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The Drip, Drip, Drip of the Foley-Hastert Scandal

I appeared on ABC News This Week yesterday, as a member of its roundtable. (You can get a podcast of the show here.) Prior to that segment, Representative Adam Putnam of Florida, who chairs the House Republican Policy Committee, debated Representative Rahm Emanuel, the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, on the Foley-Hastert affair. Representative Tom Reynolds, the chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, was originally scheduled to be in the GOP slot. Though Reynolds has been incriminated in the Mark Foley scandal and is now in danger of losing his seat in upstate New York, he had surprisingly accepted ABC News' invitation to appear on the show and be questioned by George Stephanopoulos. Common sense finally prevailed, and Reynolds pulled out. As Putnam recounted in the green room before the show, Putnam had been in Florida hunting doves when the call came from Reynolds' NRCC with an order for Putnam: you have to go on the Sunday talk show. Putnam saluted and flew back to Washington.

On the show, Putnam, naturally, defended House Speaker Denny Hastert. It was a hard case to argue, but he did the best he could in the face of Emanuel's assault. That's what you're expected to do when you're a junior (though ambitious) member of your party's leadership. But it may not be cost-free--and Putnam seems to know that. After he was done and about to leave the studio, I remarked to him, "You're betting nothing else is going to come out on this." He nodded but rolled his eyes, adding, "In Washington, that's a dangerous bet."

Indeed it is. The news the next day (via The Washington Post) was that Representative Jim Kolbe, an Arizona Republican who is openly gay, confronted Foley in 2000 after a former page complained to Kolbe that Foley had sent him sexually explicit Internet messages. The newspaper noted it was not clear whether Kolbe did anything beyond talk to Foley. But this development means that the Foley problem was known within GOP circles for six years. Hastert, though, has claimed he knew nothing about Foley's conduct until the day the story broke--even though statements from GOP legislators and staffers suggest his office was informed of the Foley problem years earlier.

Putnam's bet doesn't look so hot right now.

The Kolbe revelation might prompt Republicans to revive their criticism of the so-called Velvet Mafia: that small group of gay Republicans. As I've written about earlier (see here), at the start of the scandal, some within the House Republican caucus were griping that the party had been done in by GOP gays on Capitol Hill who had supposedly covered for Foley for years. (At the same time, social conservative allies of the party publicly blamed the gay rights agenda for somehow leading to Foley's page-pursuing troubles.)

Responding to the effort to scapegoat the GOP's Lavender Bund, gay Hill GOPers told reporters they had years ago warned Hastert's office about Foley. These gay Republicans were essentially declaring: we ratted out one of our own, so don't blame us for Hastert having not done anything. As this intra-Republican sniping between gays and heteros transpired, gay politicos outside Republican circles began circulating what they called The List--a roster of two dozen or so gay senior Republican staffers in the House and Senate. With a possible shoot-out about to ensue within the Republican caucus, these gay politicos--who have long been upset with gays who serve a Republican party that opposes gay rights and embraces outfits that demonize gays and lesbians--were hoping to pour gasoline on the fire. They passed the list to social conservative groups outside the Republican party with a message: maybe this is why your political agenda is not racing through this GOP-controlled Congress. Their goal is obvious--to set off a civil war within the Republican party.

The Kolbe news is all the more intriguing because of these behind-the-scenes scuffles. Will Republicans and social conservatives who were looking to blame gay Republicans for the Foley scandal now revive their efforts to dump the blame on Velvet mafioso within their midst? They can argue that Kolbe, one of them, did not do enough in 2000 after he learned of the Foley problem. But can Kolbe really be made the fall guy? Any GOPer who tries to adopt such a strategy will encounter problems. Kolbe is already retiring at the end of this year. That means he cannot resign in disgrace and provide the Republicans cover. Moreover, Hastert has yet to explain away the claims of congressional aides that his office was informed about Foley's sexual interest in pages several years ago. So even if Kolbe did not share the bad news with Hastert's office; others say they did. What's undeniable is that Hastert did not take the appropriate steps. (There is also an allegation that a drunken Foley tried to gain entrance to the page's residence in 2002 or 2003.)

Back to Representative Putnam, the NRCC's loyal foot solider. Drip, drip, drip. This story is hardly over. He may want to rethink that bet.

******

DON'T FORGET ABOUT HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR: Tom Brokaw says "Hubris, the new best-seller by Michael Isikoff and David Corn, is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For more information on Hubris, click here.

