October 8, 2006
I'm a foreigner, so I might not be up to speed on how things work around here. But, insofar as I understand it after the last week, American politics is divided between: teenage pages; guys who are hot for teenage pages; guys who are enablers for guys who are hot for teenage pages; guys who devote inordinate time and effort to entrapping guys who are hot for teenage pages; guys who are rattled by guys accusing them of having devoted insufficient time and effort to nailing the guys who are hot for teenage pages and get panicked into holding press conferences where they announce the following:
"As the speaker I take responsibility for everything in the building. The buck stops here. ... That is why I directed the clerk of the House to establish a hotline for reporting any information concerning pages or the page program. As of this morning, the clerk of the House has activated the tip-line. . . . The page program tip line is 866-348-0481."
(If the clerk's not there, you can have him paged.)
J. Dennis Hastert actually stood up in public and made that announcement. And, of course, the Democrats immediately denounced the notorious Gay Pedophile Ringleader of the House for the pitiful inadequacy of his page tip-line: Oh, sure, now he wants to set up 1-800-GAY-PAGE and invite anyone with info to use the secure log-in at www.GOPpredators.com, but where was he when the buck stopped here en route to the end-of-legislative-session communal showers?
Speaker Hastert called in the FBI, the CIA, the DEA and announced an emergency bill to rename the BATF the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Pages. He declared Mark Foley's pants a federal disaster area. He voted a $4 billion reconstruction earmark to the congress- ional page program and invited Dubai Page World to run it. And, with every press conference designed to get himself out of the hole he'd dug at the previous press conference, the 50 percent of Americans who pay minimal attention to politics (which, if there's any justice, will be up to 93 percent by now) caught Hastert floundering on the evening news and thought, "So that's the gay pedophile, eh? Disgusting. There oughtta be a law against it."
Well, there is. Many laws, in fact. And it's not clear any of them were broken. It's a good basic rule of thumb that no matter how bad a scandal is, the political class' response will be worse, largely hysterical and lacking any sense of proportion. But, even by those minimal expectations, this last week has been unbecoming for a serious nation. In London, sex scandals come along every other week. You name it, British parliamentarians do it: three-in-a-bed, auto-erotic asphyxiation, gay teen flagellation, getting your toes sucked while wearing the soccer kit of Chelsea Football Club. But at least at Westminster, sex scandals require actual sex. That the governing party of the world's only superpower could be felled by one creepy pervert's masturbatory e-mails and IMs is an event historians will marvel at. Granted that the Roman Empire in its death throes got hung up on gay sex, the American hyperpower seems set to be the first to collapse over gay non-sex.
And no, I'm not a "typical right-wing pedophile apologist" excusing Foley. But, in case you haven't noticed, he's gone. He quit quicker than his instant message. And, true, he's since done the usual contemptible redemption shtick, announcing he's going into alcohol rehab, etc., when the reality is he'd be a better man if he drank more and IMed teens about the size of their wedding tackle less. And yes, he'll get a book deal, just like New Jersey's revolting ex-governor. But no one will buy the book -- and besides, what do you want? When a member of the House of Lords went abroad after a homosexual scandal, King George V is said to have remarked, "Good God, I thought fellows like that shot themselves." It may, indeed, be a less revolting spectacle for a chap to take a tumbler of whiskey and a loaded revolver into his study than to go on "Oprah" and bore on about his personal demons, abusive father, etc., etc. But we live in different times. Foley's history; he's the first footnote in history to a page in history. So the only question now is whether there is any larger issue here worth spending 10 minutes on.
And the answer to that is obvious. This was a honey trap (as they used to say in the Cold War) designed to leverage one peripheral figure's squalid fantasies into political opportunity. It's as predictable as the leaves falling from the trees, except that it only occurs every other autumn. Still, I take my hat off to the media and Democratic Party. Indeed, in the spirit of Bill Clinton, I take my pants off to them. It is a remarkable achievement to have transformed, in little more than a week, the GOP into the Catholic Diocese of Boston with Speaker Hastert as Cardinal Law and the page program as the massed ranks of 7-year-old altar boys. What an awesome force the Dems would be if only the ruthless skill and cunning that went into this operation could be applied to, say, national security.
But I very much doubt, despite the expertise with which the sheep have been rounded up and set baa-ing, that Showtime at the Foley Bergere will pay off in November. There are many legitimate reasons for electors to toss out the Republican Congress, but the notion that they're a hotbed of gay pedophile enablers is not one of them. Had Foley dug in and attempted to cling on, his GOP colleagues would have been all over TV deploring his behavior, calling on him to step down, expressing outrage, etc. After two or three days, a few lefties might even have piped up to assail the Republican theocrat sexual McCarthyites tormenting the poor chap. Had he actually had sex with congressional pages, affronted gay groups would have pointed out this was perfectly legal in the relevant jurisdictions and would have complained ferociously about the stigmatizing of gay relationships and Democrats would have declared there should be places for all at the American table, especially had Foley done a Jim McGreevey and announced that "my truth is I am a gay American." A few quirks of timing and the parties' respective roles might have been entirely reversed. Scandalwise, the Republicans always play the submissive masochists but the Dems are bi-swingers, happy to flay the GOP as either (a) uptight prudes or (b) pedophile enablers, according to what suits. What would have been consistent in both narratives is the assumption by the Democrats, the media and the Gay Page Tip-Line end of the Republican Party is that the electorate is stupid. In the sense that there's any "child abuse" going on here, the American people are being treated like children and abused by the politico-media class.
This last week is unbecoming of a mature democracy. In the wider world, America can survive being the Great Sa- tan, but not the Great Laughingstock.
©Mark Steyn 2006