The crime of the tapping feet

U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, a Republican of Idaho, may well be guilty of the moral hypocrisy all too infuriatingly typical among today's smug professed social conservatives.

He has compiled a near-perfect voting record from evangelical religious groups that spout supposed family values and presume to judge harshly those who live by more liberal values.

He has stood steadfast against allowing gays to marry.

Now circumstantial evidence arises that he may possess gay sexual proclivities of his own and that he has acted, or attempted to act, on gay sexual urges.

It is possible that a man could have gay instincts on which he at times acts while disapproving and feeling ashamed of those instincts and actions.

It is possible he could honestly believe that gayness is wrong and ought not to be sanctioned with marriage.

What's tragic -- beyond hatred for and discrimination against gay people -- is that some people are so weak, so tormented, so bedeviled, so ashamed and so imprisoned by society's conventions that they pursue their urges in parks and public rest rooms and feel obliged to deny themselves.

"I am not gay," Craig's public cry last week, would be a sadder lie than "I did not have sex with that woman." The former can be a matter of personal shame and humiliation. The latter is most usually an attempt to stay out of trouble with one's wife.

What's offensive -- beyond discrimination on account of sexual orientation -- is that police go undercover to lure men into appearing to respond favorably to their overtures. Then they arrest these men not for an actual criminal act, such as engaging in public sex, but for reacting in a way that the undercover cop surmises to indicate a willingness to do something that's not actually done.

According to the police report, Craig was arrested for this: He stood around outside a Minneapolis airport restroom stall occupied by a man. He went into an adjoining stall and placed his bag between his feet and the door. The undercover cop in the adjoining stall said his experience was that guys interested in stall-to-stall signaling often hide their feet with their luggage. Then Craig tapped his foot, and, after the undercover cop in the adjoining stall tapped his, Craig brushed his foot against the cop's and swiped his hand beneath the stall.

This is criminal?

Where is the outrage from those who decry the very idea of hate crimes because they presume to punish thought? This senator was arrested for what a secret policeman thought the senator thought.

Reportedly this restroom was widely known for gay hookups, even touted on the Internet. If police wanted merely to put a quietus to that activity, they could send uniformed officers around regularly to arrest anyone caught actually engaging in public sex, and to serve as a deterrence.

But these uniformed officers would never presume to read the minds of happy-footed persons closeted in stalls.

Knowing that his hometown paper in Idaho had been investigating rumors of his homosexuality for years, Craig chose to tell no one of his arrest and plead guilty to a lesser offense.

His most offensive action was, when found out, to blame the hometown newspaper, which, in fact, had acted with extraordinary responsibility.

It had published nothing it couldn't substantiate and went with an exhaustive article detailing the long history of its investigations only after learning that Craig had pleaded guilty.

Altogether, this story is much more sad than criminal -- even a little more sad than hypocritical.

John Brummett, an award-winning columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock, is author of "High Wire," a book about Bill Clinton's first year as president. His e-mail address is jbrummett@