party’s Senator from Idaho, and even less to do with her campaign opponent. It is a maneuver to cast her campaign as the congressional wannabe against the ACLU. Having no issue of substance to make her charge, she has chosen to tilt against a windmill that simply does not exist.

I am going to be curious to see how far Moll’s charge goes in the Zanesville congressional race. Zane Grey himself advised caution when bandying ill-advised charges. He spoke to that issue with characteristic color: “Never insult seven men when all you’re packing is a six-shooter.” If I were Congressman Zack Space, and defending my seat in the 18th Ohio congressional district, I would probably look at who is being insulted by the opposition, and ask why. I might even adopt a slogan reminding people that privacy is a right, not a privilege.

By David Shevin

(C)opyright 2008 David Shevin All Rights Reserved

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