National Commentary

Nicholas F. Benton: Foley

What an irony, what a pathetic irony that everything the right-wing driven Republican Party has been wound tight to hate, despite and oppose has landed right in its own lap.

The GOP has tried so hard to keep it simple, to make the message across middle America stand on family values and personal morality, alone. Forget Iraq, there’s the danger of the gay agenda, and of predatory corruption of the young, they pontificate.

Then comes out this week all of the lurid details of the behavior of a right wing Republican congressman from Florida. On top of the already-existing national impatience with the GOP’s corruption and mismanagement of Washington and the fiasco in Iraq, the case of Rep. Mark Foley has unmasked a level of personal hypocrisy in the leadership of the party that vomits right onto the face of the party’s most cherished and most touted moral standards.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that Mark Foley is gay that’s the problem. It’s not even so much that he clearly has deep seated personal problems, including but not limited to a bizarre lack of personal good judgment, which allowed him to participate in the kind of on-line correspondences he had with underage male pages. Only a gigantic appetite for both alcohol and self-indulgence could account for what became too easy for him, in the privacy of an otherwise empty apartment, to carry out when encountered by something so seemingly innocuous as a keyboard and flickering computer screen.

Obviously, by all the data out there, this problem is not his alone. Predatory behavior by adults against underage youth on line is rampant, confronting those who pay attention to such things with an unsavory glimpse at one massive expression of humankind’s dark side. It’s not as nasty as seeing millions of rotted human corpses piled up as the collective effects of unbridled sectarian or tribal warfare at locations around the globe and along the time-line of history, but it’s deeply disturbing, nonetheless.

When the pervasiveness and universality of “sin” is asserted, anyone who looks even for a split-second at the myriad consequences man’s incredible propensity for inhumanity to man can only mumble, “You don’t know the half of it.”

In our current experiment with democracy and universal efforts to lift humankind out of poverty, superstition and despair, the care and feeding of what Abraham Lincoln called the “better angels of our nature” requires special qualities of nurture and trust.

That’s why our public officials are rightly held to such a high standard in our society. They should be the very embodiment of the values contained in our nation’s founding documents and Constitution. But in this context, it is consistent that, in addition to intelligence, good judgment and leadership, honesty and integrity are the highest and most important qualities required of them.    

That brings me to Rep. Foley’s real crime. (By comparison, he hasn’t been charged to date with any crime in the page scandal). That’s the crime of hypocrisy. In my view, aside from crimes of violence, there’s little, especially among public officials, more damaging than this. Hypocrisy involves betrayal, the crime reserved for punishment at the lowest level of Dante’s Inferno: betrayal of the public trust.

With respect to his being gay, how can a man stand publicly so against everything he is personally, and apparently without conscience or remorse, as Foley now obviously did throughout his political career? This two-faced behavior represents the worst kind of betrayal. One can stay buried in a closet of personal secrecy, if one feels so compelled, but to then tout discrimination against gays and lesbians is another matter entirely.

It’s unfortunate if one cannot feel free enough to be a role model for vulnerable young people often desperately in need of encouragement and support, but it’s frankly vile to see one hiding his own identity and at the same time lashing out and trashing the self-esteem of others just like himself. Had he more integrity in this regard, it might well have lifted him out of the self-indulgent quicksand that compelled his sordid Internet transgressions.

But then it comes to the hypocrisy of the Republican Party leadership, overall, as it pertains to the public trust, with regard to its own self-serving inaction despite reports of Foley’s egregious and damaging behavior toward underage pages.

There is no way what Rep. Foley did with respect to those pages was anything but completely wrong and detrimental to the youths involved. Yet, the GOP leadership sat on its hands, cynically clinging to its first priority of keeping hold of that congressional seat.

As outrage over this grows, it’s becoming clearer that what will bring the Republicans down in the elections next month won’t be wrong judgments or bad policies, but everything associated with a fundamental betrayal of the very core values they hijacked, politically, in the 1990s. Indeed, dishonesty, deceit, duplicity and hypocrisy will mark their demise.