Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Foley Scandal

Lately I’ve wanted to post fewer pure political stories and more issues related to religion, or at least a mixture of the two. But then some new scandal hits the news, and I get sucked back into the vortex. So, instead of “America Debases Itself On Torture”, this week we get “Republican Preys On Children While Leadership Sleeps”. Yet another example of how power corrupts, and why we desperately need checks and balances, even if those checks are just compliant Democrats.

What’s interesting to me about the Mark Foley scandal isn’t just that politicians can be sexual predators. It is the extent to which political calculation trumps basic decency among those minimizing what Foley did. Foley’s sins are inexcusable (that is, his predatory-ness, not his gayness), and when exposed to the light of day, he recognized that he needed to immediately resign. But it amazes me that many Republicans and conservative commentators are continuing to downplay the seriousness of what happened, or playing politics with the story because an election is five weeks away. Whatever happened to the Republicans being the “party of personal responsibility?”

Just so we are on the same page here: Rep Foley was caught seducing 16 year old pages who worked on Capitol Hill. The Republican leadership (Hastert, Boehner, Reynolds) knew about this since at least last spring, and possibly for years, and never opened an investigation into it. While many fair-minded conservatives are rightly calling for the resignation of those who knew about this and did nothing, there are also many for whom it appears no transgression is grave enough to risk losing power, or smear others in an attempt to get the focus away from you. Here is a sampling of what I have been seeing:

Tony Snow: “there have been other scandals, as you know, that have been more than simply naughty e-mails"

Hannity: Clinton was a sexual predator with a teenager [Ah, yes, change the subject to Clinton, and also lie about him as well]. Also, Democrats are just making this a political issue: [How is a congressman’s being a sexual predator and the leadership ignoring warnings about it NOT a political issue?]

Fox News: Put up a picture of Mark Foley saying he was a Democrat.

Tony Perkins
of the Family Research Council blames it on tolerance and diversity: [Yes, Foley’s sins are the result of liberal ideals. If only there were more intolerance of gays in this country]

Newt Gingrich: Republicans didn’t want to be seen as “anti-gay” for exposing this. [Yes, Republicans are very concerned about appearing to be anti-gay].

Hastert: “this is a political issue “ and “if they get to me” our country will be less safe. [So, we should sacrifice our pages in the interest of national security? Even though the NIE says we are less safe due to Republican policy?]

Limbaugh: Suggests the whole thing could have been setup and coordinated by Democrats. [It is probably unfair to include the crazy ravings of Rush, except that he continues to have a huge following]

Bush: : "Now, I know Denny Hastert, I meet with him a lot. He's a father, teacher, coach who cares about the children of this country”. [I guess the reasoning here is that because Bush knows Hastert cares about children, he could not have done anything wrong]

And, finally, according to Republican strategists, whether Hastert stays or goes depends on whether he can quiet the storm, not on whether he is guilty of protecting a sexual predator, precisely because it is bad politically to lose the speaker of the house so close to an election.

The simple facts are that a Republican was caught trying to pickup minors and was protected by House leadership. The honorable way to end this is for all those involved in both the scandal and the cover up to immediately resign. If House leadership is not going to follow up on these kinds of allegations, then how do we know whether other Republicans are doing the same thing?

Finally, it is amazing that a scandal that is entirely about Republicans can get some of them so worked up about…..Democrats. Normally, one would think that blaming Democrats and making excuses would be a ridiculous way of responding. But given the success of the swift-boat nonsense, it remains to be seen whether grass roots Republicans will fall for this kind of depravity again.


Brownie said...

This issue brings to my mind some very interesting points, that in today's world of PCness, very few--if any--people seem willing to consider, let alone articulate. So allow me a moment to gird up my courage and my most tactful way of exploring an uncomfortable set of ideas (A good Christian does not shrink from such things). Let me state also that I am not defending Foley, only trying to understand and interpret the current situation in our society that condemns his actions as "immoral". After all, Yoshua refused to condemn the harlot, so why should we?

Human sexuality is truly a wild animal. You can capture it, cage it, tag it, legislate it, try to train it, teach it do tricks...but it can NEVER be tamed. It is hard printed on our DNA, or our instincts, or our collective unconscious, or our spirits, or whatever you name you wish to give. In intensity, the sexual drive is matched only by the drive to survive. ("Be fruitful and multiply")

For thousands (perhaps millions? depending on how literal you take the creation story) of years, men have taken wives that were underage (as we know the term today). Attraction to mates was not configured around some arbitrary date on a calandar (18), nor by the social norms of the particular time period. NO! Attraction is the deeply animal part of us that looks and is either stirred or not (attracted for the purpose of mating). It does not judge by (somewhat)arbitrary social norms, such as how many times the earth traveled around the sun since the object of the attractor's birth. And for millenia, joinings took place (most often WITHIN social standards) between people of all ages, including those under the age of 18.

