Monday, October 02, 2006

How Could They Have Been So Stupid? A Suggested Reply

As one who has never been very good at concealing his vices, I have always envied hypocrites. The capacity say one thing loudly and insistently and repeatedly while doing more or less the opposite: why there is a life skill sufficient to carry you all the way to – well you know where it can carry you, and you can infer why I have been enjoying with almost indecent glee the spectacle of the GOP leadership chasing its tail trying to explain why they didn’t do something about Mark Foley.

How could they have been so stupid? I have a suggestion: they were so stupid because they forgot that what Foley was doing might be wrong—or worse, might be perceived as wrong. They fell victim to the peril of all hypocrites: they forgot that somebody might take them at their word.

It’s understandable, really. People go into politics for a lot of reasons. “A duty to help my fellow man,” may be on the list, though I doubt that it is on top. Money is an obvious reason. “Power,” sure, although as a concept, it is somewhat more evanescent.

But through history, I suspect the main reason seek political achievement (Winston Churchill and Richard Nixon excepted) is sex. Washington has always been jam packed with sexual predators (and a fair number of people who come to be predated upon, but that’s another story). The GOP leadership knows it—how could they not? They just forgot that they’ve spent their whole career trying to tell a different story.

Take it from a different angle. The House is a kind of bureaucracy. If you know what you want in a bureaucracy, the chances are that you will get it, because there are so many other people who have no idea what they want. It is also, correspondingly, a fine place to look for prey.

Foley's friends say that Foley was fighting his demons. Maybe, although chairing the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children may seem an odd way to do it. Maybe also he came to Washington well knowing that it was a happy hunting ground and that he enhanced his chances of getting his way if he wrapped himself in the mantle of virtue.

None of this would have been surprising to the House leadership. That was why it never occurred to them to treat it as anything other than a political problem. But even as they tried to cabin it as a political problem, they seem to have forgotten what makes it a political problem—the fact that a good chunk of their electorate took them at their word, thought they were acting in good faith, and believed that they meant what they said. It’s touching, actually, like the Hungarians getting mad when they find that their prime minister is a liar—touching to find that some considerable portion of the public still expects its government to behave.

[Fn.: but aren't you concerned with the children? Sure I am. But I won't panic. So far as what know now, there were no train wrecks: careful parents and (perhaps more important) level-headed kids seem to have saved Foley from his own worst instincts. So we end where we began: with an (apparently shameless) abuse of power and a (clearly cynical) attempt to manipulate the electorate.]

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