"A senior congressional aide said Wednesday he told House Speaker Dennis Hastert's office about worrisome conduct by Rep. Mark Foley (news, bio, voting record) toward teenage pages more than three years ago, long before officials have acknowledged becoming aware of the issue. (...)
Fordham said he was serving as Foley's chief of staff when he was told about the lawmaker's inappropriate behavior toward pages more than three years ago. He said he had "more than one conversation with senior staff at the highest level of the House of Representatives asking them to intervene" at the time."
Well, well, well. As Josh Marshall notes, if this is true, then the House leadership has been flat-out lying about this. We shall see.
Josh also writes:
"There have been a number of signals through the course of the day that the last gambit of the GOP House leadership will be to blame the Foley debacle on a cabal of gay staffers who hid and/or enabled Rep. Foley's behavior for years. The idea being that they are to blame rather than the leadership.
That may sound like a plot turn out of a bad novel. But with the times we're living in I guess we shouldn't be surprised.
Fordham, the staffer who just turned on Hastert, is openly gay, as is at least one other central player in the drama. Fordham's word now threatens to take down the whole House leadership. So they're going to throw everything at him."
This could be about to get very, very ugly. It's not as though there haven't already been all sorts of people -- not just bloggers but, for instance, the Wall Street Journal -- who have a hard time wrapping their tiny minds around the thought that this episode has no more to do with being gay than the Monica Lewinsky affair had to do with being straight. If the House leadership decides to use this tactic for their own political gain, I do not think it will help them -- after all, it will be hard to make the case that some gay cabal was able to deflect attention from all this if that cabal did not consist mainly of Republican staffers who were in a position to run interference between Foley and people who were in a position to do something about him, which House Democrats were not. If the alleged cabal does consist mainly of Republicans, then Republican candidates for office are going to face new questions about how well they chose and supervised their employees -- after all, 'the people we hired turned out to be intent on letting sexual predators run amok among the House pages' is not normally a winning message, nor is 'Poor innocent us! we have nourished a viper in our bosom, and we didn't know a thing!' a good way to rebut a charge of negligent management.
Besides that, the specific people who hired the members of the alleged cabal would have to explain themselves to their base, which in many cases includes some pretty homophobic people. If David Corn is right -- and Josh links to him on this topic, which I take seriously -- then the people who employ cabal-members "include Representative Katherine Harris and Henry Hyde and Senators Bill Frist, George Allen, Mitch McConnell and Rick Santorum." Possibly the only even vaguely amusing thing to come out of all this would be listening to Rick Santorum trying to explain how he came to employ a member of a homosexual cabal, and whether he let him near the family dog.
But I wouldn't want to go down that road if I were Dennis Hastert.
But let's be completely clear what it would mean if he did. It would mean that rather than admit that he didn't handle this right -- which seems pretty clearly true, cabal or no cabal -- and taking the consequences, he's prepared to wreck people's lives and play on the worst kind of homophobia. We already know that he's willing to sacrifice teenagers for the sake of politics; we'll just be able to add that he's also willing to sacrifice adults whom he knows, some of whom are presumably his friends and comrades, and who have, rightly or wrongly, supported his party and his allies for years; along with civility, decency, tolerance, and any principles he might have left.
I really hope he doesn't go there.
Other people have already tossed basic decency overboard. There is one right-wing blog, to which I will not link, that has outed one of the ex-pages -- name, picture, employer, university, the whole nine yards. This is completely and totally out of bounds. We're talking about someone who was the victim of a crime, and an unusually embarrassing one at that. The person who outed him claims that he will explain why he did so, but doesn't deliver, and there's no obvious reason I can see why he would have thought this worth doing. It would have been despicable and vile even if outing the ex-page had provided some new and relevant information; as things stand, it seems to be not just despicable and vile, but completely pointless.
