The Corner

The New Democrats

It’s more than a little precious to observe the feeding frenzy and recriminations over Foley’s salacious internet chats with former pages — the ones that Speaker Hastert did not see and yet is accused of consciously avoiding by failing to do follow-up upon learning of creepy but not sexually explicit emails.

I am no flack for the Speaker — I thought he and other leading Republicans exhibited very poor judgment in coming to Rep. Jefferson’s aid when the Justice Department was trying to investigate him for corruption.  But the current critique of Hastert smacks of suddenly changing the rules on a guy half-way through the game. 

It wasn’t so long ago that Democrats were horrified not by the specter of middle aged pervs seeking — indeed, having — sex with the young people placed in their care for mentoring purposes.  What bothered them was what they regarded as the preternatural interest in it shown by those stuck-up, straight-laced Republican bible-thumpers like Judge Starr.  After all, he could have just dryly given us the bottom-line details, but ohhh noo, Democrats cried, he had to linger on graphic detail after graphic detail.

Like here’s one:  phone sex — which I think is a pretty good 90′s analogue of Instant-Message (IM) sex.  According to Monica Lewinsky, she had President Clinton had phone sex some FIFTEEN TIMES.  We don’t have transcripts of these, er, sessions of course.  We don’t know what the President of the United States was precisely saying, or squealing, like we do with the comparatively tame Foley (who, for all we know, was not actually having a physical sexual relationship with the objects of his virtual sexual attentions).  But we do know that at least some of these phone-sex sessions took place on non-secure phone lines — creating the possibility that they could be eavesdropped on by foreign agents, compromising Clinton and our national security.

Although they are evidently sudden converts to family values and robust national security, Democrats did not seem very interested in such matters not so long ago.  What we heard back then was that Starr was too obsessed, that it was unseemly to go into all this icky stuff.  This critique, called “Sex and the Starr Report” from the University of Missouri (Kansas City) Law School, was typical:

One of the most common criticisms of the Starr Report was that it had too much sex in it–far more than necessary to serve legitimate prosecutorial goals…. The Starr Report … went far beyond establishing that the President lied when he denied having sexual relations with Lewinsky, and included sexual details of various encounters that suggest the Report also had as its purpose to embarrass Clinton and thus limit his effectiveness as President.  Perhaps no detail revealed in the Starr Report better illustrates this prosecutorial overkill than the decision to include a description of Clinton putting a cigar in Lewinsky’s vagina, then putting it in his own mouth and saying that it “tastes good”  (3-31-96). The cigar incident would inspire countless jokes by late-night comics and greatly weakened the ability of the President to ever again be seen as “presidential.”  The same good be said of the Starr  Report’s  description of  the President masturbating in a sink in his bathroom, its description of Clinton taking calls from members of Congress while receiving oral sex, or its mention of a more traditional form of “phone sex” between Lewinsky and the President.  [ME:  “A more traditional form of phone sex“?] … The American people–most of them, anyway–learned far more about the President’s private behavior from the Starr Report than they ever wanted to or needed to….  [The] details “are a distraction to anyone who wants to understand and evaluate Clinton’s Presidency or the role and function of the President in American government and society.”  [Quoting Judge Richard Posner.]

Oddly, under circumstances where Foley is now gone because he could not last 30 seconds as an elected Republican once his conduct was revealed, we are now observing a frenzied call for Hastert’s head for not doing enough to investigate behavior that actually pales in comparison to Clinton’s.  That frenzy, without a hint of irony or embarrassment, is being stoked by some of the very same people who affirmatively minimized conduct that was orders of magnitude worse than Foley’s in order to close ranks around a much more consequential public official who, far from being gone in 30 seconds, was enabled by this support to cling to office for years, finish his term, and remain the Democratic Party’s top star. 

Indeed, the Foley scandal is now said to be a rationale for shifting power from those who avoided learning tawdry facts to those who well knew tawdrier facts and said they were private matters that, in any event, were no big deal.

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