Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


This NRO editorial is worth reading, as are the posts over at The Corner.

I spent most of my parties and elections class discussing the Foley case. There were, in our collective wisdom, three issues that came to the fore. First, and most obviously, Foley’s bad behavior, and its true, likely as yet unrevealed, extent. Second, how Foley’s colleagues on both sides of the aisle ought to have dealt with what people are claiming was an "open secret." This is of course a Republican problem, but it’s also a Congressional problem. I don’t stand aside and watch a colleague engage in questionable behavior, regardless of which side he’s on. If I don’t approach him directly, I go to someone in the other party with whom I have a reasonably good personal relationship and share my concerns. Congress ought, in the first instance, actually to police itself. It shouldn’t be a partisan matter, either in terms of discipline or, also, in terms of exploitation.

Which leads me to the third point: if the partisan context for dealing with this bad behavior is unavoidable, if each side is happy to leave it to the other to deal with its own, er, transgressors, then both sides are culpable for the resulting missteps. If you think that your opponents will jump on any evidence of misbehavior, then your temptation is to keep things as quiet as possible, to cover up or sweep under the rug, rather than fully investigate. Of course, this is a Republican problem, but it’s also a problem of Congressional hyperpartisanship. If either party didn’t have to pay for policing its own members, or if policing individual misbehavior were undertstood to be a collective (non-partisan) responsibility, we wouldn’t have this problem, or at least we’d have less of it.

Update: Here’s an article offering evidence for the "open secret" thesis. Hard evidence of "inappropriate" contact with pages, in this context, should have been pursued vigorously.

Discussions - 15 Comments

How much do members of Congress actually see each other? Nowadays they’re more like CEOs of vast, competing corporations than colleagues in a legislative body committed to open dialogue.

It’s tempting to spread the blame around, but all that really does is to take the focus off the perpetrators and those who have institutional responsibility for oversight over them. What you’re saying sounds an awful like: of course the Reps covered it up, because Democrats would have made an issue out of it. It’s a bad excuse for bad behavior.

It’s true enough that we live in time of hyperpartisanship and media sensationalism and all that. And it’s true enough that it’s a Congressional problem. But we’re stuck with the fact that Congress is, in fact, organized by the Republicans now

Respectfully, I want to correct one mistake in your post. Everyone in congress did not know Foley was writing inappropriate emails. Everyone knew the open secrect he was gay, but, correctly, no one cared about that. Gay Republicans like Kolbe served well and with honor as represenatives. The House leadership, all republican, and other select republican represenatives had access to this information. No doubt it the Democrats did know of this inappropriate behavior (and the emails saying what they did to an underage person were utterly wrong) they would have used it for political gain even earlier. No, this is a Republican scandal, and there is little point in trying to imply ALL of congress can be painted with this brush. One particular party is the one in power, after all.

The reticence to challenge a Gay man is understandable when you consider that the BSA is being hounded out of public life for refusing to entrust young boys to Gay scoutmaster.

I still would check the type font on some of those messages. And I have no problem disallowing any contact with young boys by Gays.

This is an argument for essentially replace almost everyone in congress; you won’t find a lot of people who want to fight you on that one.

The homosexuality is a side issue - remember these boys were UNDERAGE. That makes sexual contact with them illegal in all states. At present there is no public evidence that suggests there was contact, though the rumors suggest that it’s on the way; and Foley’s sudden resignation certainly indicates there is worse coming down the pike.

I see this as primarily a political correctness problem. Foley was widely known on the Hill for sexual wisecracking and so forth --staffers joked about not wanting to be alone in an elevator with him. His homosexuality may be beside the point, but his hyper-sexuality is not --and yet no one wants to be the one to cry foul about such things for fear of being thought intolerant.

Whatever political points people may be scoring now, it seems obvious to me that the leadership overlooked Foley’s behavior because they were being "tolerant." Had they made an issue of a couple of emails at the time, no doubt Foley would have made himself a martyr to the Religious Right. I can see the WaPo Style section profile we’d have been treated to: courageous defender of children being persecuted by House Christians for a few off-color remarks. They can’t read his emails without assuming the worst. Homophobic Bigots --no wonder they support the FMA!

