It's not my fault!
By Lady Liberty
If you have access to television, newspapers, the Internet, or office chit-chat, chances are good you've heard of the scandal surrounding former Congressional Representative Mark Foley (R-FL). In fact, the story has been so pervasive that you've likely not been able to avoid it whether you had ready access to any of these things or not.
Developments in the Foley scandal have been fast-moving and involved one political and social bombshell after another. Foley-related shrapnel has other Republicans ducking and covering in what may prove to be futile attempts to protect their own jobs. Only days ago, Republicans were in a tough battle to hold onto control of the House and Senate, but most believed they'd do so if barely. Now many wonder if Democrats won't take over as the fall-out from Foley's troubles spreads along with questions as to who else knew what and when.
Foley's troubles — and those of Republicans in general and the Speaker of the House in particular — began on September 28 when it was reported that the Florida Congressman had sent an "inappropriate" email to a former Congressional page. Foley's office promptly responded by saying that there was nothing inappropriate about the email. For the record, the first reported emails were fairly innocuous though a little odd coming from a Congressman. It's only in the context of what happened later that they began to look less innocent. Quite a bit less innocent in fact.
On September 29 — just twenty-four hours after saying there was nothing wrong with the emails he'd sent — Congressman Foley resigned (his letter of resignation was surprisingly succinct). Though it's not been said by anyone representing Foley, the reported reason behind the abrupt resignation was that the Congressman knew that there was more to come. While he probably could have weathered the brief storm caused by the emails, he apparently didn't think his career would survive forthcoming revelations. (After having read some of the content of the instant messages in question, I'm inclined to agree.)
About two and a half seconds later (or so it seemed), Mark Foley's lawyer advised the rest of the country that his client had problems with alcohol and had entered a rehabilitation facility. Somehow, the implication seemed to be that Foley may have done a bad thing, but that it wasn't his fault. It was actually the alcohol that was to blame. Once he realized that alcohol was the problem, he headed straight to rehab. Apparently, that means we're supposed to excuse what he did, and admire his admission of weakness. Okay...
Just a couple of days later, Mark Foley's lawyer issued another statement. He said that his client wanted to acknowledge that he was a homosexual and to tell everyone that he'd been abused as a child by a member of the clergy. Once again, we're somehow supposed to sympathize with the fact that Foley has spent his life — up until now — hiding his sexuality. Then, to top everything off, how can we not feel sorry for somebody who's been abused? We can't blame him for doing what he did in light of his suffering, can we?
Since then, more former Congressional pages have stepped forward to say that they've also received salacious emails from the former Congressman (some who have spoken out claim that pages knew well that Foley was "creepy" and that most were quietly warned to stay away from him). One former page claims Foley actually delayed going to a floor vote to engage in cybersex with him! A former aid has also made statements to the press concerning his former boss, and most recently, yet another former page says he had sexual contact with Foley after a series of email exchanges with him (the former page was 21 at the time of the encounter).
All of those emails, instant messages, accusations, and apologies are immaterial, though. After all, Foley is an alcoholic, a homosexual, and a victim! So everything he's done is perfectly understandable, and should be excused or at least make him an object of sympathy. Right?
Some of those folks who aren't inclined to excuse Foley are making excuses themselves right now. Those folks are, of course, members of the Republican leadership in Congress. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL) has said he didn't know about Foley's problems. Then he said he might have known a little, but that he only lately found out even that much.
Some are demanding that Hastert resign purely on the basis he knew anything and didn't do something about it. Others continue to defend Hastert who has definitively stated he won't be folllowing Foley's example and resigning. Either way, though Foley can't be disciplined by Congress because he's resigned (Foley is not exempt from the criminal investigations that are underway), the investigation of everybody else is ramping up. Hastert is championing the investigation; those in charge claim that nobody is targeted and that nobody is exempt. At this point, nobody is all they've got because nobody is stepping up to the plate to say anything other than to share in the general condemnation and to deny that they knew much, if anything, about Foley's alleged longtime wrongdoing.