Then, someone recently (when exactly I don't know, but sometime within the last century or two) judged that 18 was the magical age where sex was suddenly and solely allowed. This legislation means absolutely nothing to the instinct in us. As an experiment, try putting a sign up in a tiger cage that says NO CARNIVEROUS ACTIVITY ALLOWED and see if it makes any difference to him when he starts eyeing you as you bring him his chef salad.

That said, I agree that these mores, standards and laws should appeal to our minds, our sense of duty to social standards, and respect for our fellow humans who take this legislation very seriously, to the point where we restrain ourselves, our drives, our desires and attractions to fit within social norms. However, not everyone is capable of this kind of self control. And they are labeled as predators. Indeed! This is a good analogy, for as the lion has no control over his predatory INSTINCT, the "sexual predator" is equally found wanting in this area we call self-control, though lately has taken on the mantle of "immorality".

I'm not sure if this disturbs me or not. Is it immoral to have a feeling we were all meant to have? Or to act on that very natural feeling? Or to be unable to restrain yourself from that action or feeling? It's a difficult question. For me morality is more about whether we have other people's best interests in mind when we persue whatever activities engage us in our daily lives. So I guess by that standard, if one is not seeking to hurt, degrade or demean the one we are attracted to (no matter their legal status), then it MAY not be immoral, only outside the current social standards.

There. I've said all the hard stuff. Now the easy stuff. I think that people who prey on children sexually have a definite problem and should be incarcerated (and justly so). For sexual attraction to the undeveloped, sexually immature is not only outside the current social norms and standards, but because it is UN-natural. The reproduction instinct does not provide us with attraction to children, so this...interest, I will call it, in children is of a purely wanton and depraved state of mind. Children are never fair game for sexual interest from the mature, both as a law of nature, and a just law of humanity. Children are to be protected and nutured so they can reach adulthood, not used up, maltreated and left to carry both physical and mental scars brought on solely by the fulfilment of the sick self-interests of the mature predator.

What about Foley?

If, as some people claim, being gay is just as natural as being straight (I didn't say it, but some do), then his interest in mature, if still somewhat young males, can be understood,if not condoned. It can be defended on natural grounds, yet not legal ones. Morally, you could go either way, whether you believe he was purely interested in sex as a selfishly purient (spelling?) interest, or whether he had real feelings for these youngsters is up to one's own interpretation. Legally, I don't think he has a foot to stand on.

So anyway...after all that eurudition, let me just say...I think he's a depraved sort of charachter, and am glad he's adiosed his seat in Congress.
But I also think we should forgive him.

(Sorry about the book, I was bored)

snarkbutt said...

I agree with Brownie that the "age of consent" is often arbitrary and in some cases defies human nature.

Also, there's a question as to whether Foley actually committed a crime. From what I've heard, the age of consent in DC is actually 16. (Perhaps to facilitate the page-congressperson relationships, quips the snark.)

I think what Foley did was inappropriate, wrong, and just plain creepy, but how exactly is it different than what Clinton did? Clinton had an inappropriate relationship with a much younger underling. You could argue that what Clinton did was mutually consensual, whereas we have evidence to believe at least some of Foley's pages were creeped out by his behavior. That alone should warrant his removal from office, but it's the abuse of power, and not the sex, that I find inappropriate. And I'm trying to figure out why that is worse than Clinton's affair and other instances of sexual harrassment.

Perhaps the bigger issue in all of this is that Foley was a Republican, the party of homophobia and repressed sexuality, and was therefore a big honking hypocrite. The fact that he's sexing up young people, and boys for that matter, should appall his constituency.

I just thank God that he was a Republican, because if he had been a Democrat (and surely there are Democratic perverts as well), we wouldn't hear the end of it from the right-wing pundits.

jcs said...

Both of you have stated the case eloquently. The one thing that I really agreed with here is Snarkbutt's comment that "I think what Foley did was inappropriate, wrong, and just plain creepy, but how exactly is it different than what Clinton did? Clinton had an inappropriate relationship with a much younger underling."

Unfortunately, both parties are guilty of the same things, prone to blame the other as a way to shift the responsibility. Sometimes I wish it were a political party thing, it would just make it more simple. But it is a people and power thing. I am continually saddened by the tactics of both parties--fingerpointing, covering up, backseat driving, and on and on. If Democratic leadership had been in the "driver seat", the results would have been the same, I suspect.

KFingtree said...

It's every "good Christian's" right to sexually, wild animal like molest underage boys. The only problem is that it can be "fruitful", but it doesn't multiply. Christians have multiplied annually (perhaps millions) through anal sex. Turn the Page........

Anonymous said...

With all due respect, the tone of Brownie’s post feels cavalier to me – I can’t read it without thinking of the young African American boys who were abused by Brady Smith (the Franklin Middle School dean) whose lives were impacted forever. Or of the stories of the many teenage boys abused by priests whose stories filled the newspapers just a few years ago. At the time I’m sure these men rationalized that the acts were consensual.

