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The Foley
Follies

The Foley
            Follies

You could be
pardoned for forgetting about mark foley. The erstwhile
congressman’s life unraveled in September 2006 with
the leaking of salacious e-mails and instant messages
he had sent to a male former congressional page, a
personally humiliating spectacle that dominated the
news for more than a month leading into the November
congressional election. Confronted with the most
embarrassing of these unseemly valentines by ABC News,
the Florida lawmaker promptly resigned, checked
himself into rehab, and released a statement through his
lawyer explaining that he was gay, an alcoholic, and
the victim of sexual abuse perpetrated by a priest
when he was a youth. Since then, the disgraced Foley
has been so reclusive it’s as if he’d vanished
off the face of the earth.

He was yanked
from his self-imposed anonymity on September 19, however,
with the news that he’s been vindicated ,-- at least
legally. After a nearly two-year investigation in
which 17 former pages were interviewed, officials with
the Florida Department of Law Enforcement announced that
they had found no evidence to suggest that Foley had broken
any laws. There is nothing to suggest that he had had
sexual encounters with minors or that he had e-mailed
them explicit images. The U.S. Department of Justice
has also said it doesn’t plan to bring charges
against the former congressman.

Lest anyone
accuse me of being soft on a sexual predator, let me be
clear: What Mark Foley did was reprehensible. And the fact
that he’s been legally exonerated
doesn’t mean he should have stayed in office; he was
clearly a threat to the young charges in the page program
and needed help. But, as Florida officials discovered,
nothing he did was illegal. His untoward messages, a
few of which solicited sexual acts, were all sent to
former pages, all of whom were 16 years old or older.

The close of the
investigation against Foley once again raises questions
about the motives of the people who pushed this scandal to
such dizzying heights of notoriety. What drove them to
attack Foley with such vindictiveness? Was it really a
desire to “protect children,” as so many
of them claimed, or was there something more cynical at
work?

To this day, it
remains unclear how exactly Foley’s messages made
their way into the public eye. What is known, however,
is that for months anonymous sources peddled them to
Washington journalists in the hope of exposing Foley,
but various news organizations declined to publicize them
as there was no evidence that Foley had violated any law,
just that he was a little creepy. One of the first
journalists to receive the explicit messages was Ken
Silverstein, Washington editor of Harper’s.
His magazine refused to publish the e-mails, but after
the story broke on ABC News, he revealed that he had
received five of the salacious messages in May 2006 from a
“Democratic operative.”

Mark Foley | Advocate.com

In late
September, Lane Hudson, a “lifelong Democrat”
and former congressional staffer then working at the
Human Rights Campaign, posted the e-mails on an
anonymous blog he set up titled Stop Sex Predators.
Upon discovering that one of its employees was posting the
messages, HRC fired Hudson, who is today lauded as a
hero among gays, earning himself a place in
Time’s Person of the Year issue and
favorable profiles in The Advocate and Out.
Hudson has refused to say where he got the e-mails and
online messages. Allow me to establish a brief mind
exercise: If Mark Foley had been a Democrat, would
Hudson and the still-anonymous Democratic
“operatives” have so desperately tried to
expose him?

Foley’s
reputation for hitting on pages, combined with the
publicized messages themselves, certainly warranted an
investigation into possible sexual abuse. But the
burden of proof belongs to those flinging accusations.
And people accused of criminal wrongdoing are presumed
innocent. Neither of these principles—ones that
liberals can reliably be counted on to emphasize when
discussing the rights of poor black criminal
defendants -- prevented opportunistic Democrats from riding
the Foley contretemps for as long as they possibly
could. Weeks before the 2006 midterm election, for
instance, Minnesota Democratic congressional candidate
Patty Wetterling ran a TV ad alleging that
“congressional leaders have admitted covering
up the predatory behavior of a congressman who used
the Internet to molest children.” This was a blatant
falsehood, as Foley didn’t
“molest” anyone. But Wetterling never bothered
to retract the smear. Capitalizing on the demoralized
and corrupt state of the GOP, congressional Democrats
and party operatives took to the airwaves to remind
voters that the Republicans, in addition to their cronyism,
also had sheltered a perverted homosexual pederast.

My initial
reaction to hearing about Foley was one not only of disgust
but pity. While there’s no question that Foley
behaved inappropriately, he never hurt anyone (indeed,
in several of the IM conversations, it’s clear
the 17-year-old “victim” happily egged him
on), and he was apparently the victim of childhood
trauma. Shouldn’t gay men and lesbians, of all
people, have a bit of sympathy for such an individual?
On the contrary, the reactions of liberal gay activists, who
took obscene pleasure in seeing one of their brethren
dragged through the mud, were at times hard to
differentiate from the inquisatorial demands of many
conservative commentators simultaneously calling for a purge
of the so-called Velvet Mafia from Republican
congressional offices. Normally, it’s the GOP
that uses gay-baiting to win elections. This time it was
Democrats.

Having
successfully utilized homophobia for political gain two
years ago, some liberal activists are at it again. In
September gay radio host Michelangelo Signorile
declared that he’d “outed” John
McCain’s chief of staff, Mark Buse.
“Buse’s sexual orientation and his
relationship with McCain certainly are relevant facts
in light of [Republican vice presidential nominee
Sarah] Palin’s positions, beliefs, past political
career and silence on the issues right now,”
Signorile wrote on his blog. “And John McCain
is the person responsible for making them relevant by
choosing Sarah Palin as a running mate.”
Signorile’s sidekick, blogger Mike Rogers,
posted what he claimed to be Buse’s instant-message
screen names and allegations about his sex life. He
urged his readers to call Focus on the Family and
alert the antigay group that a gay man was in the
employ of McCain. The whole affair, revealed weeks before
the presidential election, was hardly coincidental --
Buse has been openly gay for years.