Historical footnote: Since I'm from Massachusetts, I have to say this: I wish I had some idea what Gerry Studds and textBarney Frank are supposed to have to do with this. In 1983, Gerry Studds was found to have had a relationship with a 17 year old page some ten years earlier, in 1973. He was censured by the House, but reelected. In 1989, Steve Gobie revealed that some four years previously, Gobie had been Frank's lover, during which time Frank had employed him, fixed parking tickets on his behalf, and written a misleadingly favorable report to his probation officer. Gobie had also run a prostitution ring out of Frank's apartment; when Frank found out about this, he fired Gobie and ended the relationship. Frank told the House what he had and had not done, and was reprimanded, but reelected.
The thing is: both of these cases are well in the past. Gerry Studds had his relationship back in 1973 -- just a few short years after Woodstock and Kent State, and the same year that the Watergate scandal was unravelling. A lot of Democrats weren't even registered to vote when they happened. It's just bizarre to think that the response of "the Democrats" to these cases tells us much about our responses to any current scandal -- as bizarre if it would be if I were to start arguing that "the Republicans" favor wage and price controls and support Saddam.
Moreover, to provide a bit of context for them: back when Gerry Studds was reprimanded, in 1983, there was virtually no understanding of sexual harassment as an issue. I was sexually harassed in college, during the late 70s and early 80s, and it's probably as hard for anyone who wasn't there to imagine how completely it was not defined as an issue as it is for me to understand, say, how people in the South in the 30s and 40s could take segregation for granted. I was absolutely clear that it was completely wrong of the people who did it to me, but the idea that it was anyone's problem but mine -- that there might be recourse for it, say, or even a name, like "sexual harassment" -- never crossed my mind.
I recall the Studds episode, and the major issue it was thought to concern, at the time, was not sexual harassment of a minor, but homosexuality. That was wrong, but there we are.
It's also worth asking what, exactly, "the Democrats" as a whole could have done about Studds, other than censuring him, which they did. (The House was under Democratic control at the time.) The normal way to get a gay politician to step down is to threaten to out him, but since Studds had already been outed, that wouldn't have worked. It was up to his constituents to decide whether or not he continued to serve in Congress. And, in that regard, I should mention that Studds' district contains Provincetown.
Barney Frank's story was quite different. The basics are these: Barney Frank was a closeted gay man until 1987 -- two years after he broke off his relationship with Gobie, and two years before the scandal broke. I don't suppose the closet is kind to anyone, but it was quite clearly not kind to Barney Frank. That said, Barney Frank is, and is known to his constituents to be, very, very smart and very, very decent, and a really good legislator. Check out the quotes from conservatives in this story from the Boston Globe to see what I mean (or read the whole story; it's more or less how his constituents see Frank.) Bob Barr:
""One of the things about Barney," Barr says now, "is that some of the members on that committee were just loud. Others just talked and talked. What makes Barney stronger than them, and more formidable, is that there's substance behind what he's saying. He has the credibility. When he says something, you can take to the bank that he knows his stuff.""
Michael Oxley (R-OH):
""He's got the seniority, and he 'gets' it. I've seen too many members who are really popular at home, who get reelected all the time, but who don't really have a clue from the legislative standpoint. It's people like Barney who make the system work.""
As far as I recall, the view in Massachusetts at the time was more or less the one Frank gives here:
"How did he survive the scandal: "My defense was to tell the truth," Frank says. "I said I did a dumb thing, and people supported me because I leveled with them. People thought that I had done something wrong but that it shouldn't end my political career.""
"This guy Gobie decides he’s going to become famous by attacking me. Well, he couldn’t out me, because I’d been out for more than two years. So he decides not just to talk about me having paid him for sex, which was true, but to talk about a lot of other things that weren’t true.
Now I had this dilemma. Almost everything he said wasn’t true. But there was one core of truth there -- I had paid him for sex. And the only way I could convincingly deny the things that were false was to admit the one thing that was true. And I realized that’s the understanding I brought to the [Bill Clinton scandal]. People cover-up because the only way to deny the really bad stuff is to admit the one thing that you did do wrong. Gary Condit got in trouble that way. If Gary Condit had said, "Yes, I was having a sexual affair with [Chandra Levy], it was wrong, " he wouldn’t have been in much trouble. His problem was that he had people thinking -- totally inaccurately -- that he was involved with her being murdered.