People like Foley --irrespective of orientation--are the wages of "tolerance."

"Officials from the liberal-leaning group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said that they received copies of the Louisiana emails on July 21 and turned them over to the FBI the same day. The group’s executive director, Melanie Sloan, said she spoke with a special agent in the Washington field office, and she questioned why the FBI did not investigate Mr Foley weeks ago."

"Many Democrats and some Republicans sharply criticised the decision by key House Republicans to handle the matter of the Louisiana emails so quietly that only one of the three lawmakers who oversee the pages program knew anything about it. The other two — one Democrat, one Republican — expressed anger on Monday that they had been kept in the dark."

My initial post took it for granted that some aspects of Foley’s behavior were well-known. Even if not illegal, his apparently sexually suggestive behavior was highly inappropriate, not just for a member of Congress, but for anyone in any workplace. This, I think, everyone in Congress has some obligation, at least to disapprove and perhaps to correct. And then there’s the issue that someone had a record of the really awful instant messages. That "someone" had an obligation to take those documents to the authorities (FBI and Congressional leadership) as soon as he or she had possession of them.

My general point, I think, stands: in an organization like Congress, everyone ought to feel an obligation to care about the status of the institution and hence about the behavior of any member that tends to discredit it. This is not first and foremost a partisan matter, but rather a Congressional matter. If it weren’t in fact understood as such, the censure and expulsion mechanisms wouldn’t be acts of one or the other chamber, but acts of one or the other party. One would of course expect that votes taken on such matters wouldn’t be treated as partisan, but as a means of upholding institutional integrity. To the extent that adhering to this understanding is difficult in times when each party is tempted to exploit individual misbehavior as a partisan matter, that is a problem associated with our hyperpartisanship.

Agreed. The notion that the Republican leadership failed to blow the whistle because they didn’t want to be accused of being homophobes is really a stretch.


Those are IMs, not emails. It is not clear that the leadership knew about THEM.

The "someone" who had these IM’s was CREW, who brought them to the FBI the same day they received them, from the child in question, or his parents we can assume.

More IM’s came out today. It seems it’s worse.

Foley apparently held up a House vote so he could go and IM one of his 16 year old "buddies", and make a date, for drinks, at his apartment.

Keep in mind, this guy was suspect, suspect enough that the pages warned each other about him, the leadership knew *something* was wrong with this guy, knew enough to keep the complaints from the Democrats. AND THEY STILL PUT HIM IN CHARGE OF THE EXPLOITED CHILDREN!!!

What? Was that some kind of inside joke? Puting the fox in charge of the chicken coop?

These people are sickos.

I attribute a lot of this to Hastert’s (or his staff’s) tin ear. He just doesn’t seem to get it, witness the fracas involving the search of Rep. Jefferson’s Hill office. Hastert and Co. seem to be content to wait until the court of public opinion hounded Cunningham, DeLay and Ney, etc., from office. Didn’t have much choice with Cunningham, since he, like Jim Traficant is a convinced felon. Frankly I expect better of Republican leadership. I get the feeling that whole deal up there is big incumbent protection racket. I disagree with the Washington Times over the timing of his departure, but I do think Hastert ought to step down, after the election, regardless of the outcome.

At least Foley is gone, unlike Gerry Studds, who turned his censure by the House into a "gay rights" cause celebre. And Barney Frank is still there too, and the toast of Sunday morning talk TV.

Sure they didn’t know about the IM’s. If they had know they existed they would have HAD to have done something about Foley. They would have known a cover-up wouldn’t work.

The leadership had PLENTY of opportunity to the right thing. They didn’t do the wright thing. They placed party before ethics, and that’s plain to see.

To clarify, I am not arguing the leadership was "tolerating" the revolting IMs, which seem to have come out later. I’m suggesting that we are collectively trained not to follow our instincts regarding early warning signs, a la Joe Knippenberg’s comment above. They [Foley’s colleagues] were "tolerating" grubby talk and gestures that in a healthy atmosphere ought to have met with disapproval and distrust.

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