Mark Foley | Advocate.com

With no news
value to be had in “outing” Buse, why would a
little-known legislative staffer’s sexual
orientation matter? What Buse is guilty of -- and what
makes details of his sex life fair game -- is working for a
Republican who doesn’t agree with Michelangelo
Signorile. This apparently makes Buse, who by all
accounts shares McCain’s views and greatly admires
the man, a “hypocrite.” How many of us can say
that we work for institutions whose actions or
philosophies we agree with entirely? The fact that
Buse works for McCain is something Signorile may disapprove
of, but sexual orientation doesn’t need to
dominate each and every decision a gay person makes in
his life. Forget that someone might share the
Republican Party’s views on taxes, national defense,
or abortion (as many gay people do). The intellectual
Torquemadas of the gay left mandate that gays conform
to their conception of what gay people do, say, and believe.
Homosexuality, they say, dictates political philosophy; no
gay person can support, never mind work for, McCain
because he is not sufficiently in line with a set of
positions deemed obligatory by gay activists. The
speciousness of this notion aside -- who appointed these men
arbiters of whether a gay person is sufficiently
“on our side”?

Signorile’s ethical malpractice was matched by his
sloppy journalism. The lead “source” for
his breathless exposé was an ex-boyfriend of
Buse’s who recounted their romantic history.
The closest thing to “gotcha” evidence
Signorile obtained was a random, 15-year-old, 40-second
YouTube clip the former boyfriend provided of Buse
standing in his kitchen. An elementary rule of
journalism is to avoid manipulation by sources, and
Signorile is either alarmingly credulous, cynical, or
both not to realize that an ex-lover (male or female,
gay or straight) would have an ax to grind. Seeing
that both Signorile and Rogers are both public figures
themselves -- they are certainly more well-known than
Buse, at least before they decided to make news of him
-- perhaps it’s fair to ask their former
boyfriends about their peccadilloes?

One unforeseen
aspect of gay people playing the gay card—and thereby
feeding the religious right’s perception that
“gay” equals “scandal” --
is that it ends up damaging gays in the long run. With
Foley, the initial hysteria over one
congressman’s dirty messages quickly spread into an
antigay witch hunt the likes of which hadn’t
been seen since the Catholic Church priest abuse
controversy. Two weeks after the Foley revelations
broke, NBC aired an anonymous allegation that former Arizona
Republican congressman Jim Kolbe was “fawning,
petting and touching” a 17-year-old ex-page on
a camping trip to the Grand Canyon 10 years
earlier
. This prompted a federal legal investigation.
Kolbe was not openly gay at the time of the expedition
but would come out soon afterward, prompted by a story
in The Advocate. When asked if the accusation
against Kolbe was true, the purported victim denied any
unseemliness, saying, as NBC paraphrased him, that
“Kolbe was a gentleman and never acted in an
improper fashion.” Nine months after the media
aired unfounded suspicions that Kolbe was a pervert who
preyed on young men, the investigation quietly came to
an end, having found no evidence that Kolbe had done
anything wrong. He was innocent, and there was no
reason -- other than the assumption that gay men prey on
boys -- to think otherwise. But the taint of a claim
of sexual abuse will cloud this former public servant
forever.

In the case of
Foley, those who attacked him -- particularly the gay (and
straight) liberal partisans who ostensibly support gay civic
equality -- cannot sincerely claim that their intent
was to expose a closeted, antigay Republican
hypocrite. That’s because Foley wasn’t fully
in the closet, and his record on gay issues was
actually quite admirable. In 2001 he proposed an
amendment to a bill on faith-based initiatives
mandating that religious organizations in receipt of federal
funds abide by state and local antidiscrimination
ordinances, many of which protect gay people. He was a
chief cosponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination
Act, voted in favor of increased funding for federal AIDS
research, and supported the inclusion of crimes based
on sexual orientation in the federal hate crimes
statute. The one glaring exception in this otherwise
exemplary record was his decade-old support (in which he was
joined by many Democrats, including Bill Clinton) for
the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. Foley, however,
voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004
and a similar amendment in 2006.

Maybe
Foley’s strongest critics on the left really did
believe that by tearing him down and turning him into
an object of ridicule, they were protecting the
sanctity of elected office. If that’s the case, the
least one can ask from these newfound moral scolds is
a bit of consistency. The faux outrage from liberals
over Foley was nowhere to be found when Bill Clinton
was accused of actual, not proposed, sexual impropriety with
a White House intern in the Oval Office and then lied
about the affair in a sworn deposition. Nor was it
visible when congressman Barney Frank was caught with
a male prostitute operating out of his apartment. (A
congressional committee eventually concluded that Frank did
not know about the man’s illegal activity, and
Frank was cleared of any wrongdoing.) Indeed, the
behavior of both men earned them even stronger support
from liberals, who successfully (and not altogether
inaccurately) portrayed them as victims of sexual
McCarthyism. Surely the conduct of these men was
worthy of the same outrage that Foley’s naughtiness
elicited?

It’s hard
to disagree with gay syndicated journalist Bob Roehr that
the Mark Foley saga was just “another example
of our taxpayer dollars at work in the name of
homophobia.” Other than move a once safe Republican
congressional seat in South Florida over to the Democratic
column, the only consequence of this overly publicized
imbroglio was to again raise the suspicion in the
minds of many Americans that all the hoary old
slanders of gay men and boys might have a ring of truth to
them. Before Democrats take cues from their 2006
takeover of Congress, they -- and the gay community --
ought to ponder what they wrought in getting there.

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