Saturday, September 30, 2006

Republican congressman resigns in scandal

Republican congressman Mark Foley suddenly resigned office. He should have. But some of the publicity regarding his case is borderline hysteria and exaggerated. Other stories underplay what actually happened. Let’s try to balance it out while the mainstream media tries to use euphemisms to describe what actually happened only confusing readers.

Congressman Foley is one of the “family values” Republicans who is constantly looking for new laws to “protect our children”. Apparently all the old laws that were going to protect our children that they previously offered up as a panacea didn’t work. So they keep legislating. Foley was one of those kind of Republicans --- as if there are any other kind these days.

Foley’s problem was that he was engaging in explicit sexual e-mail exchanges (pdf document) with a Congressional page. Pages are high school students who work in Congress running errands for lazy politicians. The student in this case was 16-years-old and male. And in Republican circles it’s the male aspect of the case that has them wailing and gnashing their teeth.

On the blogsphere numerous commentators have been claiming this is a witch hunt and that Foley never crossed the line. I’m not sure where that line is but I can tell you what Foley was doing. It is clear if you read the exchanges.

He was not just speaking somewhat explicitly about sexual things. He was pushing the boy to strip down and masturbate with Foley via e-mail. The e-mails seem to imply he has not bedded the teen but they also give the impression he was hoping to do so at some point.

In one e-mail the boy tells Foley “slow things down a little im still under 18 don’t want to do anything not 18 till feb 23.” Foley responds, “i know.. nothing will happen.. just dreaming.”

The “just dreaming” implies he was biding his time. The comment also implies the boy was not adverse to doing something after his birtday. And people ready to lynch Foley need to remember that they will, of necessity, be dragging this teen into things.

In the e-mails Foley regularly asks the boy what he is wearing and urges him to strip down. In one e-mail the boy says he is wearing shorts and a tshirt. Foley says: “love to slip them off of you.”

In another when the boy said he had soccer practice and was in athletic shorts and a t shirt Foley responds, “ummm nice, jockstrap too”. The boy says not in soccer just underwear and Foley says “shows your package then.”

In another exchange Foley asks “did any girl give you a haand job this weekend”. The boy says no and that he broke up with his girlfriend. Foley replies: “good so your getting horny”. The boy says “a bit” and Foley asks “did you spank it this weekend yourself”. The boy deflects by saying he was too tired and busy. Foley says: “i am never to busy haha.”

The teen says he doesn’t “do it very often normally though” and Foley says “at your age seems like it would be daily.” Foley starts pushing for details about where the boy masturbates and how. When the boy says he does it face down pressing against the bed the Congressman says “cute butt bouncing in the air”. He calls this a “great visual” and says “I may try that.”

They speak of fetishes and the boys says he gets turned on by “people” in plaster casts. After discussing these turn ons the boy pushes the conversation up one notch: “ya but now im hard” and Foley replies “me 2, what you wearing”. The boy says tshirt and shorts and Foley says “um, so a big bulge.. love to slip them off of you” and grab “the one eyed snake.”

The boy replies “not tonight... don’t get excited.” Not tonight implies they might have gone further with other conversations previously. Foley pushes, “well your hard” and the boy says “that is true.” Foley keeps pushing sayhing “and a little horny” referring to the teen. The boy says this is also true and then Foley asks him to get a ruler a measure it. The boys “Ive already told you that” and Foley says “tell me again”. When the boy tells him Foley responds with “ummmmmmmmmmmmmmmm, beautiful, thats a great size” and asks “still stiff”. When the boy says he is Foley says “take it out”. The boy changes the subject saying his mother has called for him.

Note there is clear reference to other conversations of a similar nature not yet reported. The teen writes “ive already told you that” and “not tonight” both imply previous occassions where things were similar or went further. We also have the teen offering the information that he has an erection. This is a kid from the deep South, by all indications. He may be gay, he may be bisexual or he might just be a straight boy who is curious. He does come across rather ambivalent. He seems to push things up a notch but then also cools them down. He implies when he’s 18 he might be will to go further.

How do we determine the truth? Only by seeing all the e-mails that were exchanged between Foley and the youth. And Foley may be acting rather smarmy here but this can’t proceed without also hurting this teenager. Obviously his parents are aware of the situation already and apparently wanted this downplayed. And I can see why considering that the conversations were apparently consenting.

