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Big Deal

Well, and the scandal de jour is about a nasty, stinking Republican Congressman diddling little boys. Ah, scandal. It smells like victory. And comes with a slice of schadenfreude pie! Mmm, pie.

Republicans, unsurprisingly, are shocked—shocked!—that the Democrats are using this unavoidable tragedy for political purposes. Democrats (and anti-Republicans, a much larger sect of Left Blogovia) are gleefully attacking Republican hypocrisy, as they are the ones who make such a big deal about The Children and Teh Sex. Republicans (and anti-Democrats, a somewhat larger sect of Right Blogovia) are sullenly attacking Democrat hypocrisy (note, by the way, that they are not on the whole attacking Democratic hypocrisy), as they are the ones who say we shouldn’t jump to conclusions, shouldn’t read other people’s email, shouldn’t condemn people just because they like to have sex with little boys, and want to open the door to all sorts of disgusting immorality, like that they pretend to believe Rep. Foley engaged in.

Digression: There was a moment a couple of weeks ago where Matt Yglesias posted that, say what you will about the Iran’s madman, he dresses well and seems pretty confident, looked nice, and generally seemed to be making a good impression at the UN. Somebody then pointed out that you could tell that Matt Yglesias was an independent blogger, writing about what interested him, because anybody whose primary goal was to Win for the Party would not write something like that, as people would immediately start saying “You see! Democrats love Iran! Democrats want to suck snazzy terrorist dick!” And, as Mr. Yglesias is a quite prominent member of Left Blogovia, I think it’s worth noting that I think he probably ought to think twice before posting things, with an eye towards avoiding becoming a shanda fur de goyim. Your Humble Blogger, on the other hand, can say whatever he damn pleases without worry about how it will make other people look. Sometimes it’s nice having low Page Rank. End digression.

You see, much as I like the idea of Republican come-uppance, and much as I think that the goal (ending Republican dominance of the government by winning enough seats to wrest control of the House or Senate or both) may well be worth the means, I am deeply uncomfortable about the Democrats making use of this.

Yes, I think it was wrong for Rep. Foley to flirt so outrageously with teenagers who were in the lower end of the power dynamic. I think the situation (Congressman/page) makes consent very tricky indeed, and even if it turns out Rep. Foley did not, for instance, write nice college recommendations only for those pages who played nice with the old man, I think it was immoral, and he would have been well (ethically) advised to Cut It Out.

On the other hand, the teenagers were all of age to consent, legally, and there’s every reason to believe that sixteen-year-olds are, on the whole, sexually aware and if not actually ready for a healthy sexual relationship (in many cases), capable of being something other than victims in a flirtation. Capable, I’m saying, of enjoying a flirtation, and possibly even something more than that. Capable, legally and morally, of consent. Some of them. Without knowing the people involved, I am certainly not willing to say the individuals involved were, but again without knowing them, I am not willing to say they were not.

Again, I think the situation was icky. Even amongst adults, when the power differential is that extreme, I think the powerful one has a responsibility not to be icky. And this seems to be icky. Furthermore, I think that the Republican leadership almost certainly shut their eyes, preferring Not To Know what they could have known, and what, if they had known, they would have had to do something about. For that reason—for the self-deception, the dishonesty, the cheapness—the Republican leadership probably deserves to catch whatever shit is flung at them. On the other hand, in the flinging, the message the Democrats and their allies are giving is that yes, this is a Big Deal, and won’t somebody think of the Children.

And me, I don’t think this is a Big Deal. I mean, even if Rep. Foley laid all the House Pages end to end, I don’t think this is a Big Deal. Sorry about that, everybody.

chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek,
-Vardibidian.

Comments

Of course it's not a big deal; it's a distraction from all the things that are a big deal. "Republicans like having their dicks sucked by little boys" is a ridiculous campaign slogan, and won't get anyone anywhere. But it gets people away from "the reasons Republicans are so unpopular is because of their failures".


i like watching the party of blue dresses and "not adam and steve" having their identical laundry aired. it's fun, and it makes me think of hastert as caligula to bush's nero and cheney's rasputin. i have a whole box of unsavory paper dolls with no current events heads on them yet, this really helpls.


I'm with V and Irilyth. I'm trying to enjoy the hypocrisy moment, but i keep being distracted by that whole thing with the Constitution (i know, so last week's news), from which this seems to me like a distraction, and i just can't get into it.

If it were a Democrat, and he resigned quickly, i'd be encouraging the whole thing to blow over and people to get their brains back to the news at hand. The sad thing about equal standards is that you have to apply them to mean people too.


(yeah... it's just... you could see from the "borked" reaction of college republicans 20 years ago that this was coming. it metastasized under cover of the "contract on america" and now here we are trapped in a nightmare logic where this is the greatest rule-of-law democracy in the world except that everything we've ever decided by vote or by court is wrong. nobody believes that people could hold those two beliefs at the same time. the resistance to recognizing the elephant-as-elephant even in broad daylight is what dissonates my cognition.)


Well, how did you feel about the Dubai Ports thing?

This is the family values analogue to that national security trust-buster.

Without knowing the people involved, I am certainly not willing to say the individuals involved were [capable, legally and morally, of consent], but again without knowing them, I am not willing to say they were not.