"Speaker, Others Must Go"

Dennis Hastert may still be Speaker of the House, after the Washington Times and other conservatives called on him to resign last week. But his job is not exactly secure, either.

Republican candidates are canceling appearances with Hastert. Other Republicans are contradicting his timeline of what happened when. And the influential conservative editorial page of the Union Leader newspaper in Manchester, New Hampshire, long a presidential kingmaker, declared on Sunday that Denny should go.

"This is not the first time Hastert has reacted to scandal by attempting to shift blame instead of addressing the real problem," the Union Leader writes. "If he remains in power, it will not be the last.

Hastert's obsession with maintaining power has corrupted his judgment and he can no longer be trusted to put the interests of the country above the interests of his party. Republicans must insist that he resign."

In Russia, a Courageous Voice Is Silenced

Russia and the world have lost a great and courageous journalist. Thekilling of Anna Politkovskaya on October 7 is horrifying and shocking,but not unexpected. As Oleg Panfilov, who runs Moscow's Center forJournalism in Extreme Situations, said upon learning of her murder,"There are journalists who have this fate hanging over them. I alwaysthought something would happen to Anya, first of all because ofChechnya." It was "a savage crime," said former Russian President --andthe father of glasnost--Mikhail Gorbachev. "It is a blow to theentire democratic, independent press. It is a grave crime against thecountry, against all of us."

Politkovskaya was just 48 years old when she was found in her apartmentbuilding, shot in the head with a pistol. In the last decade, herunflinching reporting on the brutality and corruption of the Chechenwar made her one of the bravest of Russia's journalists.

The numerous death threats she had received in these last few yearsnever slowed her. In fact, when she was killed Politkovskaya was atwork finishing an article--to have been published Monday--abouttorturers in the government of the pro-Kremlin Premier of Chechnya.

Politkavskaya was a fearless chronicler of the mass executions, the torture, the rapeand kidnappings of Chechen civilians at the hands of Russian troops andsecurity forces. She understood the cancer that was the war--and wroteand spoke of how the "Bush-Blair war on terror" had given Putinallowance to say he was fighting internationalterrorism. In fact, the Kremlin's policies and the brutal Russianoccupation of Chechnya, she wrote in many dispatches, were insteadengendering the terrorists they were supposed to eliminate.

Her raw and searing reports on the human catastrophe of the Chechen warappeared primarily in Novaya Gazeta, which has become in theselast five years the main opposition newspaper in Russia. It is toNovaya's credit that her crusading investigative articles werepublished inside Russia. In the wake of her death, there is concernthat the next victim may be her newspaper. That's why it's importantthat the international journalistic community defend the weeklynewspaper's independent, dissenting voice. (In a little-noteddevelopment, last june Gorbachev became a minority partner/shareholderin Novaya. His role may provide some protection from anykremlin attempts to curb the paper's voice.)

I met Politkovskaya a few times--in Moscow and in New York, includingat a Committee to Protect Journalist's dinner in New York where shereceived one of the many honors that came her way in these last years..she spoke with fierce intensity about the horror of the war--and theinjustice and corruption she believed was strangling Russia. There wasa bluntness to her personal style--as there was to her investigativereporting. A mother of two, Politkovskaya spoke of her fear, and therisks she knew she faced in taking on the most powerful forces inRussia. But she never let that interfere with what she believedpassionately was her duty as a journalist. In an interview two yearsago with the BBC, Politkovskaya said "I am absolutely sure that risk is[a] usual part of my job; job of [a] Russian journalist, and I cannotstop because it's my duty. I think the duty of doctors is to givehealth to their patients, the duty of the singer is to sing. The dutyof [the] journalist [is] to write what this journalist sees is thereality. It's my one duty."

Her latest book, Putin's Russia--an uncompromising indictment of herbeloved country's corrupt politics--has just been published in the US.Read it. But it is her reporting on Russia's long-running brutal war--collected in a previous book, A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches fromChechnya,-- which best explains what her friend Panfilov said onSaturday: "Whenever the question arose whether there is honestjournalism in Russia, the first name that came to mind wasPolitkovskaya." And may it be remembered that this brave and honestjournalist never compromised on the fundamental ideals of free speechand a free press in the long battle for human rights in Russia.

