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Mark Foley and the New Rules

By Thomas Lifson

The Mark Foley October Surprise operation is yielding rich dividends for the Democrats. So far. As long as the battle remains one of vague impressions based on talking points, sliming the GOP with allegations of being soft on a homosexual predator of teen age boys, (properly called ephebophiles, not pedophiles), the Democrats gain.

But if sustained attention is focused on the affair, and if the right questions are asked and at least some answers appear in time, there could be competition for the political hot seat.

The Democrats are in a bit of a bind. They want a lot of attention, but they do not want sustained focus. A battle of sound-bites serves their interests, and divides the GOP. Sustained focused attention has the possibility of patching over the wounds of the GOP and dividing the Democrats.

The Hill noted in a blog yesterday that the first point in the Democrats' playbook is to conflate the non-criminal and indistinctly questionable emails--which the GOP leadership, two newspapers, and the FBI saw earlier, and all found inconclusive--with the salacious IM messages, which likely will continue to dribble out, further inflaming the GOP base.

Setting the base at each others' throats is a key part of the design of the operation. And it is working. Many social conservative groups think Hastert and GOP were negligent about this, regardless of what role Democrats or left wing blogs played in the timing of release. For them, there merest suspicion generated by the initial complaint about emails was enough.

The Washington Post reports,

David Bossie, who runs a group called Citizens United, called yesterday for Hastert's resignation and said other conservative leaders are likely to follow suit. Bossie said the initial e-mails alone, which included Foley's request of a minor's picture, should have prompted an immediate inquiry. "That was a cry for an investigation," Bossie said. "Why couldn't the speaker of the House muster the will to stop this?"

This morning, the conservative Washington Times is calling for Speaker Hastert to resign,

Red flags emerged in late 2005, perhaps even earlier, in suggestive and wholly inappropriate e-mail messages to underage congressional pages. His aberrant, predatory--and possibly criminal--behavior was an open secret among the pages who were his prey. The evidence was strong enough long enough ago that the speaker should have relieved Mr. Foley of his committee responsibilities contingent on a full investigation to learn what had taken place, whether any laws had been violated and what action, up to and including prosecution, were warranted by the facts. This never happened.

With the benefit of hindsight, based on the salacious IM messages which only came to light late last week, we all wish that action had been taken earlier. But three separate groups, politicians, newspapers, and the FBI received the emails from Soros-funded left wing activist group C.R.E.W. in July and found them not actionable.

An FBI official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, said the field office concluded that the e-mails "did not rise to the level of criminal activity." The bureau announced Sunday that it would begin a preliminary investigation into Foley's more explicit electronic exchanges with teenagers.

What is the specific evidence the Times thinks should have led Hastert to punish Foley with loss of his committee responsibilities? They cite nothing but "emails." We need specifics. What exactly should be the standard for a red flag? It is helpful in setting such standards to imagine they might be applied to oneself some day.

So precisely what are the standards that Congress should implement for dealing with future complaints about the behavior of members? It does not matter if a page (or anyone else) is harrassed or abused by a Republican or a Democrat. The harm is exactly the same.

Double standards, one for the GOP and another for the Democrats, are a betrayal of those who need protection. That point should be hammered home by the Speaker and anyone else who really cares about the children.

If one really focuses on the question of how Congress should act from now on to prevent such instances, the questions are difficult.

The new rules?

If someone complains that an email or other communication is overly familiar, should a formal inquiry begin?

Politicians are in the business of winning votes and other support. They often assume a demeanor of familiarity. If every allegation of perceived over-familiarity is to be investigated, Congress could end up doing nothing else.

Should people be called in to talk about gossip they have heard about the Representative or Senator in question? There tends to be a lot of "open secrets" talk on Capitol Hill, otherwise known as gossip. This is another form of inquiry that could become a full time job for one or more committees of inquiry.

Should perceived over-familiarity with minors be a special case?

Probably so. But legends abound of youngsters inspired by the special attention paid to them by mentor-like politicians. Bill Clinton's famous teen-age encounter with JFK apparently consisted of nothing more than a firm handshake and perhaps a gaze into the eyes.

But what if JFK had dropped a note to the young Arkansan, noting his enthusiasm, charisma and intelligence? That seems to resemble the email related to Katrina that was a source of the first complaint that some call a red flag.

In the era of email, it is all too simple to dash off supportive words to a constituent or anyone else. Should support for youngster's dreams and ambitions have been off limits? Should JFK have been warned against a too-familiar gaze into the eyes of the adoring youngsters gathered on the White House lawn?

The New York Times yesterday seemed to be backing off from sharp criticism of Foley, calling him "warm" among other things. The homosexual community and many others, too, are undoubtedly becoming alarmed at the prospect of a public demand to lower the threshold of public scrutiny of relationships on Capitol Hill (and elsewhere).

Should the Congressional Page program be terminated?

It has certainly been a continuing source of problems. I would think scheduling a hearing on the subject might be a wise move. There may well be other complaints waiting in the wings, and nobody knows which party's members might be represented among those who have crossed the Foley Line, and engaged in some sort of communication that made somebody feel it was overly familiar or somewhat creepy?

A dramatic move by Hastert to place such hearings on the agenda would signal the GOP base that something was being done to prevent future occurrences. It might also activate libertine elements of the Democrat base to demand a more tempered response.

Thomas Lifson is the editor and publisher of American Thinker.

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