There were all sorts of things Republicans could have done last week to better handle the fallout from the Mark Foley scandal. They could have taken responsibility immediately for their mishandling of the initial warnings about Foley. They could have had key staff and members of Congress — probably Rep. John Shimkus, the head of the page board — resign over the mistakes. They could have avoided all the internal sniping and appointed a respected outsider to get to the bottom of the facts. They did none of that, and it has made their position much weaker than it had to be in the ongoing firestorm.
But there is no fixing that now, and only one option for the party going forward: to fight back, and fight back hard. No more defensiveness, no more mumbled explanations, no more apologies. This doesn’t mean Republicans should flail around with unproven theories of how Democrats have been pushing the story. Instead, it’s time for righteous indignation, one of the most powerful forces in politics when properly applied.
Republicans should say, “Yes, of course we wish we had found out sooner about Foley’s perversion, but there was no question of his staying as soon as it become clear what he was doing, and we resent any attempt to smear our party with the disgusting wrongdoing of one twisted man.”
They should contrast their treatment of Foley — who left after it became clear he had been sending sexual messages to pages — with the Democrats’ tolerance of former congressman Gerry Studds (who had sex with a 17-year-old male page), current congressman Barney Frank (who had a relationship with a male prostitute who ran a prostitution ring out of his apartment), and Bill Clinton (who had oral sex with an intern in the Oval Office). Which party holds its members to the higher standard of personal conduct? The Democrats, who still have Rep. William Jefferson of $90,000-in-the-freezer fame in their caucus, or the Republicans, who never would have tolerated Foley’s presence after the revelations?
Republicans should bristle at the suggestion that they were protecting Foley in any way. If signals were missed, there is no evidence that congressmen were shielding Foley from accountability. Certainly no one was covering for him out of fear that a Democrat would take his seat, as liberal commentators have charged. If Foley had been found out and ousted as soon as Rep. Rodney Alexander brought up his so-called overfriendly e-mails in the fall of 2005, Foley’s seat would be safe for Republicans today. As soon as everyone knew that Foley had been plying teenagers with lewd instant messages and using the page program to identity potential sex partners, he was gone.
Republicans should show their anger that during the final weeks of a campaign waged in the midst of a war on terror, with shooting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and rogue states staging or attempting to stage nuclear tests, Democrats and the media want to focus on the sick transgressions of one disgraced former congressman. They should say that the public deserves better, and that at this point — after more than a week of wall-to-wall coverage — the continued Foley overkill tells us more about the frivolity and bizarre obsessions of the media and the Democrats than it does about the Republicans. It is they who should be ashamed.
There is no doubt about it, the Foley scandal is now raw political blood sport. It is a convenient way for Democrats and their de facto allies in the media to sweep the Republicans from power and give us Speaker Pelosi. Republicans must acknowledge this, and act accordingly.