Since 1992, forty-two journalists in Russia have been killed--most inunsolved contract executions. Journalists--and citizens of allcountries who value the importance of a free press--should join incalling on the Russian government to conduct an immediate and thoroughinvestigation in order to find, prosecute and bring to justice thoseresponsible for Anna Politkovskaya's murder--and those of hercolleagues.

Death of a Courageous Journalist

Russia and the world have lost a great and courageous journalist. Thekilling of Anna Politkovskaya on October 7 is horrifying and shocking,but not unexpected. As Oleg Panfilov, who runs Moscow's Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, said upon learning of her murder, "There are journalistswho have this fate hanging over them. I always thought something wouldhappen to Anya, first of all because of Chechnya."

It was "a savagecrime," said former Russian President --and the father ofglasnost--Mikhail Gorbachev. "It is a blow to the entiredemocratic, independent press. It is a grave crime against the country,against all of us."

Politkovskaya was just 48 years old when she was found in her apartmentbuilding, shot in the head with a pistol. In the last decade, herunflinching reporting on the brutality and corruption of the Chechenwar made her one of the bravest of Russia's journalists.

The numerous death threats she had received in these last few yearsnever slowed her. In fact, when she was killed Politkovskaya was atwork finishing an article--to have been published Monday--abouttorturers in the government of the pro-Kremlin Premier of Chechnya.

Politkavskaya was a

Her raw and searing reports on the human catastrophe of the Chechen warappeared primarily in Novaya Gazeta, which has become in theselast five years the main opposition newspaper in Russia. It is toNovaya's credit that her crusading investigative articles werepublished inside Russia. In the wake of her death, there is concernthat the next victim may be her newspaper. That's why it's importantthat the international journalistic community defend the weeklynewspaper's independent, dissenting voice. (In a little-noteddevelopment, last june Gorbachev became a minority partner/shareholderin Novaya. His role may provide some protection from anykremlin attempts to curb the paper's voice.)

I met Politkovskaya a few times--in Moscow and in New York, includingat a Committee to Protect Journalist's dinner in New York where shereceived one of the many honors that came her way in these last years..she spoke with fierce intensity about the horror of the war--and theinjustice and corruption she believed was strangling Russia. There wasa bluntness to her personal style--as there was to her investigativereporting. A mother of two, Politkovskaya spoke of her fear, and therisks she knew she faced in taking on the most powerful forces inRussia. But she never let that interfere with what she believedpassionately was her duty as a journalist. In an interview two yearsago with the BBC, Politkovskaya said "I am absolutely sure that risk is[a] usual part of my job; job of [a] Russian journalist, and I cannotstop because it's my duty. I think the duty of doctors is to givehealth to their patients, the duty of the singer is to sing. The dutyof [the] journalist [is] to write what this journalist sees is thereality. It's my one duty."

Her latest book, --an uncompromising indictment of herbeloved country's corrupt politics--has just been published in the US.Read it. But it is her reporting on Russia's long-running brutal war--collected in a previous book, A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches fromChechnya,-- which best explains what her friend Panfilov said onSaturday: "Whenever the question arose whether there is honestjournalism in Russia, the first name that came to mind wasPolitkovskaya." And may it be remembered that this brave and honestjournalist never compromised on the fundamental ideals of free speechand a free press in the long battle for human rights in Russia.

Since 1992, forty-two journalists in Russia have been killed--most inunsolved contract executions. Journalists--and citizens of allcountries who value the importance of a free press--should join incalling on the Russian government to conduct an immediate and thoroughinvestigation in order to find, prosecute and bring to justice thoseresponsible for Anna Politkovskaya's murder--and those of hercolleagues.

What Will Wal-Mart Do?

On Monday, Bishop Alberto Ramento, a dedicated advocate for workers' rights, was stabbed to death in Tarlac City, in the Philippines. His body was found in his church. Local police claim that Ramento was the victim of an ordinary robbery, but his murder takes place in the context of a wave of violence against leftists and other human rights advocates who have criticized the Arroyo government. Ramento had received death threats as a result of his activism, and he is the second pro-labor clergyman to be killed in the province, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Bishop Ramento was chair of the board of the Philippine Workers' Assistance Centre (WAC) in Cavite, where workers have also been under violent attack in recent weeks. (His colleagues there feel strongly that his was a political murder, not a robbery.) According to WAC, a church-affiliated labor organization that has had phenomenal success organizing workers in the intensely militarized Free Trade Zone, the owners of the Chong Won Fashion factory have been trying to destroy their employees' union by force.

