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Monday, October 02, 2006

The passion of Mark Foley

I can't manage to work up a full course of schadenfreude over the sordid situation that prompted Mark Foley to resign, largely because anyone who ran in Florida or DC political circles knew that, sooner or later, he was headed for an embarrassing series of revelations. What's shocking to nearly everyone, though, is the form it took. Everyone knew Foley was gay; unfortunately, he clearly thought that hiding that fact was necessary to protect his political viability. But staying in that closet also meant that he could never be more than a congressman: he dropped out of the race to replace Bob Graham in 2004 because it became very clear that he would be outed if he didn't.

Now, the tragic irony is that Foley has done far more damage to the GOP through his insane interactions with underage House pages than he ever could have by admitting he was gay. It's fairly unlikely that Foley -- who was popular in his district -- would have been voted out had he come out, and Jim Kolbe proved that it's possible to be gay and a Republican (he even managed to score a committee chairmanship).

There's no question that Foley is an idiot of epic proportions -- and, depending on your definition of pedophilia, may in fact have problems that are in no way related to his homosexuality (despite ongoing Republican efforts to link the two as part of their gay-bashing agenda). He was right to resign, and from the sound of it, he'll be amazingly lucky if he doesn't end up in jail for violating some of the very same laws he championed in Congress.

The much bigger problem here, though, is the actions of GOP leaders in House, who did their very best ostrich impersonation when confronted with Foley's unfortunate penchant for cozying up to pages. The bottom line is this: Parents across the country who send their children to Washington to become congressional pages do so believing that their kids will be safe, that the people elected to write our laws will protect them from harm. Denny Hastert, John Boehner, Tom DeLay, Roy Blunt, Tom Reynolds and John Shimkus failed these kids, and their parents. I'm sure that when GOP officials asked Foley about his contacts with pages, he huffed and puffed and insisted that it was all innocent, and I understand the urge to trust a colleague and defuse an unpleasant situation.

But the fact remains that these pages are very vulnerable when they walk the halls of the Capitol -- vulnerable because securing a spot as a page is considered a major deal, a super resume builder for kids anxious to get into a top college. By definition, these young men and women want to please the lawmakers they work for, because a recommendation letter from Congressman X or Senator Y is the ultimate score. If you're a page, and a congressman wants to keep in touch, you do it -- and you're likely to at least try and maintain whatever kind of relationship he wants, because not only do you need his support, pissing him off could lead to the unthinkable possibility that he'll do something that could block your upward career trajectory.

That's all the more reason why House GOP leaders should have done something: Not because it was politically expedient (although in hindsight, it probably was), but because it was the right thing to do, and the necessary thing. Suppose Hastert et al got word that a congressman was buying alcohol for a 15- or 16-year-old page -- or was even discussing the possibility via instant messaging. They would never have put up with that. What Foley did was exactly the same in one key way: What he was doing was against the law. The fact that publicly reprimanding Foley would have been extraordinarily embarrassing because of the sexual nature of his contacts with the pages is irrelevant, and it's deeply disturbing that anyone in the House would try and sweep this under the rug when children were involved.

Playing at the edge of the rules when it comes to lobbyists, campaign contributions and lawmaking is one thing. Pushing the envelope when it comes to living up to a promise made to young people and their parents is another, and Hastert and friends should be deeply ashamed.

It's also unfortunate that Reynolds, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, would even consider keeping Foley's tainted campaign cash, let alone vacuuming up what's left in Foley's considerable war chest to fund ads before next month's elections. I can't imagine that "values voters" will think much of that.

Update: According to Drudge, the young man with whom Foley had cybersex before a House vote (all together now....EWWWWW! And trust me, if you were among the people who had occasion to shake hands with these folks in the Speaker's Lobby while trolling for interviews, you'd be grossed out, too) was over 18 when it happened. While the chief point here is that ABC News looks completely ridiculous (since the initial report said he was under 18), it also adds to the general confusion over whether a criminal prosecution of Foley is even possible. I stick by the notion that, at least in theory, Foley was working hard to violate the very law he pushed so hard for, but I'll concede that the legal waters here are very muddy.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Teenagers are not children. The law says as much in almost all countries where age of consent is typically 14-16. The indidividual states as well have lower ages of consent than the federal govt uses to define a “minor” for internet/telephone contact. Even in DC, age of consent is 16.

In fact Foley did not commit a crime, because the age of consent in the jurisdiction is 16. Federal solicitation charges depend on the laws of the jurisdiction. There's no indication that he offered to pay for sex. Sexual harassment is also an unlikely charge because the page in question was not in his emply.

10/02/2006 5:50 PM  
Blogger Jonah B. Gelbach said...

Dear Person Who Writes Like But May Nonetheless Not Be BAMBY:

This is certainly not an area of expertise for me. But, you might want to check this post out.

It would appear that you would be right were Foley to have actually had sex with one of the pages, at least, as to the sex itself. However, it appears that recently enacted federal law (co-sponsored by Foley!) defines his behavior as a federal crime, with the relevant age being 18, not the state/DC age of consent.

In any case, I am intrigued by your statement that "Teenagers are not children." Does that mean that you think that teenagers should be entitled to the same privacy rights (i.e., subs due process privacy rights) as adults? And if so, do you oppose parental notification laws for abortion on said SDP grounds?


10/02/2006 6:20 PM  
Blogger spacegirl said...

Certainly, teenagers are not all children, and it's true that states have a number of different standards for this (incidentally, the age of consent in Louisiana, where the page presumably was physically located during at least the email chatter, is 17, and in Foley's own state of Florida, it's 18 if the older partner in the relationship is over 24, unless they're married). But H.R. 4472 was billed -- by Foley and others -- as being applicable to this type of crime, and as triggering a lifetime requirement to register as a sex offender to boot.

As far as we know, Foley *didn't* have actual physical contact with a page. Which is actually what makes the whole thing so bizarre.

10/02/2006 8:58 PM  

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