When it comes to Washington sex scandals, hypocrisy is nothing new. The latest scandal to rock the capital involves Mark Foley, a six-term Republican congressman who resigned on Friday when he learned that ABC News was ready to air a story about sexually explicit electronic messages he sent to male pages who worked for the House of Representatives.
While the Republican leadership initially expressed shock that one of their own could be involved in such disgusting behavior, it turns out that some leaders had been warned months ago that Foley was a problem. House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, and National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds, R-N.Y., have admitted that they learned that a 16-year-old page had received inappropriate e-mails from Foley in 2005.
But no one did anything to launch an investigation. Instead, Foley received a private warning not to get too friendly with the pages from the chairman of the committee that oversees the program. There are now calls on Speaker Dennis Hastert to resign.
The Republican leadership should be ashamed of itself. But pardon me if I don’t get quite as exercised as some in the media have over the Republicans’ inaction. This is hardly the first time a politician has used his power and access to prey on a vulnerable young person entrusted to his care. No, I’m not referring to President Bill Clinton and White House intern Monica Lewinsky (she was, after all, 21) but to the last big page scandal, which occurred more than 20 years ago.
In 1983, when Democrats controlled Congress, two congressmen, a Republican and a Democrat, admitted to having sexual relations with pages. Daniel Crane, a conservative Illinois Republican, admitted he had sex with a 17-year-old female page in 1980. Gerry Studds, a liberal Massachusetts Democrat, described his activity with a male page a decade earlier as "a mutually voluntary private relationship between adults," despite evidence that he plied the 17-year-old boy with alcohol before initiating sex. The House Ethics Committee also charged that Studds unsuccessfully solicited sex from two other male pages.
The House of Representatives voted to censure both members but chose not to expel either one, with some members saying it was up to the voters to decide whether the men deserved to keep their seats. Crane was defeated the following year, but Studds went on to be re-elected six times. If there is any lesson in this scandal, it is that Republican voters are less tolerant of such misbehavior than Democrats.
Studds not only kept his job, but received standing ovations from Democratic crowds following the censure votes. The Washington Post reported one such occasion in 1984: "Studds marched in the parade of the Feast of the Blessed Sacrament, the event of the year for New Bedford, an old whaling port whose population is 60 percent Portuguese American. All along the four-mile route the crowd broke into applause as he approached. Women waved from the balconies of double-decker row houses. Men toasted him with beer cans and cheered." This after Studds admitted to liquoring up and seducing a teenager whose parents had entrusted the boy to Congress’ care.
Unlike his predatory predecessors, Foley now faces a criminal probe into his behavior. If the Republican leaders were slow to react to the initial allegations against Foley — and they were — it is clear they’re serious now about punishing the offender, which is more than can be said of the Democratic leaders who were in charge of Congress a generation ago.
One difference, of course, is that thanks to Foley and others in Congress, it is now a crime to use the Internet to solicit sex from minors. But it would be some irony if sending vile instant messages to underage boys resulted in jail time for a Republican, while getting a teenager drunk and statutorily raping him resulted in nothing more than a slap on the wrist and 12 more years in Congress for a Democrat. Hypocrisy, it seems, is a bipartisan offense.