Last week, a combination of municipal and free trade zone police, and private security, attacked strikers who were peacefully picketing, injuring twenty-two of them. It was the second violent attack on the picket line since September 25, when the workers first went on strike to protest the owners' refusal to negotiate a first collective bargaining agreement. At least sixty-six of the striking workers have also received termination notices, according to WAC.

The factory's largest customer is Wal-Mart. Last month, after repeated violations of workers' right to organize, the retailer audited the factory at the request of Maquila Solidarity Network (MSM), an anti-sweatshop group based in Toronto. But Wal-Mart ignored some of MSM's more crucial requests: the company did not meet with WAC to hear the workers' side of the story, nor did it put enough pressure Chong Won's owners to respect freedom of association, so violence at the factory has escalated.

Last year, around the same time that Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott started finding his inner tree-hugger, Wal-Mart also began cultivating a better relationship with North America-based anti-sweatshop groups. The company had been so notorious for ignoring these organizations and their findings, that even the ever-forgiving Domini Social Investment Fund had dropped Wal-Mart for "unresponsiveness."

"This represents a change in Wal-Mart's behavior," Bob Jeffcott, a policy analyst at MSM says of the retailer's response to the Chong Won situation, "that they are even willing to talk to groups like us. But they need to talk to the local organizations, the workers' representatives. Wal-Mart still doesn't understand that." It's also a good sign, he says, that Wal-Mart is not "cutting and running"--simply dropping the factory and leaving all the workers without jobs, as it would have done in the past. What's still unclear is whether the company will intervene on the workers' behalf.

No one is suggesting that Wal-Mart ordered--or is in any way directly responsible for--Bishop Romano's murder, but like so many multinationals globally, the retailer clearly hasn't taken any decisive action to stop the violence and intimidation that fattens its own profit margins. For that, this company--so widely perceived by many US consumers and workers as a "Christian company"--has a lot of explaining to do. Wal-Mart should be asked to use its own substantial influence, not to further bully the workers, but to force the factory to bargain fairly.

Like all US companies operating in Free Trade Zones, Wal-Mart should stop the brutal economic pressure that lies at the root of political violence against workers and their advocates. The root of the trouble, says Jeffcott, is "the pricing question – Is Wal-Mart willing to pay a price that allows a factory to pay a living wage?"

Rein in The Decider (continued)

First a bipartisan American Bar Association panel decried George W. Bush's unconstitutional use of signing statements. And now, according to The Boston Globe, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) has declared that the President is using signing statements as "an integral part of his comprehensive strategy to strengthen and expand executive power at the expense of the legislative branch."

Read the confidential report posted here.

Signing statements are assertions by a president that he (or, someday, she) need not obey or enforce the bill he is signing into law. Before the current Bush regime, all presidents in our nation's history had issued signing statements for approximately 600 laws. But King George alone has challenged over 800 laws. A recent example – in signing a bill barring the Pentagon from using illegally obtained intelligence, The Decider suggested that he alone can make that determination.

The CRS report deemed that many of Bush's assertions of presidential powers are "generally unsupported by established legal principles."

Anyone who cares about our nation's historical separation of powers and the checks and balances of our Constitution knows that George Bush must be reined in and reined in now. Fortunately, we have the opportunity to elect a Congress that will do just that on November 7.

The Problem With the Mark Foley Problem

Unfortunately, it appears those of us who have argued that the current ruckus on Capitol Hill is not a Mark Foley Scandal but a Republican Congressional Leadership Scandal may be losing the debate.

A week after Foley's political career imploded -- after details of his emails and instant messages to teenage congressional pages began to surface -- the fascination with the former congressman seems actually to be on the rise. Yesterday's New York Times features a lengthy profile of Foley beginning on its front page today, while talk radio and the blogosphere are abuzz with discussion of every new salacious detail about a politician who until last Thursday was barely known outside the precincts of central Florida and a few blocks of Washington, DC. My most amusing progressive radio show on the dial, Stephanie Miller's morning program, features daily reports on "La Cage Aux Foley."

Everywhere Americans look or listen, the shorthand for the whole affair is "The Foley Scandal."

