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Foley scandal exposes the Washington system
Liars and hypocrites

October 13, 2006 | Pages 6 and 7

ALAN MAASS looks at the meaning of the Mark Foley scandal and its impact on U.S. politics.

WITH LESS than six weeks to go before the November congressional elections, the Mark Foley sex scandal has turned U.S. politics upside down.

The Democrats are poised to make big gains in Congress--maybe enough to win majorities in both the House and Senate--and the arrogant Bush White House faces the possibility of a long two years as a lame duck administration while the Republican Party tears itself apart.

The Foley scandal has cast a spotlight on the inner workings of a corrupt system, where those in power can get away with almost anything as long as they reliably serve their party, and political leaders who preach about "morality" and "serving the people" instinctively cover for each other.

Since the story broke at the end of September, nearly every day has brought new evidence of sexually explicit e-mail and text messages sent by Foley--a conservative Republican swept into office in the 1994 "Republican Revolution" who became a party leader in the House--to teenage boys who worked in the Capitol building as pages.

What else to read

For a recent article on the Foley scandal in Socialist Worker, see columnist Sharon Smith's "The Democrats' pathetic display." In a recent issue of the International Socialist Review, Lance Selfa examined the growing rifts within the Republicans in an article called "The Crisis of the GOP."

On the Democrats, you can also download an ISO Web book called The Democratic Party and the Politics of Lesser Evilism, which is based on articles that appeared in the SW, the ISR and elsewhere. Another excellent book is Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils, edited by CounterPunch's Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair.

 

Foley himself resigned right away, but Republican attempts to spin the disclosures as "naughty e-mails"--in the words of White House spokesperson Tony Snow--continued until the publication of Foley's X-rated text messages.

In one case, Foley seems to have delayed going to the House floor for a vote--on a special bill to fund the Iraq war, no less--to have cybersex with a page. Newsweek magazine confirmed the rumor that he once showed up drunk at the dormitory where the pages live, and tried to get in.

No one has accused Foley of having sex with a page--yet. But press reports make it clear that Foley's behavior dates back at least to the mid-1990s. And several pages he approached have said the 52-year-old congressman and leader of the House Republicans hinted that he could advance their careers.

At the very least, Foley committed serial sexual harassment that would likely be punished at even the most backward corporation. But apparently, his behavior flourished for a decade in one of the central institutions of the U.S. government.

There's no way this could take place without Republicans leaders in the House knowing something about it--and looking the other way out of respect for one of their own.

As the scandal entered its second week, Republicans increasingly rallied behind House Speaker Dennis Hastert, the highest-profile party leader to come under the microscope for the cover-up. But the disarray among Republicans at first--before party leaders got their stories straight--spoke volumes about how long Foley has been protected.

For example, Kirk Fordham--Foley's top aide until 2003, when he went to work as chief of staff to Rep. Tom Reynolds, the chair of Republicans' House election effort--resigned last week after admitting he tried to get the ABC News reporter who broke the Foley story to suppress the e-mails in exchange for an exclusive interview with Foley.

After resigning, Fordham squealed on his ex-bosses, telling reporters that he had "more than one conversation with senior staff at the highest level of the House of Representatives asking them to intervene."

Several publications are reporting that Fordham--after being told about Foley's episode at the pages' dormitory--met with Hastert's chief of staff Scott Palmer to ask him to intervene with Foley. Palmer denies the meeting took place.

The knives are out among Republican House leaders. Fordham's ex-boss, Tom Reynolds, could be the next one tossed over the side--if he doesn't lose a now-close reelection battle in his upstate New York district. Reynolds has admitted talking to Hastert about Foley last spring, but Hastert says he "doesn't recall" the conversation.

For now, Hastert has the public support of George Bush. But the number-two man among House Republicans, Majority Leader John Boehner, all but publicly blamed Hastert for not taking action against Foley sooner.

Eventually, Boehner pulled together with fellow Republicans behind the common line--that no Republican besides Foley did anything wrong, and that the Democrats must be to blame for leaking the information to the press. "The people who want to see this thing blow up are ABC News and a lot of Democratic operatives, people funded by George Soros," Hastert complained in an interview with the Chicago Tribune.

When the Fox News propaganda machine tried to bolster ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich's claim that Democratic sex scandals have been much more serious than anything Foley is accused of, it had to reach back nearly a quarter century--to 1983, when Democratic Rep. Gerry Studds was censured for having an affair with a male page. Fox neglected to mention that a Republican congressman, Dan Crane, was censured that same year for an affair with a female page.

