I don't know about you, but boy I am sure hearing a lot about Senator Larry Craig. Everyone wants to discuss his case, everyone has an opinion and everyone asks me for the psychological explanation of this scandal. The problem right off the bat is, What exactly needs to be analyzed or understood psychologically? Is he gay? Why didn't this come out before? Why did he plead guilty? Why was the police investigator so intrusive and indignant when questioning him? Why is there so much hysteria around this story?
Since I live with a political columnist, we have had many discussions about these issues and yet we seem to be understanding it from different angles. One can look at it from a political and legal angle or one can look at it from a psychological one pertaining to the individual and his instinctual need to survive. It is possible that a politician, especially a long-term senator like Craig, has a different instinct than most other people and that's what makes him a politician in the first place. But I would still guess that Craig is like most people. The need to survive and to be reelected has to conform to the personality style that he has constructed for himself and shown to others.
So, politically, maybe we would say that the challenge is to maintain a consistent political persona --in this case, conservative family values. To add to the mix, we are in the midst of presidential races that require each party to make sure that no matter who the candidate is the ideals of the party are upheld, that these ideals are clear to the country, and that power is maintained by that party. Therefore, the motivation is strong to expunge whomever doesn't conform to either his previous identity or the party's own.
But this sounds like a psychological analysis as well. Craig's ego structure is supported by many years of constructing an identity for himself. It's not only one that the voters believe in or that his family believes in. It's one that he believes in. Even if his id, his gut responses or desires, wants something else, his higher reasoning abilities will try to stop that or to cover it up. So, of course, he would deny being gay. If he is or isn't, is irrelevant. What is important is maintaining the identity that has been established and that coincides with the structure he wants to maintain -- his career and family.
Why he pleaded guilty is a bit more complicated. And yet it follows the same reasoning. Yes, he hoped that the whole thing would just go away. And, yes, he hoped to avoid a trial where the question of being gay would come up. So, if he admitted to disorderly conduct, by mistakenly widening his stance in the bathroom stall, he would not be saying he was gay and then hopefully the whole mess would go away and his conservative and conventional identity would be maintained. Or in psychological terms, his id may have gay desires, but his well-defended ego structure and identity were being maintained.
We should also remember that in the last couple of years it has become increasingly difficult to determine how we should respond to crisis situations. The culture now tells politicians and/or celebrities that they must profess guilt, show contrition and accept responsibility in order for us to forgive and to consequently lose interest in the crisis. I don't know if this has encouraged honesty or just established a new ritual of hypocrisy. But in Craig's case, his dilemma was to respond to the crisis in the expected ritualistic way and yet not expose the painful truth of his sexual preference. So, he admits guilt to disorderly conduct.
But, that wasn't the real issue and it didn't satisfy people. They didn't want to see him accept responsibility. They wanted to know if he was gay or not, a question incidentally that it appears has been asked many times before. So, in reality, the public isn't as interested in resolving the crisis as much as they are in finding out Craig's innermost, private, dirty secrets. We can't avoid the urge to expose, to judge and to feel powerful over those actually in power.
So, finally, what is this excitement and intense interest in this all about? Politically, obviously, each party has a stake in the proceedings. The Republicans want to maintain their conservative, moral values identity. To show internal stability, they have to express concern and to get rid of the disruptive force. The Democrats want to show the hypocrisy, moral instability, and internal inconsistency of the opposing party, thereby accentuating in contract their own strength and cohesiveness.
Psychological, as well, this intensity makes sense. We love to identify ourselves with a side of an issue and to take part in what is being played out on the public stages. We want our voice to be a part of the mix. We want to belong, to have a say. Even the arresting police officer became so personally involved when he found out he had just busted a United States senator that his questioning of Craig became intrusive and indignant. I think he saw Craig's alleged behavior as a form of betrayal. He was outraged that people had voted for the man, believing Craig to be the kind of man he really wasn't. The investigator clearly felt that Craig had an obligation to maintain a certain persona -- and he had failed at that. The cop expressed outrage and disbelief. The cop clearly took this personally.
And, in a way, so did we all. If a public official can lose control, are we also in danger of destroying our own lives? If his id can take over his well-constructed ego, could that happen to the rest of us? In this case the need to judge and to show power over those in power is an expression of our own personal fears. Thus, we double the reason to feel intensely involved in Senator Craig's personal crisis.
What about your own well-constructed ego structure? Are you always in fear of your base desires creeping in to destroy your well-ordered life? Are you afraid of losing control?
Please send your questions to me, Dr. Mona Ackerman, by posting them in the comments section below. I look forward to answering them and continuing our conversation!