The Foley Fallout

Yesterday, my little piece on the Foley mess generated a LOT of heated arguments. As I read through the comments, a few thoughts came to mind.

1) VagaBond wondered how, if Foley is never formally charged with a crime, could anyone else be charged in the mess. Yeah, they could. Look at the Valerie Plame case — the actual leaker, Richard Armitage, is utterly in the clear, but Scooter Libby is still facing perjury charges.

2) The effect on the November elections: I expect very little. There simply isn’t a national election this year — there are 435 state district elections and 33 or 34 (I don’t feel like looking up the precise number) state-wide elections. The Democrats will TRY to hang Foley around the necks of Republicans, but the simple fact is that unless they can connect the voter’s individual representative to Foley directly, he won’t be a factor.

2A) A lot of people tend to forget that we don’t have national elections here. Ever. Even when we elect presidents, we have 51 individual elections, and the winner is not the guy who gets the most votes, but gets the most votes in the right states. Hell, if one candidate took just the ten most populous states and didn’t win a single vote in any other state, they’d still squeak out a victory.

3) For better or worse, the bar has been raised considerably on what is and is not considered acceptable conduct for members of Congress. 20 years ago, having sex with 17-year-old pages was grounds for censure. Just six years ago, former Congressman Mel Reynolds was serving jail time for having sex with a 16-year-old campaign worker (and attempting to lure her younger sister into the sordid mess), but his sentence for that and serious financial improprieties was commuted by then-outgoing President Clinton. Now, trying to have cybersex with a page is, politically, a capital offense.

4) Neither party has a monopoly on virtue and morality, and neither has a lock on sleazebags. Those who say that the Foley scandal — or the Reynolds scandal, or the Condit scandal, or the Studds scandal, or the Frank scandal — is an exemplar of a partisan hack trying to score points at any expense.

5) The fact is that nearly every member of Congress belongs to the same party. That party is not the Democratic or the Republican party, but the Incumbent party. And the partisanship that engenders can be far fiercer than either of the two formal parties can produce.

6) This is purely speculative on my part, but it seems that political affiliation seems to play a part in how scandals — especially sex scandals — are handled. Republican offenses tend to raise the bar in acceptable conduct, while Democrat peccadilloes seem to, if I may steal a phrase, “define deviancy down.” Dan Crane (R) had an affair with a female intern, and was made a pariah. At the same time, Gerry Studds (D) had an affair with a male page and was censured, turned his back on the House when the censure was read, then welcomed back into the fold — to the point where the Democratic leadership appointed him chairman of a committee.

Prior to Bill Clinton, a president engaging in sexual relations with a 22-year-old subordinate in the Oval Office — and then lying about it under oath — would have been grounds for resignation or removal from office. But Clintons survived that scandal and left office still holding remarkable popularity.

A clergyman fathering an illegitimate child on a member of his staff, the using his organization to pay her to keep silent? That’s the stuff of bad drama — or a slice of the life story of the Reverend Jesse Jackson. Compared to that, Jimmy Swaggart’s dallying with a prostitute seems pretty minor, and Jim Bakker’s rather comparable. Those two self-styled men of God became pariahs; Jackson remains a figure of much renown and influence.

Clinton and Jackson were, ironically, instrumental in the attempted reformation of former Congressman Mel Reynolds (D-IL), who was convicted of having sex with a 16-year-old campaign worker and various and sundry financial misdoings. Clinton, as one of his last acts, commuted Reynolds’ sentence and Jackson hired him as an advisor for his Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, leading to the rather remarkable circumstance of “an ex-congressman who had sex with a subordinate won clemency from a president who had sex with a subordinate, then was hired by a clergyman who had sex with a subordinate.”

Given my druthers, I think I prefer conservative scandals. They tend to leave the offender a bit more thoroughly chastised, and seem better at setting precedent for acceptable conduct.

7) While there was potential for Democrats to make some hay out of the whole mess, they — to use a phrase most often applied to the Palestinians — “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” They fell victim to their historical error and are overplaying their hand, as so well noted by Dafydd ab Hugh.

In the end, though, I think the main consequence of the Foley mess will be a general suspicion of members of Congress in general, but not much on people’s individual represenatives and senators specifically — and they are the only ones who decide if they will be returned to Washington or sent packing.

And as for Foley himself: he is in rehab for his “alcoholism” and, after, will no doubt seek counseling for his “sex addiction” and “abuse by a clergy member.” (A local talk show opened the lines for suggestions for Foley’s next excuse, noting that he seems to be going right down the list of standards. My favorite: Post-partum depression.) But even if he is never charged criminally, he will always be a pariah and the butt (sorry) of jokes and a cheap punchline — and that is the very least he deserves.

Racing to the bottom
Goldberg On The Democrats' New Standard

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