I think their capacity for consent is irrelevant. They have a basic right not to be asked to consent by a person in a position of authority over them, and the members of the House of Representatives have a responsibility to make sure that they aren't. If Foley is regularly consorting with sixteen-year-old male prostitutes, that is not a Big Deal, although of course it would be a big political scandal. But when he chats up House Pages _and_ the Republican leadership winks at it, it is a Big Deal, not because of the S-E-X as such, but because of the abuse of power, because of the selfish _use_ and _abusive neglect_ of the interests of the young people who are serving their country, for whom our elected representatives have a particular responsibility.

In the treatment of the House Pages by the Republican Leadership, we should recognize the treatment of the men and women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces by the Republican Leadership, who have neglected their responsibilities of oversight while the President and his corrupt cabal of incompetents and cronies have used the lives of U.S. soldiers to feed their fantasies of world domination.

This is a Big Deal.


I always find it disconcerting to post here defending Republicans. But I prefer to think of it as defending evenhandedness.

Chris:

I'm not quite sure what you're getting at regarding Dubai Ports World, but if you're saying that Bush was making the US unsafe in that situation, you might be interested in reading the very long discussion in Nick M's journal from back in February. Nick's phrasing and tone was inflammatory, but if you read the long comment threads, there's a lot of interesting info. If I misunderstood your comment, then never mind -- it's late, and I'm half-asleep.

As for "They have a basic right not to be asked to consent by a person in a position of authority over them," that sounds like you're saying the issue is entirely one of power, and that age is irrelevant. I might be more or less inclined to agree with you -- but it seems to me that the same argument can be applied to the Lewinsky matter.

But later in your comment it sounds like you do see their age as relevant, so I may be misunderstanding.


My point about the Dubai ports business was that, in terms of Matters of National Security, the Dubai ports business probably was inconsequential, just as the Page business is inconsequential, just as the Lewinsky matter was inconsequential. None of these actions by elected leaders actually did much of anything in themselves to jeopardize the well-being of most U.S. residents.

I phrased my comment as a question because I am not sure what causes a political event to qualify as a Big Deal. Does it reflect badly on the American public that the Foley incident is an ongoing, huge story while the passage of the Rape and Torture Bill was not? Absolutely. But should the Foley incident not be treated as a Big Deal? No, because I think it shows something important about the attitudes of the Republican leadership about their responsibilities of oversight: they don't take that responsibility seriously, and that puts people who depend upon them in jeopardy.

As to age, it is irrelevant insofar as sexual harrassment is wrong, regardless of age. It is relevant insofar as it intensifies the responsibilities for oversight that the House has towards the pages.

As to the Page business and the Lewinsky matter, I think one would be guilty of a political double standard not to acknowledge some similarities. However, the situations are not the same, nor is the Democratic response to the Foley business the same as the Republican response to the Lewinsky matter. Foley's behavior was considerably worse than Clinton's. The failure of oversight on the part of the House leadership, which to my mind is the most serious political aspect of the case, has no analogue so far as I know in the Clinton case. The entrapment of Clinton by the Starr investiagion, and his subsequent impeachment, were outrageous abuses of political power that were of quite a different order than making a big stink about Foley and House Republicans as part of a political campaign. Making that stink _is_ unethical insofar as it plays upon homophobia in the electorate, but I believe the Foley business is a legitimate campaign issue, just as the Lewinsky matter would have been a legitimate campaign issue if Clinton had stood again for election.


Like david, I can't help enjoying the sweet, sweet schadenfreude pie the Republicans have served us. In particular, it has been Republicans who have been making a Big Deal about Sexual Predators and Our Nation's Youth, so the fact that they are caught manifestly Not Meaning It is a matter of some satisfaction.

And, as Chris points out, this becomes Just One More Failure of the President and his Republican Congress, who (if I have neglected to mention it), are so unpopular precisely because of all their failures. The fact that this failure—failure to protect a handful of teenagers from a horny old man—is obviously miniscule compared to their failure to, say, adequately respond to natural disasters, environmental change, foreign policy crises, bribery of their colleagues, Constitution-shredding, creeping totalitarianism, and election-rigging doesn't mean it isn't a failure. Did I mention lobbyists hiring hookers for congressmen's parties? Anyway, maybe this is the one that will click. I'd feel a bit dirty, though.

Finally, on the obvious comparison, I should point out that Rep. Foley was in some sense in loco parentis, in a way that Our Previous President was not. Also, as Chris points out, they both would be legitimate subjects for public discourse, particularly as they both seemed to indicate that public stances the officials claimed to take seriously were not allowed to interfere with personal pleasure. It speaks not only to character, but to seriousness of purpose, and one would have to compare speechifying to action (both private and public).

On the other hand, the major similarity between the two in my eyes is that neither was a Big Deal, and both were siezed upon by the opposite Party as a way to whack at a Party perceived as inexplicably immune to attacks on more serious matters. Except that where Our Previous President was actually quite popular, as were most of his policies, the Republican Congress and their President are already tremendously unpopular (because of all their failures). Sometimes I think that my Party has failed to notice that.

Thanks,
-V.


Whether or not pages=Lewinsky, when Clinton was found out, the Republican leadership impeached him. When Foley was found out, the Republican leadership talked him into running again and extracted cash transfers from Foley to the National Republican Congressional Committee to fund other campaigns.

It's not about Foley. It's about the response. The reason why the Republican Congress is so unpopular is because of all their extortion.


the other thing that this brings up is that old lollipop of "party unity." it's awfully easy to present a united front if everyone in your group feels that honesty is a private virtue best shared with close friends. maybe it will never be easier to speak frankly than to choose reliable friends but this might actually give people something to think about as they make that tough first "my gang, or my oath of office" decision.


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