The focus on Foley is problematic for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, it turns what ought to be a discussion about the win-at-any-cost approach of the Republicans who run Congress into a wildly speculative discourse on one troubled man and what his experience says about everything from pedophilia to workplace ethics to privacy and gays in politics. Everyone is getting into the act, from moralizing conservatives -- like Family Reserach Council Tony Perkins claiming that "tolerance and diversity" are to blame for the whole mess -- to Desperate Democrats describing Foley as a "pedophile predator." The tone of the discussion is especially disturbing at a time when right-wing forces have placed anti-gay initiatives on the November 7 ballots in eight states. Prospects for beating those measures in states such as Wisconsin, Colorado and Arizona are not helped by discussions that, whether intentionally or unintentionally, reinforce inaccurate yet persistent stereotypes.

While I have shied away from writing at much length about Foley's personal story -- preferring to focus on the far more serious and significant issues that have been raised about how the Republican leadership places politics above all other concerns -- it seems that some consideration of the congressman's circumstance is in order. I was convinced of this when my wise colleague Katha Pollitt emailed the other day with some smart questions about a line in one of my articles on the scandal. In a piece discussing the pressures on Foley as a closeted Republican, I wrote, "Unlike the vast majority of homosexuals -- who, as a group, are less likely to be attracted to children than heterosexuals -- the congressman began to engage in activities that were inappropriate and potentially illegal. Details that have surfaced in recent day suggest that Foley had made a mess of his life – a mess that exploded on him and his party when it was revealed that the co-chair of the Congressional Caucus for Missing & Exploited Children had sent 'Do I make you a little horny?' e-mails to teenage boys." Katha wanted to know whether I meant to suggest that closeted gay men were more likely to be attracted to teenagers -- a notion about which she was distinctly, and correctly, dubious.

I appreciated the question, and others from friends and colleagues regarding Foley's personal story and whatever conclusions can be drawn from it, because they provide an opening to explore the backstory of a controversy that could yet depose the Speaker of the House.

As regards Katha's specific question, I don't buy the argument that being closeted caused Foley to be attracted to particular groups of men or boys. Sure, the need to cloak a huge part of his identity created pressures on the congressman. But, right or wrong, I'm of the view that our behavioral penchants and tendencies are set early in life. I share the position of Matt Foreman, the executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, who says: "Given similar past sordid situations in the page program perpetrated by male members of Congress against female pages, it's absurd to blame the Foley spectacle on his being gay, closeted or otherwise." In other words, what Foley did is what Foley did. It makes little sense to try and find in his specific actions indicators of broad patterns or universal tendencies among gays or straights, people who are in the closet or people who are out.

So, then, the question becomes: What was up with Foley?

With all the new twists and turns in his story -- including this week's declarations by the former congressman's lawyer that he's an alcoholic and a survivor of childhood sexual abuse -- that's a tough question to answer with precision.

But, as someone who has covered Foley for many years and had an opportunity to spend a good deal of time with the man, let me offer some thoughts:

I first got to know Foley a number of years ago when he was one of the few Republicans who was speaking up on the issue of media consolidation. Always interested in media issues -- especially as they related to the film and music industries -- the congressman had a good eye for the changing character of our communications after the passage of the noxious Telecommunications Act of 1996.

Foley's insights about the collapse of the political discourse on local radio stations that were bought up by national chains, as well as a his concerns about the homogenization of music playlists, made him stand out not just from his fellow partisans but from most members of Congress. I appreciated Foley's intelligence, and his enthusiasm. He was a less regimented Republican than most, which made him more interesting than the average member of the party's House caucus. I wrote about Foley frequently and we appeared at some of the same forums on media issues.

I knew Foley was gay, and was aware that he was in a long-term relationship with a Florida physician. As someone who saw him in a number of settings, I never had a sense of him as being "on the prowl." He was gregarious, even boisterous. I thought that Foley seemed oddly immature for a veteran legislator; someone who always seemed to be trying a little too hard. But in hindsight I suspect that he was trying a bit too hard to fit in with folks who he did not want to stereotype him as just another conservative Republican. Some people speculated that he was experiencing a bit of a mid-life crisis as he passed the age of 50 and looked at the prospect that he had hit a political ceiling in a Republican Party. GOP leaders had made it clear that they would not support him for higher office, but that very much wanted him to hold onto a "safe" seat in a electorally volatile state.

