Vorige Start Omhoog Volgende

L'Affaire Foley

By French Wall, GuideMagazine November 2006

It is tempting to revel in the exposure and downfall of monumental hypocrites. There is satisfaction in knowing that J. Edgar Hoover, who liked to persecute others for their perversions, himself enjoyed donning women's clothes. It seems just to posthumously drag Senator McCarthy's savagely anti-gay legal pitbull Roy Cohn out of his closet. And who doesn't enjoy watching televangelists weepily confess to the very sins they so heartily condemn in others?

Thus, one can be excused for ever-so-briefly taking pleasure in the political ruin of Congressman Mark Foley. A high-profile crusader for so-called "decency" and author and co-sponsor of internet censorship legislation, Foley has made a career of attacking those who engage in the same behavior he himself so lustily enjoys.

But care should be taken that pleasure at Foley's misfortune not distract us from the ominous portents of Washington's current sexual imbroglio. While Foley can be legitimately tagged as a hypocrite, his attackers have condemned his actions as "unspeakably sordid" and labeled him a "predator of children." Alarmingly, such nonsense emanates not just from Religious Right mouthpieces, but also from ostensibly moderate politicians and even gay political groups.

Foley's actions were decidedly not unspeakably sordid nor do they make him a predator of children. He wrote puerile mash notes to congressional pages, all over the age of consent. He did not, apparently, ever have sexual contact with any of his online buddies (though it would have been legal in the District of Columbia), nor did he coerce anyone to do anything. His correspondents willingly participated in the adolescent banter.

Given that hypocrisy is hardly a distinguishing characteristic in Washington, and that no one was touched, much less harmed, by Congressman Foley, what is so animating his critics? Why is the Republican leadership vowing to fire anyone who knew of the
congressman's R-rated e-mail but failed to turn him in?

Some may claim the issue is the protection of congressional employees. Rational people might take the position that members of Congress having sexual relationships with pages-- though legal-- is nonetheless not wise policy. But such concern can be addressed without a full-fledged witchhunt. Indeed, in 1983 when it came to light that Congressman Gerry Studds had enjoyed cocktails and sex with a 17-year-old male page, the House merely censured him (along with Congressman Dan Crane, who'd also had sex with a page). A chastised Studds returned to his district to greet cheering crowds and supportive op-ed pieces in local papers; he handily won re-election.

Today's histrionic reaction to Foley's far milder workplace transgressions (wherein no alcohol use nor sexual contact is alleged) should give pause to anyone who thinks we've made progress combating destructive anti-sex attitudes in the past quarter-century. 

Indeed, l'affaire Foley makes clear just how successful the Right has been (with complicity from the therapy industry) in demonizing sex in the last decades' series of sex panics. Whereas even conservative gay pundits defended Studds in 1983 (some reasonably noting that the page involved could be considered flattered and fortunate to have the congressman's attention), today our gay political groups mindlessly join the condemnation of Foley as some sort of monster. And for what? Good-natured, online locker-room talk with willing young men.

Of course, sex scandals are an age-old diversion for institutions looking to distract attention from other issues. Perhaps some in Congress prefer that body to occupy itself pillorying sexually wayward members instead of investigating the massive corruption of the DeLay/ Abramoff/Rove influence-peddling scheme. Maybe some members would rather headlines be filled with tawdry gossip about penis size rather than exposÚs of how Congress has rubber-stamped President Bush's torture policy, domestic spying, and secret overseas prisons. And if the object of the vitriolic condemnation is a vulnerable homo, well that's just gravy to many in the "family values" crowd.

Those running the government are beholdened to religious zealots who believe that all gay people are deserving of eternal damnation and death. Thus, we have a special interest in resisting attempts to scapegoat anyone for their sexual peccadilloes, even someone as hypocritical as Mark Foley.

Vorige Start Omhoog Volgende