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On (former) Congressman Mark Foley: One bad apple, removed from the barrel, doesn't ruin the whole crop

As has been hashed and rehashed, throughout the media and across the blogosphere, Representative Mark Foley (R-Fla) resigned last week after it was made public that he had engaged in several inappropriate email and instant message conversations in 2005 with an underage male page. Similar conversations with another page from 2003 were made public shortly after. In a Tuesday press conference, his lawyer said that Foley was “molested between the ages 13 and 15 by a [Catholic] clergyman,” and that he was “under the influence of alcohol at the time he sent the e-mails and IMs.”

This last statement is troubling in its own right, as, according to ABC news, Foley “had internet sex while awaiting…a vote on the floor of the House” in 2003. If this and Tuesday’s statement are both true, then the six-term Congressman was “under the influence of alcohol” while voting on legislation in the US House of Representatives – an offense which should be punished every bit as severely as his other, more public transgressions.

This admission suggests a very worrisome prospect: if Foley (about whose admission of alcoholism the AP said “some of those who have known him for years were shocked and suspicious, saying they rarely saw him drink”) was voting under the influence of alcohol, then what are the odds that other Members of Congress have been doing the same – especially those, such as Senator Kennedy, who are known to have had issues with alcoholism – and for how long has this been going on?

Foley’s decision to resign was a correct one, at the very least. There is no room in society – let alone in government – for those who would take advantage, sexual or otherwise, of children. Not only should the disgraced former Congressman be prosecuted, but he should seek, and should receive, help beyond the rehabilitation for alcoholism into which he voluntarily checked himself after his resignation – and, if he broke any laws, he should be prosecuted to the fullest extent possible.

Immediately after former Representative Foley’s admission, Democrats in Congress began to call for an investigation into, and the resignation of, the House Republican leadership, under the pretense that ranking GOP members knew along that Foley was engaging in these deviant activities, and yet did nothing to protect the adolescent House pages. They were joined by the conservative newspaper Washington Times, which Monday night published an editorial calling on Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-Ill) to resign his post, saying that he had “forfeited the confidence of the public and his party.”

However, according to the media reports thus far – and to Hastert himself – Congressional leaders only found out about the situation in November, at which time they immediately confronted Foley and told him to “immediately cease any communication with…any pages.” Beyond that, the House leadership “heeded the wishes of the parents of the former House page, who wanted such questionable e-mails to stop but didn't want the matter pursued.”

Hastert admitted in a Tuesday appearance on the Sean Hannity radio show that, had he known “how graphic, vile, and repulsive the IM exchanges were with the boy...Foley would have been out of Congress and an investigation would have begun immediately.” As it stands, a full investigation will be conducted, backed both by Speaker Hastert, and by President Bush, who in a Tuesday press conference said that he was “disgusted…and disappointed” at the “violation of public trust” committed by Foley.

This is, of course, not the first Congressional page sex scandal. In 1983, two Representatives, Dan Crane (R-Ill) and Gerry Studds (D-Mass), were found by the House Ethics Committee to have engaged in sexual relationships with adolescent pages – Crane with a female, and Studds with a male. In July of that year, both men were officially censured by the House for sexual misconduct. Crane went on to lose his bid for reelection in 1984; Studds, on the other hand, though he admitted to the relationship, not only refused to apologize for any impropriety (he turned his back in contempt as the article of censure was being read on the House floor), but went on to serve six more terms in Congress until voluntarily retiring in 1996.

The response to this previous incident is both instructive and illuminating. When a Democrat was censured for actually engaging in sexual relations with an adolescent subordinate, he thumbed his nose at decency, propriety, and legality, and continued to govern the rest of us who must follow the laws which he and the rest of our Congress pass. Similarly, former Congressman Mel Reynolds (D-Ill), who was convicted of corruption and of having a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old campaign worker (and sentenced to seven years in prison), was pardoned in 2001 by outgoing President Bill Clinton.

In contrast, when Mark Foley, a Republican, was publicly confronted with his transgressions, he resigned his post immediately, amidst calls for a full investigation by his own party and his President. Again, he should receive help, and prosecution if such is warranted – but the response by House leadership this time around was far more decisive, and correct, than it was under opposition party control in 1983.

The crux of this matter is the necessity of protecting America’s children. Neither Foley, nor anybody who had knowledge of the situation, upheld this duty. ABC’s source, which provided 52 separate IM exchanges between Foley and young male pages, appears to have had intimate knowledge of the situation for at least as long as the House GOP leadership; however, rather than come out with the story at the time – and thus protect present and future adolescents from possible harm – both he and the media sat on the story until one month before an election.

Good riddance, Mark Foley; I hope you receive the help you so obviously need, and the prosecution you may deserve. However, if there is anything which can match his actions in reprehensibility, it is the conscious withholding of such information, which could protect future children from similar situations, until it becomes a politically opportune time to release it – and, whatever their myriad faults, it wasn’t the party currently holding House leadership that did that. What that party -- the GOP -- did do was to drive the bad apple from their ranks, rather than let it rot the whole crop. A sound decision, if ever there was one.


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