Bil Browning

The truth is bad enough

Filed By Bil Browning | October 03, 2006 10:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, The Movement
Tags: Mark Foley, Republicans

mfol.jpgWhat 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)


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"But were any of Foley's targets really boys? No."

No?! Bil, it may have been quite some time since your were 16; you may have forgotten how young that age really is. The issue of consent is rather tricky. The age of consent in Foley's home state of Florida is 18. If the two corresponded across state lines, then it becomes a federal matter, where the age of consent is recognized to be 18.

Regardless, this page was a boy. There is no prejudice here ... grown men talking to 16 year old boys the way he did is wrong. It is particulary wrong when a member of Congress abuses their influce and power to do so.

Also, where is the homophobia in that headline? There is also nothing dishonest about that title. The definition of exploit is "to use or manipulate to one's advantage." You may argue that the victim was not a child, but until he can vote and until he can buy cigarettes, he's a child in the eyes of the State.

"However, that doesn't give us license to start vilifying and scorning the man because of our own innate prejudices."

I'm not exactly sure why it is ridiculous in your opinion to "vilify" and "scorn" a grown man who makes inappropriate, sexually suggestive comments to anyone, let alone minors. Anyone who commits those acts is completely out of line and will be judged.

I find it interesting that you are "pooh poohing" in essence the fact that this page was 16. You say that this 16 year old wasn't a "boy" when the law and our society clearly considers him just that. Just because the page wasn't 9 years old doesn't mean he was any more prepared to handle such sexually explicit language from his superior... I'm not sure who would be prepared for Foley's conduct, for that matter. And furthermore, if we were talking about Foley making these comments to a 16 year old girl, there would be no discussion - just more outrage than there already is.

Dave, I was having sex by 16. A good portion of us were. My partners, however, were from around my own age - which is what is appropriate. I did double-check Florida's age of consent - and you're correct it is 18 and not 16. Thanks for correcting me. But 16 is not a child - it's a young adult - a teen. He's not a child or "underage" when the age of consent is 16. It's the law - he's of age. It's just creepy - not pedophilia.

Carrie, I do think it's okay to vilify and scorn a grown man who makes inappropriate sexual comments to anyone. I don't think it's okay, however, for the public in general to link homosexuality and pedophilia automatically like I see some blogs and news sources doing. I think that it's actually exactly opposite from what you're saying - there is more outrage because it's a gay guy hitting on a teenage boy instead of a straight guy hitting on a teenage girl. Then it would have just been called by it's proper name - "sexual harassment" and not "pedophilia."

Look folks - I don't want anyone to think that I condone what Foley did. The guy is a sleeze that committed sexual harassment against a teenager. I just think it's time the media/blogs stuck to the facts - and the facts say that someone above the age of consent is not a child and the crime of pedophilia has not been committed! This case is bad enough - let's not make it worse.

Bruce Parker | October 4, 2006 12:43 AM

Carrie,

I am not going to take a side in this conversation but as your sometimes teacher, I have to point out that state and federal laws still include references to wives as their husbands property and that not so long ago sodomy of any sort was illegal. The State's definitions cannot be used as guides for our understandings.

Bruce

first off, while there's no evidence yet that foley actually had sex with these boys, there is evidence that he tried to solicit sex from them, as well as offering to take one boy to his house and get him drunk. (what happens after the two get drunk? i think you know.)

second, age difference is an important component of many "age of consent" laws. in washington dc, that age difference is four years. thus, a 19-year-old having sex with a 16-year-old is okay, but a 52-year-old having sex with a 16-year-old is a class A felony.

and third, even if no sex took place and/or the pages were above the age of consent, those cyberpredator laws that foley helped pass make it illegal to solicit sex from someone under 18.

I agree that no link should be made between homosexuality and pedephilia... which is exactly why I posted on it last night.

Well, Bil, you probably shoulda seen these coming at ya...

The topic is a political third rail. You tried.

As A lifelong Dem, I take no pride or glee in Rep. Foley's tumble. He very likely, from evidence available, misjudged and misused his influence with a young man. As well as his authority granted by the voters of Florida.

The rush to judgment and the link to pedophiles, is almost as gutless and gut-wretching as the far-right's mantra: "Who had this information and why did they unleash it now?"

Here's hoping some time, and space, can put these incidents into proper perspective. Mr. Foley has resigned, as well he should've. The nation speculates ad nauseum about the effect on Congress in general. The media's feeding frenzy is typical and blood-thirsty.

Has Speaker Hastert done the following?

*seen to the mental health of the allegedly stalked young men
*asked why two or three members of House leadership had this information, or some of it, last fall, and withheld it, possibly even from Hastert himself?
*instituted a review of rules of conduct regarding underage (OK, pick your legal definition here) House employees.
*forthrightly invited in and welcomed the FBI to conduct a thorough probe?

The one-upsmanship in this whole affair is disgusting. Real people were likely hurt here, and real consequences developed. Taking proper care of those is more important than the political fallout.

