Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A crisis for the party of "family values"

The Mark Foley scandal is the Cliff Notes version of the Jack Abramoff scandal.

Even though both share a common theme – Republicans breaching their conservative principles in order to perpetuate their power – the details of the Abramoff scandal can’t be reduced to resonant shorthand. Abramoff, a high-rolling lobbyist who in his youth embodied the conservative revolution, defrauded clients and poured tainted money that was routed through various non-profit front groups into the GOP’s coffers…you see the problem. How many voters can grasp all that in a heartbeat? The Foley case, however, is something else. Here’s the shorthand: “The party of conservative family values knew about a member who was preying on boys, yet did nothing about it.”

Why bother trying to navigate the nuances of federal campaign and lobbying laws, and to figure out how they apply to Abramoff and his GOP golfing buddies, when you can behold the honorable Mr. Foley - as chairman of the congressional Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus, he was the GOP's designated guardian of our nation's youth - taking a leisure break in 2003 from the rigors of House business in order to have Internet sex with an underage male?

Here he is (Maf54), as revealed this afternoon in the latest exchange supplied by a former page to ABC News. Foley had ducked out of the chamber, in the midst of a floor discussion over Iraq war appropriations.

Maf54: I miss you
Teen: ya me too
Maf54: we are still voting
Maf54: you miss me too
(The exchange continues in which Foley and the teen apparently describe their orgasms.)
Maf54: ok..i better go vote..did you know you would have this effect on me
Teen: lol I guessed
Teen: ya go vote…I don't want to keep you from doing our job
Maf54: can I have a good kiss goodnight
Teen: :-*

No wonder the governing GOP is in full panic mode today. Midterm elections are all about party base turnout; if partisan Republican voters are more motivated than their Democratic counterparts, then the GOP wins (see the Newt Gingrich election of 1994), and vice versa. The Foley scandal, which more accurately might be called the House Republican leadership scandal, has the potential to depress turnout among the social and religious conservatives who, despite all their frustrations with the ruling GOP, have at least been secure in their belief that the leaders were protecting family values.

But now conservative voters know that House Speaker Dennis Hastert was informed months ago about Foley, yet did nothing to investigate further. (Hastert’s story is that he says he doesn’t remember the warning, and he’s sticking to it).

And the conservative voters know that John Shimkus, the Republican congressman who oversees the House Page Board (which runs the teenage page program) was told about Foley in 2005, yet kept the matter under wraps by failing to share the information with the only Democrat who serves with him on the Page Board.

And the conservative voters are wondering why the warning about Foley didn’t immediately spur the GOP hierarchy to action – given the fact that Capitol Hill denizens have known for years about Foley’s interest in underage males. One possible answer is that Foley was a cash cow for the party. He raised a ton of money for the ’06 House re-election campaigns, a credential that was useful to GOP congressman Tom Reynolds, chairman of the ’06 House campaign effort – who also knew this past spring about some of Foley’s emails, yet did nothing to investigate further…beyond telling his boss.

Reynolds, in other words, is the guy who says he passed the tip about Foley to Speaker Hastert. This is the tip that Hastert says he doesn’t remember, even though Hastert conceded yesterday on CNN that he might have heard it “in the context of maybe a half a dozen or a dozen other things.” (I suppose this means that, if a House leader is told that one of his top members is preying on underage kids, it’s just not very memorable.)

Anyway, the weight of this affair is starting to crack the conservative coalition. This morning, the editorial page of the Washington Times, a staunch defender of the faith, demanded that Hastert vacate his job: “Either he was grossly negligent for not taking the red flags fully into account and ordering a swift investigation, for not even remembering the order of events leading up to last week's revelations -- or he deliberately looked the other way in hopes that a brewing scandal would simply blow away. He gave phony answers Friday to the old and ever-relevant questions of what did he know and when did he know it? Mr. Hastert has forfeited the confidence of the public and his party, and he cannot preside over the necessary coming investigation, an investigation that must examine his own inept performance."