Those searching for excuses for themselves might want to take note that Foley's excuses aren't doing so well for him or his cause. ABC News has reported that at least some of the things his lawyer has said are negated by Foley's own words in now published instant messages. At the same time, it's disgusting but not entirely unexpected that some are suggesting that Foley's actions "prove" that homosexuals are "after our children."
Meanwhile, the question of who knew what when on Capitol Hill has yet to be definitively answered. But another news outlet claims that members of the media knew something about Foley and his questionable emails as long as three years ago (in the same article, questions are raised as to whether or not election politics had anything to do with the blow-up of a case that was dismissed as not newsworthy by several publishers some time ago). There are doubtless excuses on both sides there, too.
In the face of all of the accusations and the excuses, there's only one excuse that actually makes any real sense. Foley did it because he's a politician. Politicians — the vast majority of them, anyway — lie as a matter of course. And they have little sense of conscience largely because they don't believe the law applies to them (in too many cases, they're right about that).
I've known a few alcoholics in my life. Though their stories are dramatically different from their personal worst to their recoveries, they do have one thing in common besides having a problem with alcohol: none of them went after young boys (or girls) whether they were drinking or not. I personally have quite a few gay friends. I've actually been there when a couple made the incredibly difficult decision to "come out." Yet despite their pain — that of hiding who they are followed by the risk of those they love rejecting them — none has harassed, or even so much as shown an interest, in underage children.
Someone who has been abused should, of all people, know the pain and humiliation it causes. To visit that on another is to suggest they're also the same kind of scum that abused them, or to say their own abuse wasn't that traumatic after all. Either way, using past abuse as an excuse after you've grown and learned better, is a ploy for sympathy more than it is any kind of mea culpa. (Think I'm being too harsh? Consider what you thought about the last child abuser you heard about, and ask yourself how many passes you were inclined to give him!)
In fact, if Foley wants any kind of forgiveness, he ought to stand up and admit he screwed up. That's it. He screwed up. He didn't do it because he was an alcoholic or gay or a victim. He did it because he had a serious lapse in judgment. He needs to step up to the plate of responsibility and own up to what he did. If there are amends to make or punishment to take, he needs to do it and accept it.
If he doesn't acknowledge that he had that lapse, if he chooses not to accept responsibility for all that he's done and keeps making excuses, he's going to have another lapse and then another. Rehab will teach him that of course, but it remains to be seen if Foley has the cojones to make the connection between that lesson geared toward his recovery from his "alcohol problems" and the rest of his irresponsible and damaging behaviors.
At the same time, Congress needs to stop exempting itself from the laws it passes. Instead of being exempt from some of the laws, Congress should be exempt from none of them. And those laws should be enforced in Washington just as ruthlessly as Washington would have them enforced anywhere else. (Although I'm not prepared to believe that would make much of a difference in the number or constitutionality of laws passed, it would at least be a start.)
Those in Congress who are disinclined to behave responsibility (or frankly in accordance with their oaths to uphold the Constitution) really shouldn't be sent back to Washington even if they're not caught sending dirty email to underage boys. But that's where our own responsibility — or lack of it — steps in. You'd think that we'd all be interested enough in the quality of government that we'd vote for men and women who would do what's right (read "constitutional"). Instead, many of us vote for who will do for us.
If we stepped up to our own responsibilities, our demands that government stop taking them from us would follow. Both of those things would be good for everybody. That's also one way we could enforce the demands of responsibility on all of our representatives who choose not to exercise any, too. Mark Foley resigned, but there are others just as deserving of losing their jobs in Washington. If we'd exercise our responsibility as voters, we could take care of that problem at the very least.
Yes, I do tend to harp on responsibility a bit. I firmly believe there's not a problem this country has that couldn't be solved by its citizens and its politicians exercising some of it. But you can't really blame me for that. I was taught about responsibility from an early age by my parents. My attitude toward responsibility now isn't my fault. I mean, they actually spanked me when I behaved irresponsibly! Can you imagine?
Lady Liberty, a senior writer for ESR, is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at firstname.lastname@example.org.