Sunday, October 08, 2006 11:37:26 AM
Same Song, Different Scandal
Boston Globe, Oct 08, 2006
Sunday, October 08, 2006 11:37:26 AM
was chairman of a House caucus on missing and exploited
children. This was a party that literally put a pedophile in
charge of pedophilia.
by Robert Kuttner
Throughout the Bush era, voters have not always connected the
dots. The Foley scandal now enveloping the House Republican
leadership offers a belated opportunity for voters to make some
connections. Yes, the scandal is about the disgrace of a
congressman sending disgusting messages to teenage pages, and
the failure of leaders to act on escalating warnings. But it is
so much more.
Mark Foley was chairman of a House caucus on missing and
exploited children. This was a party that literally put a
pedophile in charge of pedophilia.
Does that have a vaguely familiar ring? It should. It’s the same
party that put the oil companies in charge of energy policy, and
invited the drug and insurance industries to write the Medicare
prescription bill for their own maximum profit. As
investigations have revealed, it put lobbyists for polluting
industries in charge of environmental protection. So there is a
consistent theme here of the fox guarding the chicken coop.
And more. If the account of House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert
ignoring bad news about Foley also sounds familiar, it should,
too. It is of a piece with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
burying intelligence accounts that did not square with the
Saddam Hussein-Al Qaeda story he was peddling, and the White
House blowing off intelligence warnings about an impending Al
Qaeda operation in summer 2001. As Bob Woodward recently
revealed, these warnings went as high as CIA Director George
Tenet paying an urgent call on then White House National
Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice warning of an imminent attack,
only to be rebuffed.
It’s not surprising that Hastert did not lead. He was handpicked
by then majority leader Tom DeLay to be a reassuring and largely
powerless figurehead speaker. When DeLay fell, the cardboard
Hastert was not up to the job.
This pattern should also ring a bell. It was Dick Cheney,
selected in 2000 by party leaders to find a running mate for
novice candidate George W. Bush, who conducted a national search
and then selected himself. Cheney, like DeLay, has been the
power behind the throne. And when the time comes for hard
decisions, Bush, like Hastert, is AWOL.
In the Foley case, the Republicans are especially vulnerable,
because they have made a fetish of traditional values — one of
which is hiding homosexuality in the closet and bashing it
publicly while protecting closeted Republican gays. But their
base of social conservatives, who excuse wrongheaded policies on
national security and on the economy, will not give a pass to
the Foley lapse.
The Cheney-Bush-Karl Rove governing coalition has always been an
uneasy alliance between Wall Street elites, who benefit from the
financial foxes lusting after the economic chickens, and social
conservatives who have a genuine concern for families and
traditional morality. There are just not enough votes of
multimillionaires and K-Street lobbyists to keep the coalition
in power, so the party depends heavily on its social base.
Social conservatives do not take kindly to child molesters, or
their enablers. Republican candidates will suffer from a genuine
wave of public revulsion, not just at what Foley did, but at how
the leadership protected him. As always, the coverup is
politically more damaging than the original event.
As various House Republicans point fingers and try to protect
their behinds, this scandal will messily dominate the news
between now and Election Day. Bit by agonizing bit, the facts of
who knew what when, and did nothing, will agonizingly dribble
out over the next several weeks.
If history is any guide, Hastert will resign. Others have
resigned over less damaging lapses. Democratic Speaker Jim
Wright was hounded from office in 1989 for having invited
lobbyists to purchase copies of a memoir he had published.
(Wright’s nemesis, Newt Gingrich, was later forced out for
abusing a tax-exempt political front group.) But investigations
will continue, and even a Hastert resignation will not stem the
The Greeks had a piece of wisdom that applies: Character is
Fate. The Foley affair, and all it reveals, was an accident
waiting to happen. It was a logical product of the cynicism,
opportunism, and hypocrisy that pervade the Bush era.
There is an old saw in American politics that when your opponent
is destroying himself, just get out of the way. Like much
conventional wisdom, it is mostly wrong. This scandal, of its
own accord, will certainly damage Republican congressional
candidates. But if the Democrats are shrewd, they will help
voters connect these dots.
Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect and a
senior fellow at Demos. His column appears regularly in the
Copyright 2006 Boston Globe
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