Surely neighbors and friends of the boy knew he was a page. They would also know that he worked for a Louisiana congressman. And the media has said which congressman it was. People will put two and two together and the boy’s identity will be known. Even if the media does not report his name I am convinced that people in his hometown will have figured it out. With a little effort anyone could find this out. We know his age. We know which Congressman he worked for. We know he went to a school where the girls wear “catholic uniforms” since that is mentioned. We know what years he worked in DC. With a little digging that is sufficient to find out who he is. And you can bet that when he went off to work in DC his whole town knew about it, it may have even made the papers. So the locals will have a particularly easy time of identifying him. Several journalists have tracked him down without much effort.

In the Christianist South this boy will have a miserably time of it. He was far too willing an accomplice for his peers and neighbours to see him as a victim but more like a willing accomplice --- after all he was the one who measured his penis and informed Foley of the size.

This boy, whether he gay, straight, bi, curious or just confused will have a hard time of it. The treatment he may receive from friends, family, peers and neighbors will be traumatic, embarrassing, possibly dangerous. He could easily be subjected to far worse things than the e-mails he exchanged. I would hope that people will give some consideration to how it is possible that his life will only be made worse by this investigation -- not better. And certainly if investigated by Congress, as apparently will happen, I would hope the results are kept quiet merely for the sake of this teenager. People may wish to punish Foley and the Republican leadership but the person who may end up taking the worst of the punishment is this kid.

The Republican leadership has known about this incident for some time and were doing nothing . They said the boy’s parents wanted the matter dropped. This could well be the case. The boy himself could be gay, even if he had a girlfriend, or bisexual. This matter would not sit will in the South where they are from. And we don’t know how far other conversations have gone.

To try and keep the matter in balance we need to remember several things. First, a 16 year old is not a child and is legally allowed to consent to sex in 32 states and the District of Columbia. The boy worked with Foley in the District. And e-mails are not the same thing as sex but Foley himself helped push through legislation that could be used to prosecute him for sending these e-mails. Which age of consent law applies in this case? The boy appears to be from Louisiana where the age of consent is 17, but Foley is from Florida where it is 18 (no other state has a higher age) but they both worked in DC where it is 16.

I suspect that any federal laws regarding the content of the messages would say 18. This is part of the maze that exists regarding such laws in the US. A sexually explicit e-mail to a 17 year old can be a federal crime even if both the sender and the recipient are above the age of consent where they live. Most US states allow sexual relations from the age of 16 but discussing the relations they are allowed to have, via e-mail, could be a crime. The federal government tends to define a child as anyone under 18 but most states define it as anyone under 16.

So I suspect that Foley may well have violated federal law. And certainly in Florida, where Foley lived, and Louisiana, where the boy lived, the age of consent is above 16. But in DC where they both worked the relationship would be legal.

Also this is not a case of pedophilia. Pedophilia is a sexual attraction to prepubescent children. It is a psychological condition not a legal status. The age of consent does not determine pedophilia. It is clear that this boy was well past puberty.

Let us cover what Foley did that was wrong. He was a US congressman. In essence he was the employer of this boy. He misused the authority of his position to seek sexual gratification for himself. The e-mails we have seen imply that he pushed these conversations not the boy but that boy did engage in them willingly, at least some of the time. If there are other conversations I have not seen them. While the teen was not a child Foley violated the very laws he promotes.

The Republican Party tried to cover this up. A year ago the Republican leadership was informed about Foley and his e-mails. He was spoken to about them . And now the House of Representatives voted to investigate the matter. It is reported: “At least four Republican House Members, one senior GOP aide and a former top officer of the House were aware of the allegations about Foley that prompted the initial reporting regarding his e-mail contacts with a 16-year-old House page. They include: Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) and Reps. Rodney Alexander (R-La.) and John Shimkus (R-Ill.), as well as a senior aide to Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and former Clerk of the House Jeff Trandahl.”

Democrats on the board which deal with issues around pages were kept in the dark about the accusation. The GOP apparently wanted to sweep this under the carpet. That mistake may cost them another seat in the House come the election. Foley was considered an easy win. Obviously he is not so now. His resignation means he is no longer the Republican candidate. But his name is already on the ballot for the November election. If he were to win the Republicans can appoint a replacement. But for that to happen voters would have to cast their ballot for Foley. And with this publicity it is far less likely to happen.

Had they pushed Foley a year ago he could have left quietly. Another Republican would be their candidate and the seat would probably stay Republican. By trying to cover up they ended up with a name on the ballot which is unlikely to win for them.