Conservative commentator Brendan Miniter writes in today’s Wall Street Journal that “it's the implication of willful ignorance that will plague the GOP…Republicans were unwilling to take a closer look at something that long ago demanded a much more detailed inspection. If the GOP had uncovered Mr. Foley last year or even this past spring, the party wouldn't now be facing a full blown sex scandal in October. Heading into this election year, Democrats knew they had a chance to retake the House, if everything broke their way. What no one predicted is that they'd be handed so many breaks by Republicans.”

Conservative activist Bay Buchanan, sister of Pat, excoriated the GOP leadership on CNN yesterday: “They had an obligation, that same day (when they were first informed), to investigate him further, to call in the FBI, if that was an appropriate action, and also to call in those pages and make certain that every one of them was interviewed to see if there (are) any problems here that go deeper than what (the leaders) are already knew. They failed the parents of this country, is what they did.”

Failed the parents of this country…There’s the Democrats’ bumper-sticker message, courtesy of the opposition.

It should be noted, of course, that not all conservatives and Republican leaders profess to be upset or worried about the Foley scandal and its potential impact on the ’06 elections. A number of rebuttals have already been floated:

1. The “all in good fun” defense. Tony Snow, the White House press secretary and one-time conservative commentator, tried this one yesterday. He dismissed Foley’s chatter with the kids as “simply naughty.”

2. The “yeah, well, what about Bill Clinton?” defense. This one was to be expected. Commentator Ben Stein wrote yesterday that Foley is just “a poor misguided Republican man who had a romantic thing for young boys,” but that’s nothing compared to “a man named Bill Clinton who did not send suggestive emails as far as we know, but who had a barely legal intern give him oral sex…”

3. The “who’s out to get us?” defense. Mark Levin, an attorney for a conservative legal foundation, blogged Sunday that the real outrage in the Foley case is that somebody was leaking about Foley to the press on the eve of the ’06 elections: “The timing of this revelation has more to do about helping Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats than protecting teenagers.” (But Brian Ross, who broke the saga late last week on the ABC News website, indicated in a New York Times story today that his sources were Republican.)

4. The “homosexual agenda” defense. One top religious conservative group, the Family Research Council, broke its silence on the story late yesterday by arguing that, even though “the slow response” of House leaders is noteworthy, “the real issue” is that Foley is proof of the depravity of gay behavior – because he demonstrates “the link between homosexuality and child sexual abuse.” (Actually, many abuse experts have long concluded the overwhelming majority of men who sexually abuse children live their lives as heterosexual men.)

Nevertheless, it’s noteworthy that a number of religious conservative groups haven’t lifted a finger to defend the Republican leaders. Not a word about the scandal has appeared thus far on the websites of the Traditional Values Coalition, the Christian Coalition or Focus on the Family. And it’s noteworthy that conservatives who normally train their fire at liberals and the Democrats are instead invoking the Foley scandal as just the latest example of the GOP’s culture of corruption.

Witness Richard Viguerie, the legendary conservative activist who pioneered direct mail fundraising back in the days when the movement was in the wilderness. Last night on CNN, he rebuked the GOP leadership for the Foley scandal by resurrecting the old Watergate question: “Who knew what, and when did they know it?”

Then he said: “This is not an issue standing alone by itself. We have many years of these Republican leaders engaging in whatever type of activity…simply for the sole, immoral, corrupt purpose of holding onto power….They use conservative voters, conservative issues, conservative donors, in order to get elected, and then they abandon those voters.”

In other words, the same voters who were already fed up with the GOP’s deficit spending, troublesome war, and the failure to outlaw gay marriage now have another potential reason to stay home on election day.

Conservative commentator Tod Lindberg remarked with wry sarcasm this morning that the GOP had actually been gaining ground during September, passing some decent bills, capitalizing on the 9/11 anniversary, and anticipating success in November… “Why, it would take something on the order of a Capitol Hill Republican sex scandal involving minors plus a leadership coverup to undo such fine political handiwork. And what are the chances of that?”