Foley had always been a good politician, but in the first years of the Bush presidency he began losing his touch. It was no secret that Foley was struggling with questions of how "out" he could be. The struggle heated up in 2003 when, as he was preparing to seek Florida's open U.S. Senate seat, Foley became the subject first of "he's gay" whispering campaign and then of articles in gay and lesbian publications and finally daily newspapers that discussed his sexuality in varying degrees of detail. Foley did not handle the controversy well, and ultimately ended up folding that campaign. Two years later, in 2005, he again toyed with making a Senate bid. But, by that point, party leaders were clearly and unequivocally discouraging him from seeking any office but the one he held.

Foley's political tightrope walk became an increasingly difficult one as the Bush administration and Florida Republicans ramped up their use of anti-gay messages to energize the party's social conservative base. My sense of Foley in recent years was that the congressman was growing increasingly isolated within his own party, and increasingly lonely in Washington. He wanted out. And he had job offers, good ones, coming from the entertainment industry, which is always on the hunt for Republicans who can lobby on its behalf. Foley was unenthusiastic about seeking reelection in 2006.

More than a year ago, he had begun hinting about exiting politics for a lobbying gig, or perhaps what he considered a dream job in the movie industry. Undoubtedly, complaints about his emails to pages were a factor, although at the time no one outside Foley's inner circle and the offices of House Speaker Dennis Hastert and a few other key players in the GOP caucus knew of them

This spring, as the deadline for declaring his candidacy for another term approached, Foley was pressured by Republican Congressional Campaign Committee chair Tom Reynolds, R-New York, to make one more run "for the good of the party." Reynolds wanted to keep open seats at a minimum in what was shaping up as a difficult political year, Though we now know that that the RCCC chair was aware of Foley's troubling emails, holding the House was Job One. Foley finally agreed to seek another term, and the rest is history.

But it is a more complex history than the shorthand version that reporters who are covering this fast-breaking scandal -- including this writer -- have tended to descibe.

There is more to Foley's story than the "sleazy hypocrite" label that has been attached to him by Democratic critics in particular. Yes, the congressman was a co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children, and, yes, his office was the source of a steady stream of blunt pronouncements about the need to crack down on those who prey on children. If one accepts that 16- and 17-year-old young men who are past the legal age of majority and who are living away from home are children, or if one is simply unsettled by abuses of the power relationship between a senior member of Congress and teenage pages who dream of political careers, then it is evident that the "hypocrite" tag may be the kindest that can be attached to Foley.

But the congressman was not so hypocritical when it came to social issues. He was one of the most prominent members of former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman's "It's My Party Too" group, which has worked to pull the GOP away from the grip of the religious right -- although you would not know about the association from the group's website, from which all Foley references have been removed. Foley has been reelected in recent years with support not just from moderate GOP groups such as the Log Cabin Republicans and the Republican Majority for Choice but with generous campaign contributions from groups that generally back Democrats, such as the Human Rights Camaign and the Service Employees International Union.

The Log Cabin Republicans, the party's chief advocacy group for gay and lesbian rights, strongly endorsed Foley this year, noting that: "He has consistently voted against the anti-family marriage amendment, and has supported the hate crimes bill, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), and the Early Treatment for HIV Act."

It is true that Foley was an imperfect player on issues of concern to gays and lesbians. Early in his career, he voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, and unlike another supporter of that foul measure, former Senator Paul Wellstone, he never renounced the vote. Foley also faced legitimate criticism for failing to be a leader in challenging the military's failed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. But his record was still better than those of all but a few Congressional Republicans -- and, it should be noted, many Congressional Democrats.

So, while Foley may have refused to publicly acknowledge that he was a gay man until this week, he chose frequently to vote as a supporter of gay rights. That distinguished him from other Republicans who have become the focus of scandals, such as former Congressman Ed Schrock. Before the 2004 election, Schrock, a Virginia Republican who regularly voted against gay rights and enjoyed Christian conservative support, was ruined politically when recordings began to circulate of the congressman using a telephone service on which men placed ads to arrange liaisons with other men. Like Foley, Schrock quickly quit his seat.

