Sex scandals, at least in societies dominated by guilt-sodden Protestants, fulfill the therapeutic function usually attributed to pleasant or exciting sex: exploration of intimate areas of political life, surfacing “issues” normally repressed. America can’t talk about Iraq, where Americans boys are raping 14-year-old girls and shooting families at close range, can’t talk about torture, so instead we focus on what former Republican Representative Mark Foley wrote to a page about boxer shorts and their contents. What’s the other option? Pack a tube of sex lubricant, holster up, grab a box of ammo and head for the Amish schoolhouse.
Here’s Foley (code-named Maf54) in instant message mode in April, 2003:
Maf54: I miss you
Teen: ya me too
Maf54: we are still voting
Maf54: you miss me too.
The two of them then-so say the transcribers at ABC News-“appear to describe having sexual orgasms.”
Maf54: ok..i better go vote..did you know you would have this effect on me
Teen: lol I guessed
Teen: ya go voteI don’t want to keep you from doing your job
Maf54: can I have a good kiss goodnight …
What was Foley off to vote for? That evening the House voted on HR 1559, Emergency War Time supplemental appropriations. Just another wargasm in the life of Empire.
Did Foley actually lay his filthy paws on gilded youth? There are gay guys who like to hang around teens, not necessarily with an overpowering urge for immediate sexual contact but more for the overall homoerotic buzz and the hope that one day one of the lads might say, You’re the one. It’s like the pilot in that great 1980 movie Airplane:
Captain Oveur: You ever been in a cockpit before?
Joey: No sir, I’ve never been up in a plane before.
Captain Oveur: You ever seen a grown man naked?
Captain Oveur: Joey, have you ever been in a-a Turkish prison?
Captain Oveur: Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?
This sounds like Foley to me. When in doubt, head for the Betty Ford Center. Although no one seems to be buying it, Foley is trying to bring booze into disrepute, saying that he was drunk all those times he whacked out the instant messages on his laptop or Blackberry. He also says he was abused by a priest as a lad and now suffers from mental illness. A trifecta! Foley probably spent a lot of time studying the human pyramid and dog photos from Abu Ghraib before rushing off to draft the strong language he inserted into the Child Protection and Safety Act earlier this year. People cry angrily that this is hypocrisy. I’m not sure why. If you, as a human, know what you are capable of, surely it’s sound moral conduct for you, as a legislator, to try to guard society from the Beast Within.
What gives a scandal legs is always the cover-up, or the appearance of a cover-up. Republicans in tight races are panicking because Hastert and other senior Republicans sat on the scandal. “I don’t think it would pass the sniff test,” says West Virginia Representative Shelley Moore Capito, referring to claims that the first set of e-mails between Foley and the pages on the topic of boxer shorts did not seem to be conclusive evidence of anything really bad. Sniff test? What can Shelley have been thinking of?
Beyond their inherently uplifting aspect-bringing powerful people into ridicule and disrepute-political sex scandals can be very educational about sex and political economy. (This one has already dealt a few knocks to the myth of teen innocence, beloved by prosecutors.) Who does not recall that tryst in the White House-unearthed by special prosecutor Ken Starr-between Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky in 1996, when Bill, receiving satisfaction from Monica in his nether regions, gave satisfaction over the phone to Alfonso Fanjul, the Florida sugar baron who was complaining that Al Gore had just proposed a sugar tax and had vowed to clean up the Everglades.
The bluenoses try to ban sex ed and then provoke scandal which duly engenders sex ed in glorious Technicolor. Bill Clinton fired his first Surgeon General, Joycelyn Elders, asked at a 1994 conference at the United Nations whether adults should promote masturbation among youth as a way to discourage dangerous sexual behavior. “I think that is part of human sexuality,” she answered, “and perhaps it should be taught.” Maybe Foley should volunteer to be a teacher, as part of a plea bargain.
I often tell people they shouldn’t worry too much about the evangelical Christians. People who spend so much time lecturing others about sin are likely to go sinning themselves, and in the end, like Jimmy Swaggart, they get caught heading into the whorehouse. Republicans are a repressed lot, unless they become libertarians like Justin Raimondo. He can flaunt his own trifecta: gay, antiwar and pro-capitalism. Back in Reagan time, when I was on the campaign trail, the motels were always filled with Republicans stitched into their squeaky-clean suits who were obvious closet cases.
Most certainly the country has been ripe for a political sex scandal. Given the paralysis at the straightforward political level, it’s pretty much the only safety valve we’ve got. Let’s hope the Foley scandal will give us at least a hundredth as much educational uplift and fun as did the great Lewinsky scandal of immortal memory. This doesn’t mean Bush won’t bomb Iran. He might do it to change the subject, and all those Republicans will interrupt their instant messaging to the page boys to go vote the President all appropriate powers.
Footnote: This column ran in an slightly shorter form in the print edition of the Nation that went to press last Wednesday.