Monday, October 02, 2006

DIRT, FILTH AND THE GOP

"We track library books better than we do sexual predators." So said Mark Foley, when he served as chairman of the Congressional Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus. Foley held himself out as quite the protector of children’s virtue. Just this summer, he introduced a bill designed to protect children from adults who prowl the Internet. He was also the sponsor of another bill intended to guard against child abuse and neglect.

Well, Dr. Jekyl, meet Mr. Hyde. It is no secret to anyone who reads the newspapers that Congressman Foley led a double life. In front of the cameras, he was a man among men, a real mensch, whose concern for the safety of children was unmatched. Away from the cameras, though, he was a man among boys, who’s concern for their genitalia was unmatched.

"Do I make you a little horny?" he wrote to one of his teenage pages. "You in your boxers, too? ... Well, strip down and get naked," he said in another message.

Ah, the sweet smell of political hypocrisy – actually, it’s not so sweet. It smells more like … oh never mind.

Yes, Mark Foley’s man-boy affections have become front page news. And yes, they hit the news only a month before the Congressional elections. These can’t be good tidings for the GOP, which had earlier promoted Foley to a leadership role. But are these revelations truly going to change the whole complexion of the election? To read the papers, one wouldn’t think so. The smart money is on the GOP losing Foley’s seat and the Dems getting a bit of momentum from the fact that once again, a law and order Republican turned out to have a libido after all. But nobody is suggesting that this story will create some sort of national scandal that will engulf the electorate during the last month of the campaign. And that can be explained by one simple reason: Foley was a Republican. If he were a Democrat, and the Democrats had controlled the House, the November elections would be over. And I mean Tiger’s-in-the-lead-on-the-Sunday-of-a-major-tournament over. That’s the kind of opportunity that the Democrats have been presented.

Exaggeration? Not a chance. If the tables were turned, the GOP would make damned sure that the story here wasn’t about Foley. “Foley” would just become a symbol – a symbol of the sexually perverted nature of our society, which we’d be told has become corrupted by the moral relativism of “liberals” and the Democratic party. But the real story would be the cover-up of Foley’s perversion, a cover-up that would be played out on Fox News and, yes, CNN, night after night after bloody night until the end of October.

If the tables were turned, all politically-aware Americans would become familiar with the names of Congressional leaders who were “put on notice” of the Congressman’s perversions and did nothing about it. Why did they protect such a depraved predator? Because, we’d be told, the Democrats – the morally relativistic, cowardly, unprincipled party of opportunists – were so concerned about winning elections that they could care less about all the children who were abused by one of their own.

Cover up? Does that apply here? Consider the information that’s now being reported through the print media (the one that doesn’t matter half as much as the idiot box and the radio). Representative Rodney Alexander, a Republican from Louisiana learned about some of the incriminating e-mails many months ago and told Representative Tom Reynolds of New York, a member of the GOP House leadership. When Reynolds learned about Foley’s alleged perversions, he passed on the info to the Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert – a fact that Hastert’s office denied at first, but now has admitted.

Or should I say, now he has “admitted” it in true weasel fashion. According to a statement released by Hastert’s office: "While the speaker does not explicitly recall this conversation, he has no reason to dispute Congressman Reynolds' recollection that he reported to him on the problem and its resolution." OK. I get it. The leader of the Republicans in the House of Representatives can’t remember whether he was told by one of his lieutenants that another of his lieutenants was sexually propositioning his pages. That makes sense. Who remembers allegations of sex with boys? I mean, fossil fuel emission levels, those are the kind of thing Hastert would remember. But a Congressman asking a page if he’s making the page a little horny? Nah. That’s just a little perverted. Hastert would never remember that.

If you believe Reynolds – and apparently, Hastert isn’t willing to call him a liar -- Reynolds told Hastert that the matter had been investigated by another Republican Congressman, John Shimkus, the chair of the House Page Board and the manager of the House’s work-study program for kids under 18. What did Shimkus’s investigation find? Apparently, Representative Dale Kildee, the only Democratic member of the House Page Board, might not even know. According to Kildee, “Any statement by Mr. Reynolds or anyone else that the House Page Board ever investigated Mr. Foley is completely untrue."

Ugly stuff. Or as they’d say in Mean Girls, F-U-G-L-Y. There’s no other word for it. If the Democrats were doing it, Fox News could not tear themselves away from this story. CNN? Are you kidding? Larry King used to televise all Monica all the time, and Nancy Grace loves to talk about predatory acts against children. Talk radio would get to the point where even people who hate sports would have to listen to ball games just to get away from the same-old-same-old about Reynolds, Hastert, and Shimkus … or should I say, their Democratic counterparts.