There are those who will suggest that the fact that both Schrock and Foley were closeted Republicans is an important factor in this discussion, and that being closeted really was Foley's primary problem. One of the Florida congressman's most consistent critics, online journalist Mike Rogers, told the Miami Herald, ''I do believe that he had unhealthy sexual advances to these guys because he was living his life as a closeted gay man. Healthy gay men who are mature and dealing with their sexuality in a mature way don't hit on kids who are 16 years old. What's his signature issue [child protection]? You don't know whether to laugh or cry.'' Rogers has been covering these stories for a long time, and he certainly has a right to assess them as he thinks appropriate. But, again, I'm not of the view that being a closeted Republican is the issue. There is no question that Foley struggled with the challenge of how to be a prominent Republican and a gay man without acting as a total hypocrite. No doubt, in recent years in particular, he struggled with a sense of isolation within a party that was, unquestionably, more understanding and respectful of gays and lesbians in its congressional caucus during the days when an ascendant Newt Gingrich was running the show. But other closeted congressional Republicans -- and Democrats -- have managed their lives without scandal.

My sense of Mark Foley in recent years was that he was becoming an increasingly sad and lonely man. How that sadness and loneliness related to his inappropriate and potentially illegal actions is something that, no doubt, Foley and others will explore in the future. But, I remain in agreement with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's Matt Foreman, when he says of Foley's circumstance: "It's a tragedy for him and his family. I don't want to get into the pain of the closet. It's irrelevant if he's gay or not."

Above all, however, I agree with something else that Foreman says: "What's clear is that the House leadership elevated holding onto a seat above the interests of young people in the page system. And they want to talk about ‘moral values'? Please."

Pity Mark Foley or hate him, try to understand this congressman or try to demonize him, but understand that the fundamental truth of the current moment is that Republican leaders in the House knew that one of their own had a problem and chose to disregard that knowledge in order to protect a "safe" seat and their shaky grip on power.

That, to my view, is the greater scandal.

Denny's Man

Yesterday the House Ethics Committee issued four dozen subpoenas but declined to appoint an outside counsel to investigate a possible cover-up of Mark Foley's conduct by the House Republican leadership--meaning that they're likely to sweep the most damning revelations under the rug.

There's many reasons to distrust the Ethics Committee, which I outlined in a piece in January, "Ethics-Go-Round." The most obvious red herring is that the Chairman of the committee, Rep. Doc Hastings, was specifically appointed by Hastert to prevent investigations of fellow Republicans.

After rebuking Tom DeLay three times, Hastert purged three Republicans from the committee and replaced the old chairman, Rep. Joel Hefley, with Hastings. The committee didn't function for the next year, even as scandal after scandal gripped Washington.

Only recently did the Committee hire full-time staff and begin working again. But it's hardly independent. Is the man who owes his job to Hastert really going to thoroughly investigate him?

N.J. Pride At Risk

As someone who was born and raised in New Jersey I can assure you with some authenticity that New Jersey pride is often under-appreciated and overlooked. Personally, I've always been particularly proud of my state's more liberal leanings over the last few decades. But my confidence in the judgment of my states' voters is being shaken currently by an uncomfortably close race for senate between 10-month-long Democratic incumbent Robert Menendez and his Republican challenger, Tom Kean Jr., who's son of 9/11 commission head and popular former N.J. governor Tom Kean.

In Jersey, Bush is more unpopular than he is in roughly 45 of the other states. He was defeated there handily in '00 and '04. The state hasn't elected a Republican senator in over 30 years. But with the corruption and scandal fueled downfalls of former Democratic Senator Robert Torricelli in 2002 and the former Democratic Governor James McGreevey last year, has soured many New Jersey citizens on the state's Democratic machine. Menendez, an appointee of Gov. Jon Corzine's, has been similarly marred by accusations of poor ethics. With the exception of a recent Zogby poll, Menendez has been trailing Kean Jr by a few points consistently for weeks now.

Even more discouragingly, Menendez has about as much charisma as a 9th grade algebra teacher. Nevertheless, he has taken some impressive political stands. Throughout the campaign Menendez has been savvy to highlight his opposition to the war in Iraq from day one. On the other hand he's shown a disheartening inclination to pander to the right, as he did by voting to essentially allow President Bush to continue with his blatant disregard for the Geneva Conventions.

Meanwhile Kean Jr. seems just as affable and sensible as his father. But his sunny exterior and moderate posturing disguise much more conservative views on issues like stem cell research. When it comes to what is arguably the most important issue in the country right now, the war in Iraq, Kean Jr. says he supported it initially and despite what we all now know, still does.

New Jersey can't risk putting someone in office from either party who spouts that kind of reactionary rhetoric. The senate swings in the balance and the opportunity to finally change course on Iraq and host of other issues does too.