Politics & Policy

The Foley Folly

A teaching moment.

Now that the House ethics panel has released its final report on former Representative Mark Foley’s inappropriate contact with male teenage congressional pages, before the scandal is finally put to rest, it would be worthwhile to consider the lessons to be learned from the episode — for Republicans, Democrats, and society at large.

During its probe, the panel interviewed dozens of congressional staffers and concluded that Republicans were negligent in failing to act on years of troubling signs. The panel also found that “political considerations played a role in decisions that were made.” It theorized that Republicans didn’t act for fear of exposing Mr. Foley’s homosexuality, and thus appearing anti-gay, and out of concern that Foley’s scandal would affect him “adversely both politically and personally.”

These revelations should stiffen Republicans’ resolve to be consistent in promoting conservative values, never placing political correctness or electoral concerns ahead of protecting children. For years, the Republican Party, as the home of values voters, has claimed the mantle of faith and family. For Republicans to retain the allegiance of conservative voters requires that they hold themselves to the highest standards, not only in their public policy positions, but also in their personal conduct, especially on matters of sexuality, family, and children.

But Republicans do not have a monopoly on hypocrisy in the Foley mess. The House ethics report found that Democratic campaign operatives urged newspapers to write about Foley’s e-mails to teenage pages in the hope that a scandal would develop before the midterm elections.

An aide to Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D., Ill.) revealed that Emanuel, as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, also knew about the e-mails, even though he attempted to deny knowledge of them when the story broke in September.

What’s more, the outrage Democrats displayed in the days after the scandal broke rang hollow considering their history of harassing the Boy Scouts for not allowing homosexuals to serve as scoutmasters. Recall that a Boy Scout troop was mercilessly booed at the 2000 Democrat National Convention, and that a majority of congressional Democrats voted against legislation protecting the Scouts’ right to hire people who reflect that organization’s values.

An inconvenient truth for Democrats is that they are strongly supported by organizations like the ACLU, which consistently argues that age of consent laws need to be dramatically reduced so that what Mr. Foley was attempting to do would be legal. Democrats are also supported by homosexual advocacy groups that routinely give organizations like NAMBLA, the North American Man-Boy Love Association, positions in “gay rights” parades, where they proclaim such slogans as “sex by eight or it’s too late.”

Further, when former Democratic Congressman Gerry Studds admitted to having an affair with a teenage male House page in the mid-1980s, Congress formally censured him for misconduct; but Studds refused to resign his office, and the voters of his district reelected him repeatedly, while House Democrats rewarded him with a committee chairmanship.

In this light, Democrats’ righteous indignation over the Foley mess is revealed as little more than political opportunism. If only Democrats were to realize that their attempts to be tolerant and inclusive have helped promote a culture where children are at risk of sexual exploitation.

Politics aside, the Foley scandal highlights a sexualization of children that pervades society. Our popular culture has for years been treating children as objects of sexual desire and encouraging them to behave as such.

Countless ten-year-old girls take Britney Spears’s provocative way of dressing as the epitome of fashion. Hollywood routinely exploits young children, as does Madison Avenue. The fashion industry seems intent on having kids think that their sexuality is all that’s of value about them. Clothing retailer Abercrombie and Fitch has long been known for its promotions showing what look to be teenagers engaged in sexual acts. It recently introduced thong underwear for children as young as seven years old, with the words “wink, wink” and “eye candy” embroidered on them.

Meanwhile, junior-high and hig- school principals across the country are lamenting the “sleaze chic” culture in their schools. Many have been forced to ban t-shirts with sexually suggestive phrases like “I know what boys want” and “Yes, but not with you.”

In the end, the Foley scandal is further evidence that the pro-family agenda is desperately needed in our country. It’s curious that many media outlets lambasted congressional Republicans for not doing enough to protect children from Foley while also maligning conservatives for their supposed “preoccupation” with sexual issues.

Conservatives are the ones who have argued that human sexuality should be channeled through marriage between one man and one woman, that schools should teach kids how to read and write and stop handing out condoms and birth control pills, and that all our children should be welcomed into the world and protected by the law. We are the ones who say there are reliable standards of right and wrong governing sexual conduct and who have led the charge against the sexualization of our children.

If the Foley scandal wakes up both political parties — and our popular culture — to a need to rediscover the values of family and faith, then perhaps something good can come out of this mess.

– Gary Bauer is president of American Values and chairman of Campaign for Working Families .

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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