The Foley Follies

The quick death but seemingly interminable after-illness of Congressman Mark Foley’s political career have of course offered delights—primarily a tasty nosh over the specter of Republican hypocrisy finally made blatant—and plain—enough for practically all Americans to soak up. Far too many people could not get that it was Dick and Lynne Cheney, and not John Kerry and John Edwards, who were the hypocrites when it came to the question of young Mary’s lesbianism.

It’s very hard for anyone to miss the irony in a Republican who chaired a House subcommittee on the sexual exploitation of minors and wrote legislation that criminalized a surprisingly detailed array of Internet communications being snared by his own smutty IMs to former interns who as high schoolers were under his charge and may yet have been too young to engage with an adult in the behaviors which Foley so inartfully—don’t you think?—suggested.

Then too, of course, there seems to be a good shot that the Foley mess might prove the tipping point in the American people’s abandonment of GOP hegemony over all three branches of the federal government. If Iraq, Katrina, wild gas price fluctuations, global warming blithely ignored, Iranian nuclear aims too long similarly treated, ditto on North Korea, and on and on and on were not quite enough, the sizzle of sleazy sex (or its pallid cyber imitation) just might be enough come November 7.

After all, even Kim Jong-il’s presumed nuke games this week were unable to banish Foley-Hastert-Reynoldsgate from the headlines and pixels.

Alas, it is not all good news. Pat Buchanan hit the trail early demagoguing about gay men’s proclivities. And Buchanan was the most attractive of the crowd who eventually gathered around that lynching. Fortunately, the American public has largely learned to ignore Buchanan, and more respectable Republicans were hardly about to start a full-out gay bash.

But a more subtle theme emerged with the potential to catch on and prove far more insidious—the notion that a cabal of gay men, closeted and otherwise, circled wagons around Foley and provided the protection that enabled his predations. This list is headed by Kirk Fordham, the former chief of staff for Foley who went on to work for upstate Republican Congressman Thomas Reynolds, who is now busy apologizing to voters for not doing more with the information he knew of at least five months ago. Jeff Trandahl, the former House clerk with clear responsibilities over the page program who had warning signs at least three years ago, is also one of the velvet mafia of suspicious codependents.

Let these guys take the brunt of the fall, spare Reynolds, Hastert, et. al., and in the process impugn the reliability and trustworthiness of gay men in public life for the foreseeable future. It’s a plan, if you’re roving for one.

And, finally, the laughs over Foley’s fall obscure a central distinction largely lost in the public discussion. The man was inappropriate, probably a predator of sorts, maybe a creep, who chased after guys way too young, some of whom may have been underage. But he wasn’t a pedophile. If we lose the discernment to see the difference there, it doesn’t say much about our ability to understand teenage sexuality with much sophistication. And as we wring our hands about young girls having babies and young boys getting AIDS, isn’t that really the problem?