Monday, October 02, 2006

Foley and perspective

I hate doing this... really.

I hate trying to draw a line between "bad" and "terrible", because it's oh, so easy to make it sound like you're excusing the merely "bad". Nevertheless...

Folks, anyone reading this, please, let's keep this Foley issue in perspective, okay?

I've seen one person saying that he (I assume it was a he) wanted to see Mark Foley in a prison cell, with another prisoner ready to give him the prison's form of "instant message". Even if prison rape was a laughing matter (and it most emphatically is not), we have, as yet, no evidence that Foley raped anyone. We don't even know if he could be guilty of statutory rape. We certainly have no reason to believe he is a pedophile. (Technically, pedophiles go after pre-pubescent children.)

If he chased after sixteen and seventeen year old boys for sex, that really creeps me out, just like it creeps me out to hear a man (or woman) chasing sixteen and seventeen year old girls for sex. But we don't even know if he did that. There is evidence that he tried to set up meetings, but we don't yet have any reason to be certain that those meetings were for sex.

All we know is that he sent some inappropriate e-mails and instant messages.

Now, this is bad. He has no right to impose himself on another (even in text) for his own sexual gratification. This holds true when it comes to making dirty phone calls, and it certainly holds true for e-mail and IM. But making obscene phone calls isn't rape, either.

I don't want to diminish what he's done, but I also don't want to diminish the crime of rape by equating it to unwelcome dirty talk.

The story that's emerging is still a pretty nasty one. It's looking like pages were warned about him (I'm not sure about the content of those warnings) for five years, since 2001. We know that this story came to light because one page freaked out and said the e-mail that was sent was "sick". It's reasonable to think that this means he's had other incidents where he's upset pages by making overtures to them... otherwise, why would there be a warning that's five years old?

But all that we can honestly speculate about is "how many times has he been talking dirty to people, and making them feel uncomfortable (or worse)? And, what else did he do, besides that?"

That second question is the more important one, and I think it's what makes this a real scandal.

It's clear that the leaders of the Republican caucus in Congress knew about this. So far, they're trying to spin the story, which is very telling. If they had a full, careful investigation, they'd be pushing it hard, even while beating their breasts and admitting it wasn't enough. So, presumably, they didn't investigate.

If they had investigated, found that it was just some dirty talk, and decided to hush it up, that would be bad. Of course, this is the same Congress that didn't perform meaningful investigations into allegations that torture was ordered by the executive branch. Letting a dirty-talking Representative keep his seat is small potatoes compared to that. (Again: not diminishing what Foley did, but refusing to diminsh the lack of investigation into torture, either.)

But if it turns out to be true, that they didn't investigate any further, if they didn't know whether or not it was more than just talk, it was completely inexcusable. Further, given how Republicans think that they have the right to poke their noses into people's private sex lives, a refusal to investigation allegations of sexual misconduct by one of their own is the very height of hypocrisy.

I sympathize, a bit. No one wants to think of a colleague or friend as a sexual predator. But that's all the more reason to be strong, and investigate, so you can find out how bad it is. As terrible as it is to have to be suspicious of a friend, it's ten times worst to let your friend hurt someone, because you didn't want to learn the truth.

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