Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Foley Sex Scandal and Congressional Politics

Today's lead editorial at the Wall Street Journal provides a clear-eyed look at the congressional politics and potential policy implications of the Mark Foley sex scandal.

The WSJ editors note that not only has Nancy Pelosi been salivating over the windfall scandal opportunites (she's likely to become House Speaker should Republicans lose their majority in November), but a number of top conservative editorial and politics figures have attacked the GOP leadership's response to the instant messaging revelations. But what will the be the direction of American government with the likes of Pelosi, Charles Rangel, John Murtha, John Dingell, Henry Waxman, and Barney Frank in charge up on the Hill?

Certainly there are plenty of reasons for the right to be upset with this Congress. As these columns described Monday in "The GOP Record," the flops of the party now in control of Congress have been significant: Taxes, health care, Social Security, immigration, earmarks, Abramoff. All this is enough to bring the charge that Speaker Hastert has been an absentee landlord. But if it's enough to justify his removal--and it may well be--the time for doing so is after the election, win or lose. We are hard put to see what these conservatives think will be gained by burning down the entire coalition before the election over Mark Foley.

What is Mr. Hastert's supposed firing offense, anyway? We've seen no evidence to date that he lied or attempted a cover-up. His office responded to complaints from the parents of a former page by having the head of the page board and clerk of the House speak with Mr. Foley and order him to stop communicating with the minor.

Republicans should also have alerted the Democrat on the page board to the warning, but to force a Speaker's resignation because he didn't demand an investigation into every communication between Mr. Foley and current and former pages is politically convenient hindsight. Two newspapers also saw the same emails and declined to publish a story on them, no doubt for similar reasons of privacy and fairness.

On current course, the Hastert-must-resign conservatives are likely to wash away even the moral victory of the past week. Discounting for political calculation, prominent figures across the spectrum have repudiated and vilified Mr. Foley's behavior with minors. Melanie Sloan of the liberal Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said lax oversight of Mr. Foley had left "a potential sexual predator on the loose." This sounds like a consensus standard. But it will be a minor footnote if the get-Denny posse enables a larger Democratic victory next month.

Let's imagine, for instance, that a seat on the Supreme Court opens up next year with a Democratic House and GOP Senate majority called Lincoln Chafee. Approve another Alito? The diminished GOP Senate would be lucky if it got someone as conservative as Harriet Miers. Think Son of Souter.

Want to choke down more gall? Try this: Making Mark Foley the fulcrum of defeat will let the spendthrift GOP appropriators off the hook. Reforming the earmark caucus was never going to be easy, but it'll be nigh impossible--in or out of power--if every political writer in America is describing how Republican elites pulled down the temple in 2006 over one Congressman's moral turpitude.

It's possible cooler Republican heads have begun to notice that joining the Democrats' Foley bonfire makes no sense. On Tuesday, Mr. Boehner sent a letter to the Washington Times realigning himself with Speaker Hastert. Perhaps Republicans are regaining their political balance. We hope so. The war on terror, and Iraq, really are the largest issues in front of the American people. We need a clear reading on that in November, not on the personal ruin of Mark Foley.

Foley's resignation couldn't have come sooner, especially for the safety of the former congressional pages in his acquantaince. The man's a freak and the country has rightly denounced his behavior. Foley does not represent the face of the Republican Party, however. As I wrote here yesterday, the thrust of American policy -- especially our anti-terror agenda -- will take a turn for the worse should the Democrats come to power in January.

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