Wednesday, August 29, 2007

More government in our bathrooms!

When a statement begins with a "We should get government out of" I am generally very sympathetic, if not in complete agreement, with whatever might come next.

But today, I have found that the limit to my zeal for privatization and deregulation is at the latrine.

In today's LA Times, Nick Gillespie, editor of the usually reasonable Reason magazine leads with this:

As we all look forward to more sputtering news conference antics from Sen. Larry Craig, here's hoping that the Idaho politician will eventually draw on traditional Republican principles and stand up for his right to engage in consensual sex in toilet stalls with men.

He closes with:

"To (libertarian conservative icon Barry) Goldwater, government did not belong either in your boardroom or your bedroom." Or, as Craig might add, in your bathroom.

At first I thought Gillespie was kidding. And I still think he might be overstating his case for effect. But Gillespie, and a host of others, have swung their vast libertarian net towards Craig's defense by demanding our government get out of our bathrooms.

The problem with this argument is that Craig was engaging in whatever he was engaging in (and quite frankly, I can't figure out quite what -- but that's a whole other story) in a crowded public bathroom.

If the cops had raided the stalls at Club Manhole for sexual activity, it would be an outrage. And lewdness stings in secluded public settings are against the spirit of a free society.

But there is absolutely nothing wrong with preventing improper behavior in a well-trafficked airport rest room.

I'm not saying we should throw the perverts in prison -- a 500 dollar fine seems about right. And yes, there was something disturbingly entrapp-y about how Craig was caught. But how else is the inappropriate behavior -- which was apparently commonplace in that particular bathroom -- going to be prevented when using a camera or a peeping cop are not viable options?

In fact, we don't need less government involvement in our public bathrooms. We need more government involvement. Federal government.

Not just to prevent adult peek-a-boo. Hardly. But because I've been all over this country and the bulk of our municipally administered public bathrooms -- whether they be in train stations, airports, rest stops or stadiums -- are sticky, smelly messes. And there are never enough of them.

Unfortunately making public bathrooms more of a private enterprise wouldn't work. While I would be happy to fork over a few quarters for a clean private stall, if the practice becomes too widespread it would just encourage those among us of who like to think of the world as their toilet to double down on that mindset.

With the Feds in charge, it won't be long until we start hearing reports of 30,000 dollar bills for the daily upkeep of the men's bathroom in terminal two of the Omaha bus station. But I bet that bathroom will be at least a little bit cleaner than it was under local control. And I'd rather have the government wasting our money in an effort to make taxpayers more comfortable during a time of vulnerability than have it pay another 30,000 dollars so Archer Daniel Midland won't grow soy beans.

I propose the Federal Government adopt a Department of Urinals and Toilets. We could house it where the Department of Education used to be.

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