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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Discretion.

Some of y'all have probably been waiting to see if I would comment on the current Mark Foley fiasco. For those who don't know what I'm talking about,* Congressman Mark Foley has recently been discovered to have been engaging in inappropriate internet chatting with underage boys. What do I mean by "inappropriate?" Well, some of it is described on Slate but, in short, the Congressman was discussing wholesome topics with these boys: erections, masturbation, and cybersex. You know- just what you'd expect. In and of itself, this scandal is vile but what has been giving it real power is the possibility that the Republican leadership has known about the problem for some time and done nothing. In particular, Dennis Hastert, the current House Speaker, has been taking a lot of flak over his potential role in all this. It's one thing, after all, for a political party to harbor someone with questionable discretion and unusual sexual tastes, but it's quite another for a party to actually conceal potential abuses of power.

Now, there are a lot of things I could say about the scandal itself, but I think it's unnecessary. I think we can take it as a given that I'm not a fan of adults attempting to engage in sexual activity with minors. I think we can also dispense with my ranting about the possible coverup of all this. I think y'all accept that I disapprove. Instead, I want to think about the Republican and Democrat reactions to this revelation. Those reactions are, frankly, the most interesting part of the whole sordid business.

Now, what we have here is poor behavior from a politician who belongs to the party that is known for its disapproving stances on homosexuality and modern sexual ethics generally. I think we all remember the Monica Lewinsky hoopla of a few years ago where Republicans basically shut down the government while trying to determine if then-President Bill Clinton had an affair while in the White House. I think we remember how dedicated the Republicans were to publicizing that indiscretion and how enthusiastic they remain about mentioning it. One needs only look at recent editorial cartoons to notice how Republicans continue to milk that scandal for every potential ounce of juice. Hell, for that matter, the recent mini-series "The Path to 9/11" more or less amounted to a claim that Bill Clinton's penis caused the al-Qaeda attacks. It is, thus, perhaps not surprising that with this recent scandal Republicans appear to be trying to, somehow, deflect the blame onto Democrats. Some of these efforts are pretty subtle- so subtle I might regard them as simple errors if they came from another source. Others are less subtle, but still interesting efforts to somehow use Foley to question the ethics and sense of Democrats.

Democrats are doubtless seeing this affair as a political buffet. We have effectively been handed a loaded elephant gun and told to take our best shot. The temptation to take this opportunity is, of course, overwhelming but, much as it pains me to say it, I think we need to refrain. I know what you're thinking: "Those self-righteous sons of bitches have finally let their hypocrisy out for everyone to see! Let's take them down!" Yeah, I understand what you're feeling but, frankly, I'm not interested in the emotional thrill of calling the Republicans names at the moment. Sure they are hypocritical but, from time to time, we are too. Moreover, while it's obvious that Foley needs some sort of help, I really don't think his sexual proclivities necessarily reflect on his party generally. For that matter, I think it's plausible that Hastert didn't know the full story until recently. If he did know the full story then he needs to face the consequences but, even then, this scandal does not implicate the Republicans generally. I have no doubt that many, if not most, Republicans are at least as honest as the average Democrat. As a consequence, this scandal may be an elephant gun, but it's one that can't be aimed in a useful direction. Do we really want to spend our energy sucking up a lot of media time and attention discussing a congressman with a problem and his political allies who, even if they knew what was happening, probably had no idea how to deal with the situation? Instead of wasting our time with that, much as the Republicans wasted time with Lewinsky, perhaps we should let Foley go try to repair his life, discipline Hastert with respect, and get on with addressing more important matters. There are, after all, a number of issues more important to the Republic that are more central to conservative policy and for which they have to answer. If we make political hay out of this recent revelation I fear that we will demonstrate ourselves to be just as egotistical as the Republicans we oppose and, at such a moment, we will know that our party is as bankrupt as theirs.

I think that it's time for us to put up or shut up. I think it's time that we demonstrate that we possess something that the Republicans apparently lack: discretion.


* If this applies to you, would you please e-mail me and let me know what it's like living in a cave that makes Tora Bora look like the Ritz?

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