EDITORIAL: Foley Delivers GOP An October Surprise
There's nothing funny about the scandal involving high-flying Congressman Mark Foley, suddenly brought low by revelations of salacious e-mail flirtations with male House pages.
Well, maybe it was kind of amusing on a recent evening, when one of the networks aired news clips with two prominent Republicans rushing to man the barricades as part of the party's desperate effort at election-season damage control.
Both spokesmen castigated the Democrats for supposedly compounding the scandal by waiting until now to raise the issue so they could make hay out of it. They would have been better off keeping their lips zipped. One of those lodging the outraged accusations was Bill Bennett, former education secretary and drug czar -- and self-acknowledged gambling addict. The other was Rush Limbaugh, right-wing radio talk show host -- and convicted drug abuser.
This is Family Values?
Hypocrisy is never pretty, and it has been on full display lately in all its revolting, fascinating ugliness. The Democratic Party has had more than its share of morally lapsed politicians to live down over the years -- Ted Kennedy, Gary Hart, William Jefferson Clinton. But then, everybody knows that Democrats are a bunch of immoral, Godless, secular humanists anyway -- at least to hear conservatives tell it. Things really get juicy when the party getting caught with its pants down is the self-righteous one that goes around wearing its family values on its sleeve.
The holier-than-thou they are, the harder they fall. Even in a capital city dripping with ironies, it's hard to imagine anything more ironic than the fact that Foley, until days ago an upwardly mobile Republican superstar, could possibly end up going to prison under a law that he himself helped fashion as the oh-so-judgmental chairman of a special committee to prevent sexual abuse of children.
Like other superstars in the worlds of entertainment and politics (increasingly hard to distinguish from each other), Foley had no sooner resigned in disgrace than he promptly launched into that all-too-familiar Kabuki dance known as "going into rehab." It's not his fault that he did such creepy things -- he's an alcoholic. He was sexually abused by a clergyman as a teenager. What ever happened to personal responsibility? What is he, some kind of liberal moral relativist?
A Spreading Stain
The stain of this sick and seedy case has now spread far beyond Mark Foley's overstimulated computer keyboard. And another tiresomely common pattern has kicked in: First the scandal, then the revelations of the cover-up.
It turns out that Foley's habit of overly familiar overtures toward pages had led some people to begin waving red flags long ago. But those in positions to do something about it seem to have been strangely blind to those frantic semaphore signals. A former aide to House Speaker Dennis Hastert now says the speaker knew about Foley's "inappropriate behavior" years earlier than he has said, but did nothing about it.
Hastert's job now hangs by a fraying thread. Like a squid trying to hide behind a cloud of black ink, he is blaming everyone from the Democrats to ABC News (when in doubt, kill the messenger). But it won't be that easy for the Republicans to wiggle out of this one. It's definitely not the kind of "October surprise" they had in mind.
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