What is it about a sex scandal that gets the American blood pumping? The lurid details, the steamy stories, and the automatic gross-out factor combine into a boiling mess of gruel that we suck down like caviar. And so it goes with Florida Representative Mark Foley. Foley has been caught sending inappropriate e-mails and instant messages to teenage boys who were working at the Capitol as a page. Both the mainstream media and blogs have lit up over the issue with many outlets simply trying to attract as many readers as possible - facts be damned.
That isn't to say that Foley didn't embarrass the House of Representatives with his misdeeds. It doesn't mean that a 50 some year old man coming on to a teenager isn't creepy or that it wasn't an abuse of his position of authority over the pages. They looked up to him as a Congressman and he abused the privilege by bringing sex into the workplace. Simply put, Foley should have resigned his position (as he did) and should face any possible legal ramifications because of his actions.
However, that doesn't give us license to start vilifying and scorning the man because of our own innate prejudices. There's an old political saying from former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards who thought he was unbeatable. "They'll never take me down," he boasted, "unless they find me in bed with a dead girl or a live boy." The distinction is ominous. Representative Foley was caught with the "live boy."
But were any of Foley's targets really boys? No. They were all above the age of 16 (as we know the facts now - further investigation could prove different). The age of consent in Washington DC is 16 - as it is in the Representative's home state. At 16, any teenage boy in America (albeit with parental consent in some states) can get married. So this emancipated man can marry and have children, drive a car and hold a job but turns into an "victimized child" when confronted with an erotic e-mail from a gay man?
Check out Newsweek's headline this week: "Rep Mark Foley helped exploited children by day. A slew of e-mails suggests he exploited them by night." This headline is amazingly homophobic, dishonest and does not promote rational conversation. Other blogs and news sources have called Foley a "pedophile." The Washington Post declared in it's first paragraph "Six-term Rep. Mark Foley resigned yesterday amid reports that he had sent sexually explicit internet messages to at least one underage male former page." Notice the two kickers: "underage" and "male." When you think of children you automatically think "underage," because, well, they are -they are under the age of 16.
With the facts available to us currently, that's simply not what happened. No one is claiming Foley had sex with any of the pages. All we have are steamy e-mails and instant messages. And the recipients aren't too young to have written or responded to sexy IMs or e-mails - we all know teenagers have sex unless you've missed a lot of movies, magazine articles and television. The problem isn't pedophilia or the fact that the pages were underage or male. The problem is that their relationship was a Congressman and a page - and when the Representative starts talking about sex to the page it constitutes sexual harassment. It's creepy and it's wrong. But there's no need to lie and make this worse than it already is. That's just not civil or dignified - and the whole sordid mess stinks enough already.
(Cross posted to valuesalliance.org)