The saga of now-former congressman Mark Foley has evolved in less than a day from a tawdry scandal confined to a single Florida district into something considerably more consequential.
For those who haven’t been haunting the blogs (Talking Points Memo has been keeping tabs through the night), the deal seems to be this: the Republican House leadership knew last year that Foley had been engaging in salacious IM sessions and emails with underage House pages. The Republican House leadership did not investigate. The Republican House leadership did not, apparently, do anything.
The fact that takes this sorry tale of individual misbehavior and political fumbles and elevates it to a grander level of political melodrama is this: Foley wasn’t just your average conservative congressman; he was one of the leaders of the GOP’s “Let’s protect our young ‘uns from those pervs on the Net” brigade. As tomorrow’s Washington Post explains, “Foley chaired the House caucus on missing and exploited children and was credited with writing the sexual-predator provisions of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, which Bush signed in July.”
That’s not just appallingly hypocritical — it’s “sick sick sick sick sick,” to quote one of the pages at the receiving end of Foley’s attentions. While he was authoring laws aimed at (as the White House’s press release on the law puts it) “Making It Harder For Sex Predators To Reach Our Children On The Internet,” he was trading tips on masturbation techniques with teenage House pages. Nice.
The historical record is full of puritanical hypocrites who publicly campaign against some carnal sin while privately indulging it. It’s an archetype, dating back at least as far as Shakespeare’s Angelo — the substitute ruler in “Measure for Measure” who brings the death penalty to Vienna’s fornicators, only to fall bad for a near-nun when she comes to plead for her brother’s life. Angelo’s fall is swift; he’s transformed overnight from puritan scourge to lascivious blackmailer. But at least he starts out with a clean slate.
From what we can tell, Foley seems to have the “Measure for Measure” sequence backwards: first he indulged in sordid behavior, then he toughened the laws against said behavior. That’s not just outrageous, it’s stupid — and could result in a cruel sort of justice, if the penalties of the Adam Walsh law end up falling on Foley himself.
[tags]politics, mark foley, sexual predators, shakespeare, measure for measure[/tags]