So that is the one perspective I bring -- "Okay, cut your losses. Admit what you did wrong because otherwise you’re not gonna be able to refute all these inaccurate things. " Generally what happens is that the things you didn’t do are almost always more lurid and worse than the one thing you did do.
MW: The film includes a clip of someone claiming that the ’89 scandal would politically finish you. Of course you weren’t finished. But did you feel that way at the time?
FRANK: To be honest, I thought that I was. But I was never gonna quit because I wanted the ethics committee to go through its investigation. I knew I could prove that most of what Gobie said was bullsh*t. But I did at some point think, "Well, I’d better not run again, because I can’t win. And if I’m the nominee, the Republicans can win the seat. "
Then it turned out that [voters] responded well, saying, "Okay, fine. You did something wrong, but you admitted that. "
MW: Do you think Americans are more forgiving of certain scandals?
FRANK: They’re forgiving of weakness. But I think they make distinctions. It’s one thing to do something that’s damaging to yourself, that’s inappropriate or unwise and foolish. But I think people are less forgiving if you’ve hurt somebody else. In my case I was stupid. But I didn’t hurt anybody else. And, by the way, that was true of Clinton, too. In the end, there was no evidence that Bill Clinton had done any of the other things he had been accused of. And it was as if the Republicans understood that."
As I recall, people in Frank's district (liberal suburbs around Boston) were, on the whole, not particularly disturbed by the fact that, surprise surprise, he had had a relationship with another man. He was, after all, openly gay. They were surprised and disappointed by the fact that he had fixed the parking tickets and written the letter to the probation officer. But there was a fair degree of understanding of the fact that being a closeted gay man can do ugly things to you, and a lot of what Barney Frank did seemed to people to fall under the general rubric of: bad stuff that happens when you have to live a lie, and end up falling entirely the wrong guy, and don't know what to do. But they were also impressed that he took responsibility for what he had done, and did not try to weasel out of it in any way. As he said, people do draw distinctions.
(Plus, in Massachusetts, the part about fixing parking tickets would have been so completely standard for politicians that even though I don't think anyone expected it of Frank, the idea that this marked some special degree of corruption struck a lot of people as beyond bizarre. I don't know how it is elsewhere, but in MA at the time, this would have been like complaining that a Senator allowed a restauranteur to bring him a complimentary glass of wine. The fact that no one I know expected it of Frank was the odd part.)
Barney Frank's district has always been a sort of unwilling beneficiary of injustice. Just as schools all over the country benefitted from the fact that very talented and educated women could not hold many of the jobs they now work at, and so were available to teach school for next to nothing, so Barney Frank, who would absolutely hold some higher position if he weren't gay, instead represents Massachusetts' Fourth Congressional District. I don't suppose most people in the Fourth CD think of themselves this way, but a lot of them do believe, quite correctly, that Barney Frank is an incredibly talented and decent guy, whom they are lucky to be represented by. (Wit: I believe he invented the line about antiabortion representatives believing that life begins at conception and ends at birth. Talent: consider the fact that he managed to be one of the most active state representatives in Massachusetts and make Harvard Law Review at the same time. Decency: well, examine his record.)
So that's the story with him: he was really honest about what he had, and his district accepted what he said. And I don't see what it has to do with Foley, except they are both scandals involving being gay.
Anyone want to get their minds off this with something amusing? Publius has found some new IMs. LGN has found The Nietzsche Family Circus, which is great. Unfogged establishes bipartisan cred by highlighting a scandal involving a Democrat. Be sure to click on the picture. I debated about whether to include the next link -- if you can imagine some sock puppets who look like they've escaped from the von Trapp family marionnette collection cavorting about and singing a polka song about what Rep. Foley should have been doing if he wanted to keep himself out of trouble -- a song that one might call risque but not really foulmouthed and explicit -- you'd imagine this YouTube video.
And if Hastert et al do choose the wrong path, here's something that might be helpful.