- I’ve read Brownie’s post several times – the post argues that adult sexual attraction to teenagers is “normal” and that rules about sexual behavior with young people are “arbitrary”. Well - humans have a tremendous range of sexual desire and behavior – all kinds of behaviors have been called deviant or normal, depending on the cultural norms. When I was young, rape was justified with the belief that “boys will be boys” – girls had to learn to accommodate male biological drives. Certainly humans have shown a capacity to prey on the vulnerable, to exploit the weak – bullying, rape, child abuse, war – throughout history and in many cultures. Brownie’s post concludes that this history makes it “natural” – as natural as a tiger being a carnivore. I disagree. Humans can control these impulses and culture and legal sanctions play an important role in this. Additionally, it is also common to find other sexual “norms” - mutuality, tenderness, protectiveness toward young people, and an ability to forego sexual behavior that might hurt someone else. We must appeal to the human capacity to think and to be empathetic to another person. When a culture rationalizes violence or exploitation, it perpetuates it.

- So often sexual behavior between and teen and adult takes place in a context of uneven power disparity – coach and player, teacher and student, employer and employee, or parent and child. The young person is vulnerable on many scores - a lack of life experience, a hunger for acceptance and attention, and additionally the fact that the adult may hold very real power over their job, their grade, their life circumstance. Have you ever been in such a situation? Or listened to the experience of someone who has? It can be a horrible bind where the teen wrestles with self-blame and self-doubt. This is why we have rules about sexual behavior between those in power in a workplace, between therapist and client, between teenager and adult – because when one person has so much power and one person is so vulnerable, consent can lose its meaning.

Certainly there are complex issues here and some gray areas, but these issues should be explored with a real sensitivity, not just to the sexual feelings of the adult, but to the tremendous impact these issues have on teens.

Anonymous said...

FYI, folks, Monica Lewisnky was not a teenager when she and Clinton had their affair. She was a brand-new college graduate and all of 22 years old. As any developmental psychologist will tell you (Dan, ask your charming wife), there is a world of difference emotionally between a sixteen-year-old and a twenty-two-year-old.

I don't approve of what Clinton did, but he did it with a consenting adult.

Brownie said...

To Anonymous,

"[Brownie's] post argues that adult sexual attraction to teenagers is “normal” and that rules about sexual behavior with young people are “arbitrary”

I'm not sure if NORMAL is the appropriate word for the attraction some feel toward teens, (though in re-reading my post I couldn't find where I said this, yet I understand where your inference comes from)rather, it was my intent to point out it is UNDERSTANDABLE given the (animal) nature of man (not just males, see: Mary Kay Letourno, and that LaFave woman, etc).

And as far as the "arbitrary" thing, I say YES the age is arbitrary. Each individual matures at a different rate, both physcially and emotionally. For some, 18 may be TOO YOUNG. Was Moncia Lewinsky mature enough to judge properly whether she should engage in relations with Clinton? Who knows? Certainly there was a power/subordinate relationship there which he took advantage of, does that make it any more defensible simply because she was over 18?

"Have you ever been in such a situation?"

Good question. The answer, though it's none of your business, is yes. It's something I have to live with on a daily basis and I have struggled with relationships my entire life--in part, because of my experiences. And it is because of my experience that I have given a lot of thought on the subject. Please note that in my orignial post I do not think it is proper for such couplings to take place on either legal or moral grounds. However, I will not allow my personal feelings on the matter to cloud my rational and cognitive side when I examine the nature of man. Again, I am not attempting to rationalize or condone such behavior, only bring forth a point of view that I believe many never explore or chose to ignore because of the fervor in this country over politics. So far, I've only heard that Foley's sins were sexually oriented emails to underage pages, yet I have heard him called a predator, a pedophile, a molestor, etc. I understand people's reaction to him, but I try to look at things as they ARE, not how I think they might be or should be or how I would like them to be. I can be a little Zen that way.

"do not fear those who can destroy the body..." -Jesus of Nazareth


Dan S said...

I'm impressed that this difficult discussion hasn't devolved into simple name calling. There is yet hope for the promise of the web :)

I'll limit my comments to two points:

1. Foley was caught emailing and IMing young people in very inappropriate ways. To me, this is predatory, because his intent is obvious, whether he succeeds or not. Legally, he can't be prosected until there is proof, but I am comfortable using the term (predatory) since it is unlikely that a man in his 50s who is doing this hasn't been successful at it at some point.

2. I also think there is a huge difference between Clinton and Foley. Not that Clinton was justified, but it was with a willing, over-age partner who pursued him.

As I said in the original post, the issue to me isn't Foley, but the Republican coverup of it. Many knew about it, but chose to do nothing. Democrats may or may not have done the same thing, but the whole scandal just underscores why there needs to be some kind of balance of power in DC.