Republicans should have stopped Foley's behavior
THE disgraceful conduct of former Rep. Mark Foley of Florida and the attendant "who knew what when" questions involving congressional leadership are dominating television news. Professional spin machines of both political parties are in full swing and most TV talking heads are digging in their heels defending their side. Political power hangs in the balance as the midterm elections approach.
If there is a silver lining in this scandal cloud it is the universal outrage regarding the abhorrent behavior of a 52-year-old man hitting on a 16-year-old. It wasn't always so in Hawaii. Less than a decade ago many powerful voices in Hawaii were vigorously defending the right of adults to have "consensual" sex with 14-year-olds. Thankfully, the editorial board of the Star-Bulletin was among the voices of sanity urging Hawaii to join the rest of the nation and raise the age of consent to 16, the age of the page who was subject to Foley's predatory conduct.
Foley has resigned and the questions have turned to the responsibility of congressional leaders. There is much we don't yet know, but there are many things that appear beyond dispute.
While House Speaker Dennis Hastert was unaware of the most explicit instant messages, he knew some time ago about e-mail messages that have been described by those in leadership as "overly friendly" and "naughty." What an infuriating minimization of communications in which Foley asks a teenage boy for a picture and makes comments about the hot body of another male page.
Anyone can see the predatory nature of this communication. The page's parents certainly did. And the leadership apparently dispatched another congressman to tell Foley to knock it off.
What about having to warn a middle-age man to stay away from the pages doesn't shriek of trouble? In what universe is additional inquiry not the proper course for those in charge of the security of teenagers? Surely additional questions should have been asked.
It has been reported that the leader of the board overseeing the page program warned pages to stay away from Foley. Why? What was the concern if not what became the eventual revelation?
Minors living in Washington away from their parents had to be told to stay away from a particular congressman, putting the burden on them to provide for their own safety. Just think about how crazy that is.
Former pages are now testifying to the "open secret" nature of Foley's inappropriate interest in the pages. What? Teenage pages are not safe in the halls of Congress, which is supposed to be acting in the stead of their parents. How can this be? Surely some in Congress also must have known.
I don't think Hastert knew the extent of the problem and chose to cover it up for political gain. There doesn't appear to be evidence of that.
However, I don't understand how one can argue that he exercised appropriate oversight and leadership in this matter, and I believe he should take responsibility for his inadequate response.
Another disheartening development is that there appear to be family advocates defending the inadequate action of the congressional leaders. It is my opinion that would be different if the Democrats were in control of Congress. This apparent double standard saddens me.
Finally, I am disturbed by the oft-heard sentiment, "Well, the Democrats are worse." Perhaps they are, but that's beside the point. Pundits cite the 1983 travesty of the Rep. Gerry Studds, a Democrat, who had sex with a 17-year-old boy. He later was rewarded with a committee chairmanship and rounds of applause on the House floor.
That behavior on the part of Democrats also is disgraceful. And if there are Democrats who cheered Studds and are now expressing outrage at the GOP leadership, that's rank hypocrisy. It's fair to point it out, but not as justification for current Republican failures.
GOP supporters who are outraged at the previous Democratic conduct also are being hypocritical when they refuse to hold their own leadership to a higher standard in this case. My mother taught me that two wrongs don't make a right.
We need to get to the bottom of this. Teenagers need to be safe in the halls of Congress. The problem is not with the page program, it's with the adults in charge of the welfare of the pages.
Adults elected to serve the public in the Congress of the United States -- in both political parties -- should always prioritize the safety of the minors in their charge and act vigorously to protect them. And child and family advocates must always hold politicians -- in both political parties -- to a consistently high standard of care and conduct.
Kelly M. Rosati is executive director of Hawaii Family Forum.