It was a story, like most Washington stories, about power. Involved were four individuals, two of whom were quite powerful and two of whom were essentially powerless. In other places and other times, they might have been the wealthy mill-owner and the comely domestic servant or the ship's captain and the cabin boy. For the weak to reject the advances of the strong has often meant peril for the weak.
No relationship between any member of Congress and any congressional page is remotely equal. The member is the finger-snapping master and the page is the nimble-footed servant ready to run promptly all errands assigned. The congressional page can be compared with the baseball team's batboy, who views the grown-up players with both awe and fear.
Long after college and the Marine Corps and seeing everything, including the Dallas Fair, twice, I went to work as a legislative aide for a U.S. senator. I was 28 when Hubert Humphrey spoke to me by name. Was I excited? I was only so thrilled that I called home to tell my dad, long distance on my nickel. If Hubert Humphrey had asked me that day, I would have gladly done the Humphreys' lawn for two years. Now, imagine for a moment the reaction of a high school sophomore or junior when a member of Congress not only calls the youngster by name but invites the youngster to his very own home for drinks and dinner. "I was flattered and excited," said one teen-age page in the report of the House ethics committee.
Liberals, including yours truly, have long been noisy about the illegitimate distribution of power in our society. We are angry when the powerful are exempt from accountability for their mistreatment of the less powerful or the powerless. The women's movement has succeeded in making most of us more aware of the implicit coercion and exploitation in the leering (male) office manager inviting the probationary trainee (female) on an overnight business trip. There are laws on the books and cases in the courts to confirm society's awareness of that "power" relationship. Why does the exploitation of the young, the powerless and the vulnerable--when done by their powerful congressional bosses --not arouse identical indignation on the part of all liberals? Could it be because such indignation might be interpreted as being non-supportive of homosexual rights? Homosexuality is not the issue in the present case any more than is heterosexuality. Joseph Califano, the special counsel to the House committee, understood that when he wrote: "The public sends the pages here to be treated as children are treated."
For the House, the entire episode was excruciating. The membership and leadership are to be commended for the thoroughness of the investigation and the straightforward manner in which the results were handled. Because this was, at the root, both a disgrace upon the body and the exploitation of the powerless by the powerful, censure was the minimum correct remedy.