Not that I expect the political fallout to be anything other than No.1 on Hastert's list.

Marla R. Stevens | October 4, 2006 2:54 PM

Calling Foley a pedophile, when there is no evidence that he's shown any interest in the pre-pubescent, is inflammatory. The evidence points to Foley being an ephoebophile instead.

But stAllio makes an important point about banded age of consent -- and why it makes sense -- that consent isn't merely about assent, it's about having enough power in the relationship to make that assent have meaning. Both stAllio and Bil discussed reasons why there could be no consent between Foley and the pages -- age difference (particularly important when dealing with adolescents, who both overestimate their abilities in this regard and are developmentally not all there yet as far as rational decisionmaking is concerned) and the issues of Congressperson and page of employer power and star power.

Foley is clearly a troubled man. But he's a gay Republican of the way to the right wing kind, so that's to be expected. Then he's an abuse survivor who may well never have dealt with that and he's been fooling himself about the closet on top of that, leaving him no way to live like a healthy adult emotionally, sexually, and affectionally.

As adult pervs go, he's the sort that's most fixable. This could well be the best thing that's happened to the man if it gives him the chance and impetus to do the hard work on himself he obviously needs to do.

Our job is to counter the associated crud -- the Tony Perkins 'it-woulda-been-aired-sooner-if-they-weren't-so-PC-about-the-queers crud.

Of course, Tony makes no sense, as can be seen here or by reading Mike Rogers' posts on Foley going back at least a year on blogactive.com. We have zero interest in protecting closet cases who reinforce their closet doors with antigay legislation -- absolutely none. In fact, we're often in a position fighting with the MSM to get the truth out -- and it's not because the MSM is PC, either. It's because they think being gay is so much worse than political hypocrisy that they won't touch the stories until it's impossible not to.

Does anybody remember that Saturday Night Live character -- the liar? I think it was John Lovitz that created him. Pretty brilliant stuff. His response to every situation he landed in escalated, noticably, up. His girlfriend was Debra Wing-, er Farrah Faw-, er Morgan Fairchild. Yeah, that's the ticket.

Mark Foley's reponse to getting nabbed sending increasingly graphic communications to his hot, hunky pages sounds a lot like this. "I'm an alcoholic...I have an addiction...I've been molested...I'm gay...Yeah, that's the ticket!"

OK. So, that's not exactly what he said, but I think you get my piont.

Marc Acito, today on NPR's All Things Considered pointed out the fact that, regardless of his personal issues, he's still accountable for his actions.

For me, a l'il ole Black woman, I've just about had it with people (even mine) who claim that their misdeeds are due to anything other than the choices they make and the actions they took. Young kids are killing each other because of "the man," childhood slights are a plausible excuse for a man to walk into an Amish school and kill children and the haze of drugs and booze is a "get outta jail free" card for people who get caught offering to do frightful things to people with a loofah (I can't seem to look at these sponges and still feel clean).

I remember my college years (it was the 80's, and I think I'm the only one who lived on my street who can still make that claim). Many of my college friends wound up in treatment (coke was king in those days). They told me that the hardest thing they ever had to do was own up to the things they did when they were altered and not make excuses for it any of it. I thought they were the bravest people I knew.

I feel sorry for Mark Foley. He's certainly a sad man with a lot to deal with and atone for. However, as he moves through his treatment program, I'm sure he'll find the courage to claim full responsibility for everything he's done.

Yeah, that's the ticket!

He is a pathetic lying, closeted homosexual that likes boys that are young enough to be his son. As we have been busy fighting and standing up for our rights, he has been voting against us. His hypocrisy is staggering. I have no sympathy for him, only contempt.

Actually, age of consent in FL, MD, VA and DC is 16. www.ageofconsent.com has links to the state law texts.

The page who received most of the attention was 18.

Was this unethical? Absolutely. Was it as unethical as Clinton getting blown in his office while conducting business? No, not quite. Is it as unethical as Barney Frank, who has sworn afidavits in court attesting to him molesting 12 year olds? Nah.

And where's the democratic outrage over actions in their own house? Where are the resignations in disgrace? Hello, William Jefferson?

Any group must abide by its own standards, or be disdained, ridiculed, and ignored. The last four elections sadden me, because the Dems have made themselves irrelevant by their own actions. I really don't want to live in a one party system, but that's the direction they're taking it.

Sorry, but the Republicans are perfectly justified in ignoring any allegations of sexual misconduct by Democrats, as long as the attitude on the left is, "They have to abide by their own standards, but ours are a matter of choice."

Right. How's that again?

Oh, and if someone believes that the victims and families need counseling (possible) and that it should be dealt with (it should, if so), why not proceed to suggest so or offer it? Or is it more important to attack someone else for not doing so, than to resolve the problem?

Or, is the perceived suffering REALLY a problem, or more useful as propaganda?

I probably won't be voting Republican next month. But I definitely won't be voting for any democrats. They've nothing to offer.