Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Foley Catheter

I don’t have much to say about the Mark Foley affair, and what I do have to say isn’t particularly novel. I believe that any adult who hits on teenagers is dangerously immature or sexually malicious and should never be placed in a position of authority over them. Also, I think that any congresspeople or capitol flacks who knew about or suspected such tendencies and tried to keep it hush-hush are utter idiots and ought to be removed from their positions. Finally, it seems to me that Republicans set themselves up for these sorts of media frenzies since they’re so fond of positioning themselves as the party of moral rectitude and Godly uprightness. It is the damage Foley did to this illusion, not his creepy acts themselves, that gives his scandal sting.

In truth, vice is one of the few bipartisan activities that our country has left. No party has the corner on upright or low-down behavior. Take Neil Goldschmidt, Jimmy Carter’s Secretary of Transportation and former Governor of Oregon—back when he was mayor of Portland, he molested his family’s babysitter for three years, starting when she was just fourteen years old. His behavior was, in all respects, far more contemptible than Foley’s has so far been revealed to be, but in this case people focused their rage and disgust squarely on the perpetrator, not his party. Why? Because power-hungry Democrats excuse the sex crimes of people who vote the way they like? Or because Republicans were decent and circumspect enough to avoid “politicizing” such vile behavior? Of course not. Any electoral consequences unleashed by the actions of Foley and his protectors are not the result of the Democrats politicizing a personal indiscretion, they are simply a side product of the Republicans longstanding decision to politicize their own supposed purity.

Allow me to be frank here. I am a Democrat. Because I’m a Democrat, I like it when Republicans lose. I want them to lose and lose and lose and keep on losing. If the voters throw Boehner or Hastert out for their alleged sins of omission, I won’t shed a tear for them. I draw the line at spreading around horseshit that isn’t true, but I don’t find anything wrong with trumpeting an opponent’s real-live sleaziness or lack of judgement. You can bet your ass that the Republicans would be doing it full-bore if the shoe was on the other foot, so I don’t see why my party should fret when there’s genuine mud there to sling. Conservatives will complain that we’re being unfair hypocrites, but they would do that anyway. They’ll bring up Studds and Clinton and whoever else they can dig up, but who cares? That stuff is ancient history as far as this election is concerned. Besides, they’re only bringing it up to reassure themselves that right-wingers are, for the six zillionth time this week, the good guys and the beleaguered victims and whatever else they think they are. It’s not like the general public pays them any mind.

But still, I need to counsel my fellow liberals against excessive jubilation and tacky scandalmongering. Sure, score a few points off the latest Republican blunder, but don’t get too cocky about it. Like I said, scandal can strike at any point on the political spectrum. Maybe this Foley mess will take the piss out of a couple of Republicans, but we shouldn’t delude ourselves about its significance. One thing that I hate about left-leaning political blogs is their tendency to get really, really, really excited and abandon all perspective every time something comes along that makes Republicans look bad. If it’s not the Fitzgerald investigation, it’s the Downing Street Memo, or it’s the Abramoff lobbying scandal, or it’s the Cindy Sheehan protest, and so on and so forth. These are important stories and they should be pursued, but I can’t help but get the feeling that many on the left are hoping for some big “gotcha” moment when the entire nation suddenly realizes that the Republicans are crappy leaders and then they march on Washington with torches and pitchforks. It ain’t gonna happen. It’s just wishful thinking from people who can’t afford that luxury anymore. Besides, enormous swaths of America have already come to the realization that Bush is a crap President and the Democrats have done precious little to capitalize on this.

There comes a time, I think, when we should stop pointing out how terrible our opponents are and focus instead on what better leaders we would make. This doesn’t mean we need to play nice while those other guys play nasty, it just means that we ought to be taking the electorate’s distaste for today’s Republicans and shape it into enthusiasm for our ideas and candidates. Too often, I think, we end up commiserating with the voters instead of wooing them. We say “Boy howdy, aren’t those Republicans awful? They’re just awful, aren’t they? They sure are awful? Oh and hey, do you want to hear another reason why these Republicans are awful?” This is easy and understandable, but counterproductive in the long-run, since it encourages cynicism and distrust of all elected officials. We need give the people an alternative. We need to make the case that the Democrats would run this country differently, would listen to and appreciate their concerns, would honor competence and sacrifice, and would work hard to better the lives of all Americans.

Because, let’s face it, “The Democrats: We Don’t Talk Dirty To Teenagers” isn’t really a winning campaign slogan.