Presumably, everyone who reads this has already heard that Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL), author of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, has resigned after he was revealed to have sent revolting sexual emails and IMs to several pages. (The one whose age has been reported was 16.) If you haven't seen the
emails IMs, I'd suggest taking my word for it that they don't leave any room for doubt that Rep. Foley was just being overly friendly or something. But if you really want to see for yourself, here you go.
I don't have much to say about Rep. Foley, other than: yuck. Also: sex itself is a wondrous thing, but I really don't think instant messaging is the best medium for it. Perhaps some mute inglorious Milton could make IM sex non-revolting, but not Rep. Foley. Yuck.
However, there are other aspects to this story that are more interesting. There's the question who, exactly, knew about this. Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-LA), the Representative who sponsored the page, was told back in 2005. John Boehnert was notified "this spring", and first he told Speaker Hastert and that Hastert had said that it was being taken care of; then he took it back. Meanwhile, Speaker Hastert said he didn't know about it, until Rep. Tom Reynolds, the head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said he told Hastert; now Hastert has issued a convoluted press release saying that his office was informed but he (initially) was not, and that he cannot recall Rep. Foley mentioning it to him, but has no reason to dispute that he did.
Then there's the fact that while Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), the Chair of the House Page Board, was notified of the problem "in late 2005",but did not inform the Democratic member of the Board, which seems odd. (From Roll Call: "When asked if was upset about being excluded, Kildee said yes, adding, "I've been on the page board for 20 years."") And, as Josh Marshall asks, why on earth was the NRCC notified? That seems completely bizarre.
In any case, though, a number of Republican legislators, including at least the Majority Leader and the head of the NRCC, and possibly the Speaker of the House, knew about this, in some cases for nearly a year. And yet they did nothing. I thought that the most important aspect of this had gone largely unremarked, until I checked FireDogLake and saw that Christy Hardin Smith, not surprisingly, got right to the heart of it:
"Let me be crystal clear here: these are teenage children who are given an honorary position due to their exceptional grades, their outstanding community service work and any number of other reasons. They are working in the United States House of Representatives. They are teenagers.
And the Republican leadership was aware that an elected Republican representative was sending personal e-mails and IMs to various teenage pages — but either didn't investigate any more closely to see if they were wholly inappropriate and/or sexually explicit or what, according to Hastert's hemming and hawing in the WaPo this morning…and they did not tell the Democratic leadership nor did they take any overt actions from what I've been able to ascertain to remove this Republican representative from contact with these teenagers other than telling him to act more appropriately. (...)
The ick factor alone on this is disgusting, but it is the utter lack of fiduciary care for the children involved that disgusts me the most. (...)
Look, I can understand a desire to win an election with the best of them — but this goes a lot deeper. If you have a person who is allegedly predisposed to be attracted to very young kids, that predisposition does not go away because you say "don't send any more e-mails, mmm-kay?".
And in this case, you have kids who are living in DC as pages, perhaps away from their homes for the first time, around very powerful people — and you put them in a situation where an elected official wants to discuss in detail what they do when they masturbate…and at the age of fifteen or sixteen, they are supposed to know to do what, exactly? But the GOP Leadership didn't even bother to look into this enough to see that's what was going on — or did they, and they just didn't take the steps to protect kids from this? Who the hell knows at this point, because it's turned into all CYA, alla time.
The adults in this situation, who were apprised of the problem, ought to have intervened on these kids' behalf. I'm sorry, but there it is. And from what I can tell, the GOP leadership has devolved into "woulda, coulda, shoulda" this morning — with Boehner pointing the finger at Hastert, and then taking it back, and Hastert playing dumb. Someone dropped a whole lot of balls on this one — and that is simply not acceptable. Does no one in the entire GOP know how to take responsibility?
And the worst thing is, every parent whose child was a House page for the last 16 years that Foley has been in the House is now thinking "did he do this with my child?" and worse "how far did he go — was it just talk, or did he get further?"
This is NOT acceptable. And the GOP leadership in the House had better have some answers beyond "I don't know — I thought he was looking into it." Our nation's children are more valuable to all of us than that."
This is exactly right. Eleven months went by, during which time Rep. Foley was probably harassing other teenage boys, asking them to measure their genitalia for him, prodding them to tell him exactly how they masturbated, and how often, and with what, and so on and so forth. To let this go on is, in my opinion, absolutely unconscionable. Note this as well: "One former page tells ABC News that his class was warned about Foley by people involved in the program." I once interviewed for a job at a school where the people in the department made very, very sure I knew that one of their number had a serious problem with sexual harassment -- a fact I already Knew, since he had asked me out right after my job interview. One reason I decided not to bother with that job was that I suspected that I'd end up decking him, but another was the thought: when people know enough to warn you about a serious problem, but somehow or other can't be bothered to actually fix it, then you know that something about the organization is deeply dysfunctional.
It is our job, as adults, to protect children from things they should not have to deal with. It was, more particularly, the leadership's job to protect children under their care. That they did not do so is unconscionable.
Especially since there were ways of dealing with this that would not have cost them anything. Like Christy Hardin Smith, I can understand wanting to win elections. But that's not in conflict with keeping the pages safe. All they had to do was: first, investigate further, and find the rest of the emails; and then go to Rep. Foley, inform him of that fact, and suggest that he confess that he had a problem, resign, and seek treatment.
Jeb Bush could have named a Republican replacement, who would now probably be en route to retaining Foley's seat. [Update: Oops. There would have to be a special election -- see Florida election law (pdf), 100.101 (p. 30.) The Republicans would probably have won this. End update.] Alternately, they could have let him resign quietly, but tell him that they would monitor him and send the emails to the police if they ever got word that he was harassing another minor. (Surely the Republicans have good friends in Florida who could have managed that.)
The members of the Republican leadership who knew about this were not protecting their political hides. They didn't need to lose anything politically. If they had chosen the quiet route and things leaked out, they would probably have gained politically.
They just didn't care enough about the children in their charge to rock the boat. And that's a disgrace.