That’s what would happen if this scandal could have been attributed to the Democrats. But it wasn’t. It falls at the door of the Republicans. The majority party. The party that supports the billionaires who own the TV and radio networks. The party that has elevated slinging mud into an art form. Willie Horton? Whitewater? Monicagate? Swift Boats? Nobody can get down and dirty quite like a GOP operative. But this time, scandal addicts won’t get the benefits of the GOP smear machine. So what’s going to happen? Are we going to hear about this crap 24/7 or aren’t we?

I can’t answer that question yet. I can see that the GOP spinners are already at work. Now that Foley has resigned from office, they can’t bash him enough. It’s a variation on the corporate “blame the dead executive” defense. The goal is to ensure that Foley, and not the House leadership, remains the issue. But should he really be the issue?

Obviously the case against Foley right now is much clearer to the American public than the case against his potential enablers. That, of course, wouldn’t matter to the GOP smear machine. Was Kerry truly to blame for anything that happened in Vietnam? That’s irrelevant. When you peddle dirt, you care only about whether you can make it stick. You could care less about the type of dirt you’re dealing with, let alone its integrity.

Democrats would like to win this election in November – at least I think they would, for I can’t seem to discern much purposive activity emanating from that party. My first question is: in order to win, should they get down and dirty and turn Foleygate into a national scandal? In other words, is that an appropriate response under the circumstances. Secondly, assuming the answer to the first question is “yes” – and I’m not making the assumption so much as raising the question – do the Democrats have the wherewithal to generate a scandal that has legs? The Dems seem to be incredibly inept at communicating with the American public through the media of TV or radio. Do they understand enough how the mudslinging game is played in order to captivate the nightly attention of the Larry Kings and the Nancy Graces? Or what about the Sean Hannitys and the Bill O’Reillys? Could the Democrats somehow get “the no spin zone” to take on Hastert, Reynolds and/or Shimkus and associate one or more of those individuals with thoughts like: "You in your boxers, too? ... Well, strip down and get naked."

Maybe I should feel lucky today that I’ve never had a son. Two daughters yes, but their kind seemed to be safe in Foley’s chambers. And please, whatever you do, don’t tell me that if this had involved young girls instead of young boys, the GOP would have been chivalrous enough to get to the “bottom” of the matter.

3 comments:

Finding Fair Hope said...

I am appalled that this has happened, but I am less inclined to see it as a political matter than apparently you are. It would be nice if we could eradicate the problem of pediphilia from the face of the earth, but we're only in the first stage now, that of acknowledging its existence. To make it a political football, I would think, would be a way to inure the public to its pervasive perniciousness.

How many years did it take the Catholic church even to become aware of the problem within its confines, although anyone and almost everyone knew of boys who had been damaged within that framework. Girls as well. There is something awesome in the Establishment's capacity for denial, and politics is only one example.

What I'm saying is that once we lift the cover off this in the political arena, we'll find a few Democrats engaging in the same sort of activity. It's maddening to see Mark Foley's story as a sound byte that will go away, but that's more in the nature of the way "news" is presented today than in the capacity for outrage or in the Democratic Party's ineptitude in seizing an opportunity.

They are saying that Foley is an alcoholic rather than a pediphile -- because alcoholism is curable, or is seen to be -- and sending him off to rehab. And John Walsh (my hero), who has worked with Foley on the legislation for abused children, will be on the panel on Larry King's show tonight. I don't think the situation is good for either party, or for the country.

Daniel Spiro said...

I don't see much of a downside in talking about the issue somewhat. This type of conduct is beyond contemptible (Foley's, that is).

My question is whether to turn the enabling component into the prime focus of the election, the scandal that turns the tide and doesn't go away until the GOP-Congress looks like President Carter did when he suffering through the Iran hostage crises.

I won't answer the question as to what the Dems "should" do. I'm merely pointing out that the GOP would go for the jugular if the tide was turned, and it would win them the election. If the Dems aren't willing to fight dirty like the GOP, and if the Dems don't have any ideas or courage on substantive issues, then why do they think they can compete except on rare occasions? (And yes -- this might be such an occasion.)

Daniel Spiro said...

This is from one of today's Washington Post editorials (from the Post itself, not a columnist): "The irony here is that, were it not for their reflexive instinct for one-party governance, the Republicans could have spared themselves this scandal, or at least ensured that it was a bipartisan one."

That's what I'm talking about in my more recent post, which was actually written before I wrote the Foley post.