The GOP: Slugged on the Nose

By Richard Cohen
Tuesday, October 17, 2006

"On the nose" is a Hollywood expression. It refers to an idea or a scene or even a piece of dialogue that is too obvious or too good to be true. Hollywood would have said the whole Mark Foley sex scandal is on the nose. Let's just start with the fact that this confessed gay stalker of teenage congressional pages was co-chairman of the Congressional Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus. All over Hollywood, fingers would go to the tip of the nose: Can't we make it Armed Services?

No, we cannot. To change anything at all about the Foley matter would be to trifle with its essential vacuity, its reliance on bigotry and ignorance, its resplendent Beaver Cleaver qualities (congressional pages, for crying out loud!) and, not least, the fact that so far this is the ultimate Washington sex scandal: There is no sex.

Maybe there will be sex. Maybe some underage page or former page will be discovered to have had sex with Foley, but so far this has not happened. This lack of a physical victim -- with the arguable exception of Foley and the entire Republican Party, that is -- may explain why certain GOP congressional bulls, from committee chairmen to the speaker of the House himself, did not bolt from the joint, pulling every alarm on the way out. Foley was creepy and appallingly inappropriate, but so far that seems to be it.

The lack of a victim hardly gets noticed as politicians coil their ropes, measuring Foley or some other poor chap for a proper lynching. Dennis Hastert should have known. George Bush should have known. Karl Rove should have known. (Why not? He knows everything else.) How come this did not come up on one of those unconstitutional wiretaps? Did anyone in the House leadership think of waterboarding Foley? The man was gay after all. What has happened to the Republican Party we used to loathe?

That, too, is on the nose. That this happened to the GOP is too, too much. It is no longer the party of Lincoln but the party of gay-bashing. Its base, its vaunted base, is among those who embrace ignorance of homosexuality and, while they are at it, ignorance of sexual matters in general. It is deeply blue Massachusetts, after all, that has gay marriage -- Did you notice that the late Gerry Studds's "husband" was quoted in some of his obits? -- and the state was once represented by not one but two gay members of Congress (the other being Barney Frank).

Put the finger back on the nose. It was the GOP that stood for family values. It was the GOP that cozied up to churches and preachers who likened homosexuals to the vilest people of all time and called on them to cease their wicked ways, go from homosexual to heterosexual, which everyone knows they can do but will not because, apparently, it is easier to be gay and reviled than it is to be straight and comfy about it.

With regard to this sort of haranguing demagoguery, the leaders of the GOP have not just looked away, they have encouraged it. They have set themselves up as the little Dutch boys of American politics, their fingers in the dike, holding back such unspeakable X-rated evil that it is a miracle any child in this great country can grow up to be heterosexual or devout or an accountant.

So it is not possible now to call the whole thing off, to say it was overblown and -- look, folks -- nothing happened with Foley and those kids. It is not possible even to suggest that all those kids are not 8-year-olds but American teenagers, some of them undoubtedly sexually active, probably none of them sexually naive. In all likelihood, nothing Foley messaged them was entirely new to them, and it's even possible to argue that, no matter what was said, psychological trauma is not likely to follow.

The abuse of trust is no laughing matter, and the corruption of children is in a class by itself. But a sex scandal-turned-political panic involving just one person lacks a certain something. That it has attained such critical mass, that it threatens the speaker of the House and the GOP majority, says little about the repellent Foley but a lot about how the GOP has been hoisted by its own petard. It's on the nose all right, but sometimes so is life itself.

cohenr@washpost.com


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