I am not excusing negligence — I am putting something that was bad, namely, negligence in regard to what was shocking misconduct, in context with something worse, namely, fully-informed, intentional minimizing and enabling of shocking misconduct.
And with great respect for your deep thinking on these matters, I think what you offer here is an over-simplified tallying up of relative moral seriousness. There are a lot of shades on both sides of this comparison — it’s not simply about age.
The pages were 16 and up; Lewinsky was, if I’m remembering correctly, 19 when the Clinton business started. (She may have been 20 — I just don’t remember.) I really don’t see that as much difference. I’m not saying it’s not a difference; I’m saying it is not much of one. (And I say that as someone who used to have to agonize over whether to prosecute 18 to 21-year-olds for crimes, including internet sex crimes, that carried lengthy mandatory minimum sentences — crimes for which they would not have been prosecuted if they had been one day short of their 18th birthday — even though the chronological age difference was hardly indicative of a maturity difference.) I note that NRO’s editorial today refers to the “boy” and the “kids.” That’s fair enough, but the boy and kids in question were a lot closer to Monica’s age than, say, to the 6-to-14 year-olds that the words “boy” and “kid” connote for most people.
But let’s leave the age difference aside. Clinton was married, Foley wasn’t. Clinton’s activity was not merely virtual; he actually engaged in sexual activity with someone who was in his charge. He lied about it under oath. He obstructed the investigation of it and enlisted others in the effort. He and his sympathizers went out of their way to destroy the reputations of good people who had the temerity to reveal or challenge his conduct. And he didn’t honorably resign; he dragged the country he was sworn to serve through the whole mess for a couple of years. (And a Democrat might note that by doing so he certainly cost his party the presidency, since an incumbent President Gore would almost certainly have edged Bush in the 2000 election.)
Where, morally, is there anything like that in Foley’s performance? And I am now only dealing with things that have been proven. I am not pointing to Paula Jones and Kathleen Willey, and Juanita Broderick, et al, notwithstanding that Foley and, derivatively, Hastert are being raked over the coals for additional sex abuse that Foley is suspected of but which has not been proven.
For those to whom such things matter, Foley was soliciting not merely sex with minors but gay sex. I sense a lot more people than feel comfortable saying so out loud would see this as morally worse than Clinton’s pursuit of heterosexual sex. (Even people, in whose number I count myself, who couldn’t care less about sexual preferences among consenting adults probably see solicitation of young people for gay sex — whether they are minors or even young adults — differently.) Many people, including liberal Democrats, would tell us this is morally irrelevant. In any event, let’s stipulate that this is a point to Foley’s comparative detriment. I still don’t think that helps Democrats much.
Republicans are rightly angry at Foley and at the leadership. I agree wholeheartedly, moreover, with the point that the Republicans’ overall performance over the last couple of years has left them little margin for error for something like a Foley scandal at this late stage in an election season. But, when what is at stake is turning power over to the other side, I don’t think we should shrink from making the comparison. If this stuff is important, it’s important no matter who is in power.