I get the point when angry conservatives charge there is not a dime’s worth of difference between modern Republican and Democratic politicians; when they argue that the Mark Foley scandal should be seen as an illustration of how conservative Christian voters have been taken in by Republicans who cynically spout rhetoric about traditional values in a strategy to win their votes.
I have made the charge myself once or twice in the last few years. I am convinced, for example, that there are more than a few pro-life Republicans who would switch in an instant to a pro-abortion position if the polls indicated it was wise for them to do so.
But is this an over-reaction? There are scandals and there are scandals. Mark Foley resigned within a day of the release of his infamous emails. What is the record of the Democrats in similar matters? Forget for the moment the Chappaquiddick and the Monica Lewinsky scandals and stick to events more closely analogous to the Foley brouhaha.
We can begin in 1983. That was the year Democratic leader Tip O’Neill and the rest of the Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives told us they discovered that the late US Rep. Gerry Studds was in Europe on a homosexual jaunt with a 17-year-old-page. Studds was censured by his colleagues in the House, but not forced to resign. He was re-elected by the Democratic voters of his district in Massachusetts to six more terms, going on to become a respected veteran legislator.
We are told that it is implausible that the Republicans in the House were unaware of Mark Foley’s behavior. Could be. But I can’t remember anyone saying that about Tip O’Neill, who was widely praised for knowing everything about everyone in Washington during his tenure as leader of the House. He was the guy, you will remember, who knew where “all the skeletons were buried.” Except for those in Gary Studds’s closet?
Let’s move up to 1990. Anyone see Barney Frank rushing to attack Foley’s actions? He gallops to the microphones at every other opportunity. You can bet his reticence is rooted in concerns that any appearance on camera in this matter would lead the voters to recall the 1990 hubbub over Frank using his influence to clean up parking tickets for the homosexual hooker whom Frank had put on his payroll as a driver, the same hooker who was running a homosexual prostitution service out of the basement of Frank’s DC home. Frank did not resign. He is treated to this day by the press and Democratic leaders as a voice of conscience in Washington.
Want something more recent? Consider how the Democrats reacted to the revelation that Gov. Jim McGreevey of New Jersey named his male lover to the $110,000 post of state homeland security director, despite the man’s lack of qualifications for the job. McGreevey was forced to resign, but only after he worked it out with his Democratic colleagues in the New Jersey legislature to stay in his job long enough to dodge the statutory requirement for a special election so that the Democrats could install one of their own as acting governor. Why was there no outrage from the voices of conscience in the national Democratic Party over that ploy? Why no segments on 60 Minutes or Meet the Press over the abuse of power? Instead, McGreey pops up in interviews with Oprah and Ed Bradley as a figure deserving of our sympathy.
Is there any way to explain all this except for a double standard? Some will argue the Democrats in these scandals were not involved with under-age boys. That’s disingenuous. Studds went to Europe with a 17-year-old page. Are we supposed to believe that he was not involved with the boy before then? And did I miss it? Did Oprah and Ed Bradley ask Jim McGreevey if he checked the ages of the men he tells us he used to pick up in the truck stops along the New Jersey Turnpike? After McGreevey went public about his homosexuality, every reporter and television talking head who commented on the story told us that McGreevery’s homosexuality was an “open secret for years” among the media and politicians. Why did they keep it secret then? Is it important to protect children from potential sexual predators only when Republicans are the stalkers?
I will accept that the reporters and television news producers are sincere when they insist that they act as professionals and do not let their personal political views affect the way they cover a story. Maybe they believe that about themselves. But one would hope that they have some private moments when they ask themselves why they reacted so differently to the Mark Foley story than they did to Gary Studds.
We are being told that the Republicans in Congress were negligent about protecting children from sexual predation because they did not launch a full-scale investigation into Foley’s behavior as soon as they got hints that something unsavory was going on. OK. But why were the Democratic Party operatives who had possession of the infamous emails willing to let him stay in office until they thought the time was right to release the emails for the maximum political effect? Did they care if he was chasing the pages during all those months? Why not?
Did the Democrats in Congress appoint a watchdog committee to make sure Gary Studds stayed away from the pages after they found out about his tryst in Europe? Did the mainstream press back then assign investigative reporters to see if he was pursuing underage boys after his censure? Does the press of today assign reporters to Barney Frank and the other admitted homosexuals in Congress to make sure they never cross that line?
One more thing the charge that that it is unacceptable for Republicans to bring up past sex scandals involving Democrats; that it is childish to “play politics” with this issue by resorting to the defense that “the other guy does the same thing.” Fair enough. Except for the fact the Republicans who make this defense are responding to Democratic politicians and party representatives who are doing precisely that: playing politics by charging that the Foley scandal is the result of a failure of the Republican Party leadership. Check the speeches and the press releases, if you doubt it. The goal of the Democrats has not been to find a better way to protect the pages in Washington. It has been to use this scandal to bring down the Republicans.
If Democrats are going to charge that Republicans should be removed from office for not acting quickly to remove public officials who pose a threat to young people, Republicans are entitled to respond that the Democrats were even worse in this regard when they were in power. It is within bounds to respond to a political charge with a political charge.
James Fitzpatrick's novel, The Dead Sea Conspiracy: Teilhard de Chardin and the N28ew American Church, is available from our online store. You can email Mr. Fitzpatrick at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(This article originally appeared in The Wanderer and is reprinted with permission. To subscribe call 651-224-5733.)