But for sheer gall, it's hard to top Matt Drudge, who blamed...the pages--for being sexual "beasts" who preyed on a defenseless 52-year-old member of Congress.

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MOST PEOPLE don't buy this transparent attempt to shift attention away from the scandal and onto the Republicans' favorite scapegoats.

Above all, it's plain as day that the Republicans have been proclaiming their supposed commitment to "moral values" for years, while harboring a party leader who preyed on high school students.

These are the same politicians who heaped contempt on the desire of gays and lesbians to have equal marriage rights. Same-sex marriage was the height of "immorality," but when faced with allegations that a 52-year-old man--in a position of great political power--tried to seduce teenagers, the "family values" Republicans looked the other way.

Foley himself was second to none in claiming his devotion to protect minors from sexual predators. He was co-chair of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children, authored the "Foley Provisions" in the Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, and cosponsored the Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act in 1998.

And, of course, all of these characters--Foley, Hastert, Boehner--were beside themselves with outrage at Bill Clinton over his consensual affair with Monica Lewinsky. Using a federal grand jury as a mechanism for entrapment, House Republicans used Clinton's denial of the affair under oath to launch an absurd impeachment trial--attempting to gain through this circus what they couldn't at the ballot box.

"It's vile," Foley pronounced in 1998, evidently in between--as we know now--attempts to hit on pages. "It's more sad than anything else, to see someone with such potential throw it all down the drain because of a sexual addiction."

Now that one of their own has been felled, the Republicans want Foley prosecuted--but as for themselves, they caution against "overreaction."

The Republicans--especially their leader, George Bush--regularly claim that they are fed up with the partisanship of Washington politics. But their reaction to the Foley scandal shows that partisan interest--of avoiding scandal and holding on to the Republican majority in the House--came before protecting high school students from Foley.

There is a similarity between the Republicans' Foley cover-up, with its relatively narrow effect on dozens of pages, and the GOP's underhanded decision to block legislation raising the minimum wage by tying it to the elimination of the estate tax on the super-rich--something that will affect millions of people.

In both cases, political calculations and the right-wing agenda came before morality and justice.

Like any political scandal, this one has exposed more than the specifics of Foley's behavior. The mainstream media are revealing facts about the U.S. government that are usually kept hidden--like the underhanded methods used by conservatives to impose discipline on "elected" representatives and force through an unpopular agenda.

One open secret highlighted by the scandal is that Foley was a key part of the Republican fundraising machine. Relatively safe from a Democratic challenge for reelection, Foley was able to take in contributions from various individuals or businesses hoping to gain influence in Washington--and distribute the money where party honchos thought it would do the most good.

After Foley resigned, Republican lawmakers rushed to give away any "tainted" money associated with Foley. This is standard operating procedure in any scandal--and perpetuates "the fiction that 'bad' contributions can be segregated from 'good' contributions in some orderly fashion that allows politicians to raise millions without compromising their independence," Los Angeles Times columnist Ron Brownstein wrote when the scandal involving GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff was breaking.

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THE DEMOCRATS are willing to take advantage of the Foley scandal for political gain. But they did next to nothing to challenge the Republicans moral-values hypocrisy before this. On the contrary, the Democrats' prime concern during the 2006 election campaign has been to woo the so-called "values" voters.

As the Christian Right chipped away at a woman's right to choose, party leaders like Sen. Hillary Clinton said the Democrats should find common ground with the anti-abortionists.

When the Republicans whipped up a hysteria about gay marriage as a conscious campaign strategy in the 2004 elections, the Democrats' spineless non-response let the attack stand unchallenged--and left gays and lesbians at the back of the bus once again.

If the Democrats win in November, the victors will likely include Bob Casey, the party's anti-choice Senate candidate in Pennsylvania. Or Indiana House candidate Brad Ellsworth, who declared in one TV ad, "This election isn't about Nancy Pelosi or Hillary Clinton. Here's what I believe: I'm pro-life. I believe in a traditional marriage and the Second Amendment."

As despicable as the Foley scandal is, it's shameful that the Democrats are likely to succeed against the Republicans on the strength of this one Republican scandal, and not the countless others--a war and occupation in Iraq based on lies, civil liberties torn up in the name of the "war on terror," the Katrina nightmare, millions more without health insurance, declining real wages for working people.

Mark Foley may be a liar and a hypocrite. But there are many more among his ex-colleagues--on both sides of the aisle.

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