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.