Commentary: Foley's Follies has ceded GOP's moral authority

As politicians square off over shamed congressman Mark Foley's cyber-sexcapades with underage boys, one question persists: Can we just get rid of the whole bunch?...

As politicians square off over shamed congressman Mark Foley's cyber-sexcapades with underage boys, one question persists: Can we just get rid of the whole bunch?

Amid the blustery outrage of Democrats, whose house is hardly spotless -- and Republicans' denial and dereliction of duty -- one finds comfort in the thought that someday soon, some of these people will be gone.

No one reading this can be unfamiliar with the tale.

Foley, a Republican who represented Florida's 16th District, has been e-mailing and instant messaging teenage boys for at least several years. He's always deflected questions about whether he is gay, although everyone seems to know it in the way people "know" things that they don't publicly discuss.

Apparently, some people on Capitol Hill also knew about Foley's preferred pursuits, but failed to take any corrective action. At the heart of the current debate is: Who knew exactly what, and when did they know it?


A CNN timeline of events shows that several high-ranking Republican officials, including House Speaker Dennis Hastert, knew several months to a year ago that Foley had been writing some "over-friendly" e-mails to a 16-year-old former page. Hastert says he doesn't recall being notified, but says he wouldn't dispute others' recollections.

What they didn't know until a few days ago, say the Republicans, was that Foley also had written some sexually explicit instant messages to other pages. ABC News reported details of these messages, appalling and embarrassing to read, on the day Foley resigned.

The pieces of Foley's secret life have landed like trinkets from a political pinata, with each party scrambling to grab their favorites.

Democrats, always delighted to highlight immorality among the family values crowd, have hoisted the prism of hypocrisy and accused Republicans of a cover-up. Republicans have reached for a shard of mirror, pointing out all the bad boys among Democrats.

Suffice it to say, human weakness is bipartisan, and Washington is a lousy market for glass houses.

Republicans also are calling foul on the timing of the story. Why now when many news organizations and others knew of the Foley e-mails months, if not years, ago?

On the right, observers are suggesting a conspiracy to release the e-mails at a time when they could do the most damage. What? Politicians acting politically? Surely not.

On the left, others suggest that Foley was buying cover when he donated $100,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee in July -- right after he was warned to stop his "over-friendly" e-mails.


While the pot and the kettle duke it out, new tidbits keep emerging that suggest plenty of dirty politics on both sides. There's the anonymous blog that suddenly materialized in July -- -- and that began posting the Foley e-mails.

Also in July, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, a nonprofit group funded in part by George Soros, received copies of the e-mails and filed a complaint with the FBI. That bit of serendipity doesn't quite jibe with reports that the page's parents didn't want to go public. Who leaked the e-mails?

And then there's the Republican Party leadership, who can't bring themselves to say those three little words: "We blew it."

Monday, Hastert reiterated that he and others now under siege didn't know about the more lurid instant messages indicating that Foley might be a sexual predator. To which any sane adult replies: So what? A red flag is a red flag; no quibbling over hue.

Even the less noxious e-mails should have been enough to prompt a serious response. Grown-up men do not write "over-friendly" e-mails to boys, period. Even if the e-mails Republican leaders knew about weren't sexually explicit, they were clearly inappropriate. In one, Foley asked the former page for a picture and spoke appreciatively of another boy's physique.

Now, ask yourself: If a 50-something man e-mailed your 16-year-old son and asked for a photograph, what would you think? You'd think: This guy better have his life insurance paid up.

What did the Republican leadership do? They confronted Foley and told him to stop it. Dadgummit.

Calling this a Republican cover-up may be overreaching given what we know thus far, but Democrats otherwise are right. Foley was a known creep, and the Republican leadership did not take care of business.


By ignoring Foley's completely unacceptable behavior, they have ceded moral authority to the Democrats and paved the way for the first woman speaker of the House. I'm pretty sure there's a "foley a deux" in there somewhere.

Kathleen Parker's e-mail address is .

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