Tuesday, October 10, 2006

This is the American Report

A sex scandal dogs

From The Statesman
By ND Batra

A Congressman’s sex scandal is dogging the November mid-term elections in the USA. The smooth talking and affable Mark Foley (Republican from Florida) resigned from his House seat after being confronted by ABC News and his admission that he had been sending lusty messages to teenage congressional pageboys. Here’s an instant messenger (IM) exchange with a minor:

MaF54: What are ya wearing?
Teen: T-shirt and shorts
MaF54: Love to slip them off ya.

Congressional pages and interns run errands for lawmakers and get exposure to the political processes and sometime become victims of their venality (Remember Monica Lewinsky, the gal who sizzled a President, made him cry in anguish, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” and almost got him impeached?).

After he was unmasked, Mr Foley readily outed himself and admitted that he is gay and accepted full responsibility for his sexually explicit Internet behaviour, though his attorney tried to put a spin and said that the ex-Congressman was an alcoholic and was sexually molested as a child by a clergyman.

There is a psychological folklore in the USA that those who have been sexually abused as children might themselves grow up as child abusers and molesters; therefore, they need understanding and sympathy and treatment rather than jail time.

If Mr Foley were sexually molested as a child, why did he not come forward and name names as hundreds of others have done, causing the Catholic Church shame, embarrassment and millions of dollars in settlements? Mr Foley had a flourishing political career and had become a darling of the media as well as Hollywood. Before the public exposure, there was a discreet scent of the exotic about him that added to his irresistible charm as a Congressman.

What is the best time to disclose childhood abuse? David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, was quoted in The New York Times, saying, “Most survivors disclose it after their eighth drunk driving arrest or their wife saying she wants a divorce, or their fifth bar fight.”

When someone is put under a gun and there seems to be no exit, the person might say anything to escape for life.

“Childhood trauma doesn’t excuse criminal behaviour. I hope he will find the strength to do what thousands of other victims have done, which is publicly expose the predator ~ whether he’s alive or dead,” Mr Clohessy admonished. Had Mr Foley’s predilection for teenage boys been not publicly exposed, he would have continued his extraordinarily charming life as a supporter of gay rights and protector of children’s rights.

Simulation and dissimulation come naturally to politicians.

As the House’s co-chairman of the Missing and Exploited Children’s Caucus, Mr Foley had sponsored legislation in July to protect children from cyber-exploitation by adults. As a loyal Republican Congressman, Mr Foley’s private life could not have been totally unknown to the party bosses, including the House Speaker, Mr Dennis Hastert (Republican from Illinois), who acknowledged his responsibility for failing to keep a watch in the matter but refused to accept any accountability. He wouldn’t resign.

Not only is Speaker Hastert’s reputation at stake but also the future of the Republicans in the November elections.The Republican Party has always touted itself as a party of American family values, but kept quiet when it knew that one of its own was IM-ing sexual fantasies with schoolboy pagers as young as 16, who were on a learning curve at the Capitol Hill.

As revelations keep unfolding daily as to who knew what and when, it is becoming clear that at least since 2004, several powerful people in the Beltway political hierarchy were aware of Mr Foley’s “inappropriate behaviour,” about which some congressional pages had lodged formal complaints. Speaker Hastert has been asserting that he did not know about Mr Foley’s e-mail sexual shenanigans with teenage pages, but whether such an appalling pretence of ignorance would be enough to let him maintain his credibility as the House leader beyond the November elections, if at all the party maintains its majority, is doubtful.

The question is about the Speaker’s competence and moral courage to confront one of his colleagues whose conduct he should have known. Ignorance in politics is no excuse. President George W Bush dutifully supported the beleaguered Speaker: “I know Denny Hastert... He is a father, teacher, coach who cares about the children of this country. I know that he wants all the facts to come out.”

But the Iraq war and the latest revelations by a journalistic gadfly Bob Woodward of The Washington Post in his book The State of Denial that President Bush has not been telling the truth to the American people about what is actually going on in Iraq, has not added to the President’s declining political capital.Republicans seeking to keep their seats in the Senate and the House of Representatives in the mid-term elections, a few weeks away, would rather not be seen with the President.

Mr Bush’s endorsement of the Speaker has little meaning at this crucial political juncture. The bi-partisan House ethics committee has enthusiastically swung into action and issued dozens of subpoenas to investigate the matter as to whether there was a cover-up, though it is doubtful whether any clear-cut, finger-pointing findings would emerge.After the elections, Mr Foley’s follies would be forgotten. The American people would keep wondering what to do about Iraq, which is worming deeply into the nation’s psyche.

(Dr Batra has completed a new book, Digital Civilization: How Much Freedom Does a Man Need? He teaches communications and corporate diplomacy at Norwich University, Vermont, USA)

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