The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Framing Foley

Gosh I hate it when that happens. I go out of town for the weekend, either traveling or otherwise engaged and with no time to blog, and a major political story breaks. A major political story with a gay angle. And while I’m either in the air, on the road, or visiting friends and family, everybody and his brother is blogging about it. So by the time I touch down, get dinner, put the kid to bed, and sit down in front of the computer, all I can do is read what everyone else has written and wonder if there’s anything I can add that won’t be redundant or might possibly be relevant. Or, on the other hand, what could I write about that everyone else isn’t, and that might stand chance of being read despite not being the hot story du jour.

Is there anything I can say about what’s now being called “Predatorgate” and Mark Foley’s resignation that hasn’t already been said by now? Probably not, but why should that stop me? As I see it, there are two frames here: personal and political.

Honestly, when I heard the news about Foley, I wasn’t surprised. I’d heard rumors about Foley since I moved to D.C. back in ’94 to work at HRC, and I filed it away with other stories about members of Congress like Randy Cunningham and David Dreier. This was around the time that the Defense of Marriage Act was gaining support in Congress, and on the heels of its passage Jim Kolbe (R, AZ-08) came out after voting for it. The only other openly gay Republican in Congress at the time was Steve Gunderson, and he voted against it. (Cunninghan, Dreier and Foley, by the way, voted for it.) Gunderson retired the same year that DOMA passed, and Kolbe is retiring this year. So with Foley resigning amid scandal, that leaves no openly gay Republicans in Congress.

Of course, that shouldn’t come as any surprise in a party that’s been run for the last couple of decades by people who despise gay people. And, without excusing Foleys’ behavior, it’s no wonder that we see something like this from man who may have repressed his orientation in service to his party and his political career. I’m reminded of a quote I coveted earlier, ““This black-church-sanctioned homophobia produces a lot of twisted black people.”

In this case I’d pare it down to this: Homophobia produces a lot of twisted people. Or I’d borrow this spin on the story from Michael Rogers (who’s been following the Foley story for years) .

Rogers said Foley’s problems come from being in the closet.

”I do believe that he had unhealthy sexual advances to these guys because he was living his life as a closeted gay man,” Rogers said. “Healthy gay men who are mature and dealing with their sexuality in a mature way don’t hit on kids who are 16 years old. What’s his signature issue? You don’t know whether to laugh or cry.”

But then, a bit further down in the story, Andy Tobias reveals just how twisted things had gotten beneath the surface.

Finance writer Andrew Tobias of Miami, who is gay and treasurer of the Democratic National Committee said:

“As somebody who has met Mark Foley personally and has mutual friends, I am sad for Mark and I hope he doesn’t go to jail. The last time I saw Mark, he was 19 years into a relationship. That was sad that it had to be hidden.

“I hope the Republican Party continues to evolve so it’s not so difficult to be an openly gay Republican.

Continues to evolve? If anything, the Foley debacles proves that it’s not only still difficult to be a gay Republican, but that also that it hasn’t gotten any better and may very well be unhealthy. Repression usually is. It’s like trying to dam up a river. Stop it in one place, and it just finds another course; usually a destructive one. Even if the dam holds for a long time, sooner or later it gives way, once again with destructive consequences.

The most recent news on Foley is that he’s checked into alcohol rehab. Again, the stress of having to remain closeted can lead to problems like addiction in the long run. It would be a convenient way to anesthetize feelings that he couldn’t acknowledge publicly, for the sake of his career. From my own experience in recovery circles, I remember hearing “When you bury your feelings, you bury them alive, and sooner or later they dig their way out.” Usually, it’s not pretty. I’d remind you of guys like Ed Shrock and Jim West, but Clif Schecter has already wrapped that up nicely.

As for Foley’s 19 year relationship, he may well have been in one, but almost no one would know because in the Republican party as it exists today a same-sex relationship would have to be treated like a state secret by any politician who wants to continue to have a career. If the relationship exists, it may very well have ended because of those circumstances. I can only imagine that the strain of having to be completely invisible would put enough of a strain on any relationship cause it to fall apart, especially if there were any additional challenges to deal with. I can’t put it any better than Dave Nalle did.

It’s easy to say Foley is a liar and a creep and we’re better off with him out of Congress, but that misses the big picture. Foley is just the tip of the iceberg. By all accounts, the GOP is loaded with closeted homosexuals, an invaluable ‘gay mafia,’ which has made great contributions to the success the party has enjoyed in recent years. The problem is that being in the closet makes you vulnerable, and forces you underground into an environment where repression makes excess attractive and exposure can turn pecadillos into a career-ending scandal. Unable to seek normal, public social outlets for their sexuality, these repressed individuals look for satisfaction in the office or with those they can control and manipulate. The fact they are living secret lives makes them more likely to express their homosexuality in the most immoral and exploitative ways.

And, to take the matter beyond the Republican party, the same could be said to apply to a politician like Jim McGreevey. When the practices of politics, or the the application of religion for that matter, prohibits people from living lives that are authentic and whole, it leaves them broken. Sooner or later the broken places show, and inevitably the sharp edges (which all broken places have) end up hurting someone.

