Foley's IMbroglio
Sun Oct 8, 2006 18:15


Foley's IMbroglio
by Katha Pollitt
The Nation

I know the election is just a month away and the
Democrats need every vote, but... Did Mark Foley really
deserve to be drawn and quartered for engaging in
lubricious instant messaging with male former
Congressional pages? Foley's advances were creepy and
disturbing and bordered on sexual harassment, to say
nothing of bad taste--I'd definitely put "I always use
lotion and the hand" in the Too Much Information
category. But given that by law Senate pages must be 16
years old or more, and that 16 is the legal age of
consent in Washington (and most states), to call him a
"child molester" (Tucker Carlson on MSNBC) and "child
predator" (various pundits) seems rather severe. Almost
as severe as, um, calling Bill Clinton's affair with the
22-year-old Monica Lewinsky "vile" and voting to impeach
him. Which, as it happens, Representative Foley did.
"It's more sad than anything else," Foley went on,
prophetically, "to see someone with such potential throw
it all down the drain."

Foley has resigned and entered rehab: According to him,
it was the drink typing, or maybe the results of having
been molested by a clergyman in his youth. His fellow
Republicans prefer their usual suspect: liberals. Denny
Hastert claims the revelations are a Democratic dirty
trick. Rush Limbaugh says liberals are the real
hypocrites ("In their hearts and minds and their
crotches, they don't have any problem with what Foley
did, they've defended it over the years"). Which seems
ungrateful, given how many liberals wrote
compassionately about Rush's addiction to illegally
obtained Oxycontin, despite Rush himself having urged
draconian punishments for drug addicts. Tony Perkins of
the Family Research Council blames "pro-homosexual
political correctness." Matt Drudge indicts the teenage
"beasts" themselves: "The kids are egging the
Congressman on!" They're probably liberals, too.

Unlike White House press secretary Tony Snow ("naughty
e-mails"), I don't minimize Foley's behavior. It's wrong
for middle-aged men to come on to teenagers, even if
they're of legal age and even if, as some of the IM
exchanges suggest, the young person seems willing to
play ("with a towel you can just wipe off and go"). Let
the kids fool around with each other. But there's
something unseemly about the festival of ritual
humiliation: You'd think he was raping 5-year-olds, not
exchanging dirty IMs with high school seniors who could,
after all, just log off or not reply. The blasts of
indignation sweeping the blogosphere seem awfully
opportunistic: "deranged pedophile," "sicko," "children
at risk." As the Republicans are eager to remind us,
Dems are no angels: Gerry Studds slept with a page in
1973, ignored the censure of his colleagues and kept his
seat until he retired in 1997; Mel Reynolds had sex with
an underage female campaign worker, went to prison and
was pardoned by President Clinton; Barney Frank--and we
love Barney Frank--unknowingly housed his boyfriend's
prostitution service in his apartment and was re-elected
all the same. And don't forget former New Jersey
Governor Jim McGreevy, the proud gay American, now
promoting his tell-all as part of his healing process.
Men with power: It's not a pretty sight.

Unfortunately for the Republicans, they are ill
positioned to make the everybody-does-it defense. Their
whole shtick is that they're the community pillars, and
the Dems are tramps and perverts. Now the image is
blowing up in their faces, and too bad for them. Nobody
forced them to get in bed with the Christian
fundamentalists, who think homosexuality is evil and
disgusting and sex outside marriage God's biggest
preoccupation. If the family-values right wants
Hastert's head on a platter, it serves him right. Live
by Jesus, die by Jesus.

The Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum thinks Foley will
sweep the Dems back into power: Financial corruption
like the Abramoff affair is complicated and boring, but
everyone understands sexual shenanigans. Perhaps, but
are the voters really so brain-dead? Is there no point
trying to whip them up into a frenzy about some outrage
that actually matters? Like, oh, Bush's refusal to
declassify the full National Intelligence Estimate
documenting how the Iraq War has created more
terrorists. Or Afghanistan, where the Taliban is
resurgent--so much so that Senator Frist said he wants
to put them in the government. Have we given up on
habeas corpus, just voted away with the help of twelve
Democratic Senators and twelve House Dems, including
Sherrod Brown, often praised in this magazine? It would
be interesting if someone mentioned the record Foley
compiled on the rare occasions when he zipped up his
pants and went to work--like his support for that stupid
700-mile fence along the Mexican border, and for denying
public education to illegal immigrant children. Now
that's what I call child molestation.

It shows you how hapless and shallow the Democrats are
that they find so little electoral joy in a principled
coherent challenge to Republican rule. Instead, we get
tactical theatrics over whatever comes down the pike:
last month gas prices, this week Foley. I see why the
Democrats feel they have to do it: They're too
compromised, the contests are too close and the
discourse has been dumbed down for so long, it takes
something simple and splashy to get people's attention.
But it doesn't say much for the party--or for the rest
of us, either.

* * *
[from the October 23, 2006 issue]
"No sage or savior has ever endorsed greed and gluttony as a path toward social justice or personal fulfillment. These sane and enlightened people come to us from all cultures and all eras, sometimes knowing of each other but more often not. Socrates and Jesus, Lao Tzu and Tolstoi, Gandhi and Martin Buber -- no one can find in their lives and words a jot of support for a political and economic regime that encourages the acquisition of wealth far beyond what is needed for the necessaries -- or even the restorative pleasures -- of life while consigning the masses to live and work in squalor."
-Stephen J. Fortunato, Associate Justice, Rhode Island Supreme Court.

"Music is prophecy, its style and economic organization are ahead of the rest of society. It makes audible the new world that will gradually become visible."
-Jacques Attali in his seminal text "Noise"


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