The cringe factor is back in American politics. It suddenly doesn't seem all that long ago we were wincing over the significance of a stained blue dress; now, one finds oneself looking back on Mr. Clinton's proclivity for porcine young women with a certain nostalgia. Hummers, interns, cigars and ''I did not have sex with that woman'' suddenly seem almost respectable, even statesmanlike, compared with underage pages, Internet chats and ''do I make you a little horny?''
Republicans may find the concept of the big tent as well as its implications for electoral success to be appealing, but few conservatives previously understood that the party elders envisioned a tent so big it encompassed fifty-year-old ephebophiles. Mark Foley isn't a fringe figure on the perimeter of the party; at the time of his resignation last week, he was a six-term congressman from Florida expected to easily win election to a seventh term in office.
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But despite the lingering aftershocks from a media quake that will continue to reverberate for some time from a scandal that is at least a 4.0 on the Rupert scale, Mark Foley is not the central issue here. Foley is merely the latest symptom in a disease that has been evident for quite some time now in a Republican Party that values power over principle and the perquisites of politicians over the God-given rights of the American people.
The elections of George W. Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger were also symptoms of this disease. They were significant primarily due to the way long-held conservative principles and candidates were cast aside, even derided, by the national Republican establishment in pursuit of pragmatism. The conservative commentariat hailed this newfound electoral realism and defended it as a necessary evil, unfortunate, perhaps, but justified by the moral imperative to keep the irresponsible perverts in the Democratic Party out of power.
But evil is evil, regardless of how necessary one deems it to be, and the result of this unprincipled pragmatism was not only unsurprising, but eminently foreseeable, as evidenced by a column I wrote during the California recall election entitled Satanic Schwarzeneggerians.
What is particularly contemptible about the Foley case is the way in which House Speaker Dennis Hastert, House Majority Leader John Boehner, John Shimkus of the Page Board and other Republicans, including the boy's own parents, all knew about Foley's attempted homosexual predation and in the interests of the party chose to keep it in the closet rather than confronting and disciplining the former congressman. Hastert and Boehner didn't even ask Foley to quietly step down from his position as head of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children, which would at least have removed a portion of ironic sting from the scandal.
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Although in truth, Foley's leadership of that particular caucus is rather less ironic than it appears, given the way in which other gay pedophiles gravitate toward positions as school teachers, scoutmasters, sports coaches and other occupations that offer close contact with their favored prey. I haven't checked the Congressional Record, but is there any doubt as to which way Rep. Foley voted on the issue of subjecting public school children to strip searches by the school authorities?
No doubt the congressman will want to look into the possibility of teaching civics at his local high school. After six terms in Washington, he surely has a lot to offer the youth of America.
Now, none of this is to say the other half of the bi-factional ruling coalition is any better. Democrats may not be as hypocritical as Republicans, but then, it's rather difficult to fall short of a nonexistent standard. If Foley were a Democrat, he'd still be in Congress and the NEA would be giving him an award for his efforts to interest students in political science.
Nevertheless, it is long past time for conservatives to begin judging the Republican Party for its deeds and not its promises. The current collection of unprincipled reprobates are incapable of governing themselves, still less a sovereign nation of 300 million individuals. There is no lesser evil and following the Republican Party over the cliff will prove no less fatal than if it were the more openly appalling Democrats at the wheel.
Any genuine conservative would have to be blind, deaf and cognitively challenged to continue to support the Republican Party. The Foley scandal is simply one more proof that the Gay Old Pedophiles cannot be reformed, they can only be abandoned.