FLORENCE GILKESON: Page Problems: Don't Throw Out Program With Bathwater
One cynic in Congress has suggested shelving the page program.
Is this another case of laying the blame on the victim? It certainly sounds that way. It smacks of blaming women for rape, blaming children and women who survive beatings, and blaming Enron's rank and file employees for loss of pensions.
Someone else (not a member of Congress) had another solution. This suggestion called for requiring pages to be at least 18, thus making the page old enough to do more legal things. One person mentioned that by age 18, there would be less trouble involved with drinking. That makes no sense. Is this another effort to shift responsibility to the page?
Scandals in the halls of Congress are certainly nothing new, although 2006 does appear to be nearing record status. It's just that Congressman Mark Foley's acknowledgment of the infamous e-mail messages does offer more dramatic color, or maybe I mean off-color.
The Florida congressman has resigned, an action taking him off the hotseat, at least from the national standpoint. In Florida, no doubt, Foley's supporters and former supporters have problems of their own, and the FBI may not be far behind.
Instead, the heat has spread to the House leadership, with the focus on House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Rep. John Shimkus, who chairs the bipartisan House Page Board. Critics say they knew of Foley's shenanigans and maintained a cover-up as long as they could.
It's easy to sympathize with a frustrated public that longs for its representation to be honest, clean, moral and ethical and at the same time would like those representatives to get some work done. The public would like Congress to address such issues as the economy, Social Security and Medicare and also come up with ideas on illegal immigration and of course the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Maybe we expect too much.
But to sack the entire page program because one congressman took advantage of these young people is ridiculous.
If the program is of no value, then it should be discontinued, or it should be revamped to make it useful.
From all I've read, the program is helpful to members of Congress and to the young people serving as pages. It's a learning experience, and alumni report that it is more than just running errands. In fact, pages actually have classes on government operations.
Some pages rise through the ranks and are later elected to Congress. Jerry Meek, North Carolina Democratic Party chairman, is among the former congressional pages.
I have read no history of the page program, but young men and women have assisted our lawmakers both in Washington and in state capitals for many years. From all we can determine, the program is helpful to representatives and senators and is a worthwhile educational experience for pages.
The three-member House Page Board apparently has authority to oversee the program. To the innocent bystander, the assumption is that this board keeps an eye on the pages, making sure they fulfill their duties, are prompt and ethical. Certainly, we would expect the board to protect the pages from unseemly advances by the very people elected by their constituents and whom the pages are assisting.
The relationship between congresspersons and pages should be generally comparable to that of parent to child or educator to student. The page should respect the congressperson, who, in turn, should treat the page with concern and fairness.
One congressman crossed the line of trust. First, he preyed on the innocent. This relationship is comparable to that of any young person with a clergyperson, a teacher, coach or parent. In other words, the congressman was supposed to be a person to whom the page looked for guidance and instruction. Foley took advantage of that relationship.
But that is Foley's problem. It's also the problem of Congress now that he has resigned and gone back home -- we hope to deal with his problems.
What happened in the Foley case is a tragedy and should be handled according to law and congressional procedures. The answer is not in abolishing a program that serves Congress well and brightens the lives of many promising young people.
Florence Gilkeson can be reached at 947-4962 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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