[the palaverist]

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

[foley funfest]

Outside of all the gloating Democrats have been doing about the perfect timing of Representative Mark Foley's scandal, there is the very real question of what exactly that scandal consists of.

Here's the thing: Foley flirted online with boys who were above the age of consent in Washington, DC, and who were not working directly for him. So what Foley did wasn't attempted statutory rape or sexual harrassment. Nor did he cheat on his wife or lie under oath about his actions. The only law he seems to have violated was one he himself sponsored, which goes after Internet sexual predators.

None of this quite excuses Foley's behavior. He is a middle-aged man in what is clearly a paternal role towards the young pages with whom he flirted. Had they been 19 and female, it would also have been deeply troubling.

But as troubling? In the first days of the unfolding scandal, I couldn't help wondering whether we were all grossed out because it was gay May-December sex. I wouldn't be surprised if the religious conservatives found the homosexuality particularly troubling, but liberals also seemed to react with a revulsion far stronger than we have felt towards older politicians who have messed around with younger women.

Andrew Sullivan, a gay conservative commentator, seems to have gotten to the root of the issue in this New Republic article. In his view, it is not the homosexuality in itself so much as the pathology of the closet that is so creepy about the Foley case. If Foley had been an openly gay politician who hooked up with a couple of young but legal hotties during spring break in Key West, it might've been splashed all over the news, but it wouldn't have been nearly so disturbing to me, or I think to most people who consider themselves sex-positive or pro-gay. It's the weird secrecy of it — the lurking-uncle, secret-touching-game quality — that is the problem.

Well, that and the fact that the Republican leadership seems to believe that homosexuality is best kept in the closet. Because they label all homosexuality as deviant and wrong, it's harder for them to make distinctions between the good kinds and the bad kinds.

For another gay perspective from a very different part of the political spectrum, here's Dan Savage's view.

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Anonymous DKNY said...

For a depressing look at how evangelicals are not reacting, there's this, although it does hold out the possibility of outrage if Hastert stays (though even that is pretty tentative). Lance Mannion did an obvious, but basically right analysis of this as well.

Andrew Sullivan has a much more damaging-to-the-GOP take on it, but Sullivan tends towards irrational exuberance.

Not that I don't think this is basically bad for the GOP---it's one more piece of bad news in a cycle full of 'em. But it looks unlikely to actually turn a lot of evangelicals against the party---they're used to following authority, after all. Unless---and this is a significant unless---they're just telling big-city smart-aleck reporters that they're stickin' with God's Own Party, but secretly planning to accidentally forget to vote come the actual day.

3:21 PM  
Blogger [the palaverist] said...

I think your conception of how this might affect voters has two flaws: 1) you speak of Evangelicals as if they were a unified group of unvarying size and membership, sort of the way our president conceives of terrorists, and 2) you assume that the hoped-for voter impact is primarily among Evangelicals.

On the first issue, I'm not terribly surprised that a few folks (all men) outside a Christian rock concert in Norfolk, plus one woman pastor of a megachurch, all still plan to vote GOP. More significant, I think, is that "to a person, those interviewed said that Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois should resign if he knew of the most serious claims against Mr. Foley and failed to stop him."

Still, this isn't going to swing the really deep-red Republicans against their whole party any more than you're going to vote for the GOP, or not vote, because some Dems in Congress voted to renew the Patriot Act.

But the Evangelical community is hardly a fixed body, and from what I've read, there are self-identified Evangelical Christians who believe their churches have sold out to a political party that is as soiled and untrustworthy as any other. I think the Foley scandal alone would do little, but add it to the corruption scandals, the war in Iraq and the meanness of the response to Katrina, and the lack of results on the Christian Right platform, and you might be making enough Evangelicals uncomfortable that their unity behind the GOP will crack. Maybe.

In this election cycle, I think the best we can hope for from within the Evangelical community is a lack of enthusiasm. They'll remember to vote, but will they send checks to candidates and the party, make phonecalls on election day, etc.?

And that gets me to the second issue: that Evangelicals are not the swing voters who will be affected by this scandal. It's the folks in the middle, the ones who usually vote Republican but plan to stay home this year, the ones who switch from election to election and right now are disgusted with the direction of the country. I think women especially are likely to be turned off by this scandal — some of them the same women who voted for GOP candidates in recent elections because they thought the GOP was better suited to protect their children.

If you add to that the possibility of a weakened get-out-the-vote operation, there's every chance that the Republicans will be hurt by the Foley scandal. That seems to be the case based on the polls of likely voters.

3:46 PM  

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