When I hear Richard Blumenthal chest-thump about Craigslist and advertising adult services, two words come to mind: Eliot Spitzer. What is it about aneroxic moralists that chills the blood?
Spitzer is now out of public life after getting caught between the sheets with a young high-price, well, child of the night. At once, this man who proclaimed righteousness was exposed as a preening fool. His dreams were of the tawdry X-rated type. He was sent from public service to something like private exile.
Increasingly, I think that Blumenthal deserves the same fate: his fantasy fox holes during Vietnam; his imaginary captainship of the Harvard swim team, a team he apparently wasn't even on; and his holier-than-thou claims never to have accepted PAC money, another whopper it turns out, make the sound of his voice fall flat. When Dick cries foul these days, I smell hypocrisy. I am hard-pressed to trust the man with a Senate seat.
Dick wants tough new federal laws to clamp down on Internet advertisements. "We are determined that Craigslist should be a model for good, not bad, in these practices dealing with prostitution ads," Blumenthal said. Oh, please Richard: would you just shut up? He sounds like he's still running for Attorney General and trading jibes with Martha Dean who, as candidate for that office, thinks our children should have firearms training in grade school. At what roadside vegetable stand are these candidates spawned?
The furor over Craiglist is another example of moral panic in American life. Something bad happens and people get scared. Out of the great need and desire to do something, laws get passed. These laws are often silly and overbroad. Consider the mess we've made of sex offender registration laws in the wake of those rare child abductions that make national news.
We now have a Craigslist Killer. Phillip Markoff, a horny and troubled young medical student in Boston, was accused of killing a "masseuse" he met on Craigslist. When Markoff killed himself last week it was as if some moralistic Greek chorus started chanting: "Beware Craigslist."
The market for human flesh, some progressive historians call it "sex work," is ancient. Tinkering with a federal law to make it easier to fine publishers who run advertisements for third parties seeking to pay for play isn't going to make the world any safer or more humane. Why not ban on single's bars, too?
Just why Craigslist tucked tail and pulled its adult ads section in response to a harrumph letter sent by Foxhole Dick and 17 other state attorneys general is a mystery. The company has not promised to stop running the ads. It merely reports to viewers that it has been censored. But it has not been censored. It backed down in response to moralistic bullying. Craigslist maintains that it is free to run the ads under federal law. The Communucations Decency Act permits it, the company says.
So why play footsie with the political class? If it's legal let Foxhole Dick and friends file suit. Test the scope of the law in litigation. The current state of the law treats Internet carriers more like telephone services than newspapers: While a newspaper might be charged with aiding and abetting a crime by running ads for sex workers, the telephone company is immune when folks chat about the fires they would like to quench in one another.
Foxhole Dick complains that Craigslist's may be an attempt to "mock the attorneys general." Give it a rest, Dickie. You've done a perfectly fine job of making politicians look like hypocritical asses this campaign season. Stop complaining about the mote in the eyes of others when you've got a Sequoia of deceit lodged in your own.
The thought of letting the likes of Spitzer and Blumenthal loose to regulate the Internet is far more chilling than random ads for pressed flesh. At least purchasers of adult services know what they're getting.
Reprinted with permission of the Connecticut Law Tribune.