That’s the personal. As far as the political, there are a couple of ways I’d frame this. Todd over at The Blue State summed up what I consider the first part of the frame.

If we framed the midterm elections to voters as open government honesty (Democrats) vs closed government secrets (Republicans) then we will be in a better position to resonate with swing voters in November.

This Mark Foley story could not fit any more perfectly into this argument. Here we have a Republican leadership that knew about these perverted e-mails a full year before they were leaked to the press. They kept the e-mails secret because they knew it would hurt their party. This perfectly underscores the closed government mentality that the Democrats ought to contrast themselves with.

I know I risk complicating this with more layers than may be advisable for the purpose of framing this politically, but there’s also a possibility to cast this this as an issue with abuse of power. It’s pretty straightforward, actually. Foley belongs to a party that wouldn’t let him be an openly gay congressman and live a life of honesty and integrity. So, lacking that possibility, he chose (and obviously there were other choices open to him, however painful they might have seemed then as compared to now) to seek expression in an arena where he (a) had some power and (b) was likely to be protected by the political interests of his colleagues and (c) the vulnerability of those he targeted.

Given that there’s pretty much always a imbalance of power between a kid and an adult in our culture, just the fact that Foley was a 54 year old man soliciting a 16 year old is bad enough. But the fact that he was doing this as a congressman with pages who worked in Congressional offices just ratchets the issue up even more. (Especially when you consider that a page’s work for a member of congress may be a step towards a political career of their own.)

That the Republican leadership in the House knew about Foley’s behavior for over a year (Think Progress has the timeline), and did nothing about it, just puts the icing on the cake.

16 Comments

  1. Oops — it’s Mark Foley, not Tom Foley (second graf). 🙂

  2. Yikes! That’s what I get for writing in the wee hours of the night. Note and corrected. Thanks.

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  4. fresh and interesting points of view. i’m glad i could read them.

  5. Wow, for someone who wasn’t sure what to say that hadn’t already been said, you can sure whip it out. I almost prefer to deal with stories like this as if they were a ballgame in progress. I’ll save my typing until the final score is announced and then say what I think. Actually, what I’m REALLY waiting on is some comment or interview with the parents of the kid. I’d like to hear WHY they never felt compelled to pursue this.

    And isn’t Foley 52 instead of 54? Not that THAT makes a helluva lot of difference in this situation. Although 2 years would have made a huge difference with the page involved.

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  7. Counterpunch had an essay over the weekend on the subject, “The Socially Conservative Male: An Analysis“.

  8. Teenagers are not children. The law says as much in almost all countries where age of consent is typically 14-16. The indidividual states as well have lower ages of consent than the federal govt uses to define a “minor” for internet/telephone contact. Even in DC, age of consent is 16.

    In fact Foley did not commit a crime, because the age of consent in the jurisdiction is 16. Federal solicitation charges depend on the laws of the jurisdiction. There’s no indication that he offered to pay for sex. Sexual harassment is also an unlikely charge because the page in question was not in his emply.

  9. Whilst understanding that part of the reason that other members of the GOP are jumping on board the scandalwagon is that they are slavering at the chance to denounce gay people as perverts and child molesters, I cannot support the idea that the reason Foley targeted teenage pages is because he was closeted.

    He *chose* to be part of a political party openly hostile to lesbians and gays. He *chose* to be closeted. He *chose* to target teenagers over whom he had some measure of power.

    He’s just as much a child abuser as a 52 year old man who targets female children. Just because the age of consent for girls is 14 or 16 doesn’t make it OK to target them either. Add into it that he’s a congressman and the targets were congressional aides.

    No excuses.

    Rehab my ass.

  10. Actually sexual harassment may be applicable here, since the law says the claimant only has to believe that the alleged harasser has supervisory control (is “a boss”), even if that person is not actually his/her supervisor. There is also responsibility if the claimant reports it up the chain and those persons do not open an official investigation… doesn’t sound like this was done…normally a written finding is produced (which would be subpoenable).

    It appears as if the law that might have been violated is the new federal one that Foley chaired through committee…the DC laws on age of consent (16) would be overriden by the new Foley federal “Adam Walsh” law for internet predators (since this internet behavior often takes place across state lines & in multiple jurisdictions – the wider federal protection would apply). The irony is if he hadn’t sent emails & IMs and just had sex the old fashioned way, he wouldn’t have any legal exposure – because then the DC age of consent laws would have applied.

  11. Very impressive piece, Terrance, especially produced so quickly.

  12. You are so naive.

  13. so glad i found your blog. i am not black but i am old and gay. i say that because it semms you are cool enought to be black and gay is like being old and gay. I love your take and i hope david drier is brought down too. There is no excuse for being closeted and gay…you just grow to hate yourself and you do stupid things.

  14. sorry about my spelling i am new to all this and did not know it would be printed

  15. being gay is all about being white young and hairless…foley just was not thinking when he acted on it……..

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