Bare Ruined Careers
The last humiliations of Larry Craig, who knows what Rod Blagojevich meant about giving up a Senate seat for bleeping nothing.
Hours after NBC announced that Jay Leno was taking over its prime-time lineup, Rod Blagojevich demonstrated why shows like Leno's are so cheap to produce: all the best material comes from people on the public payroll.
Tuesday's jaw-dropping, grave-roiling news from Illinois completely obscured another politician's more workmanlike efforts to humiliate himself. Like Leno, Larry Craig can't bear to walk away from the laughter. As a result, he lost yet another appeal Tuesday in a Minneapolis court. Craig promptly issued a statement maintaining his innocence and holding out the promise that he will launch one last embarrassing appeal before leaving public life next month.
In the league of bare ruined careers, Craig has actually had a better year than many. Never mind what his appellate briefs now contend: Craig's ridiculous strategy to cop a misdemeanor plea in August 2007 and appeal it ever since may have been the only plausible strategy to keep himself in office for the rest of his term. Confronted with more serious but less Leno-prone charges, Senate colleague Ted Stevens chose the road Craig didn't take—to fight in court and run for re-election. Stevens lost in the courtroom and at the ballot box and ended up with a felony conviction that would have forced him to step down even if he'd been re-elected.
Meanwhile, the once-considerable shock value of Craig's creepy, boneheaded antics in an airport bathroom has since been eclipsed by scandals that make his seem minor league. Eliot Spitzer threw away a shot at the presidency to become Client No. 9. And this week, Blagojevich trumped Spitzer with one of the most megalomaniacal implosions since Watergate—right down to the secret recordings and expletives deleted. The federalist in Craig can take consolation in knowing that, as much as Washington prides itself as the scandal capital, Blagojevich's Illinois is proof that every now and then the laboratories of democracy still produce a mad scientist.
Try as he might, Larry Craig simply can't compete on that stage. As schools for scandal go, an Idaho sleazeball just doesn't have the strength of schedule to top the BCS rankings—while the Big Ten and Big East champs get automatic berths.
Besides, Craig may be the most colorless figure to stumble into a modern political scandal. The man's harshest expletive is "Jiminy God!" Blagojevich and his wife curse more in one criminal complaint than Craig has cursed in his entire life.
Bruce Reed, who was President Clinton's domestic policy adviser, is CEO of the Democratic Leadership Council and co-author with Rahm Emanuel of The Plan: Big Ideas for Change in America.E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his disclosure here.
Photograph of Larry Craig on the Slate home page by Alex Wong/Getty Images.