Mark Foley is Just a Symptom, for the Disease, You Must Look at the Whole Mess Generally
When I look back on the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal, several thoughts come to mind:
I was disappointed in Bill for giving the scandal machine true grist for the mill.
I was sad that impeachment was sought and obtained.
I was upset that his legacy of economic prosperity and international diplomacy and peace would be tainted by the lowest kind of failing.
The scandal rippled out: thousands and thousands of voters chose an idiot over a wonk, in large part because the wonk was tied to the adulterer (translation: people “elected” Bush over Gore because they were mad at Clinton and saw Gore as connected to Clinton). Gore chose Leiberman as his running mate to distance himself from Clinton’s moral failing. Lieberman, a prominent, pro-impeachment critic of Clinton, was a great way for Gore to establish himself as a morally-sound man. Or at least challenge efforts to find him guilty by association.
And the Republicans, ever the opportunists (as are Democrats, yes, it’s true) rode to “victory” on a platform of morality.
Grand assumptions were made.
First, that if we made a return to their values, to Christian values, if we placed the Ten Commandments in parks and courthouses, if we allowed prayer in schools, then moral lapses like the one Clinton experienced would not happen. We’d all be morally sound and squeaky clean.
Second, however unstated or understated it was, that Republicans, or, more appropriately conservatives, were morally superior to Democrats/progressives/liberals.
And the social agenda took center stage. They decried homosexuality as a sin. They talked about prayer in schools and the Ten Commandments. Abortion/Plan B/Terry Schiavo and the sanctity of life were all trumpeted. All with the unspoken implication that conservatives value morality and “godliness” more than liberals/progressives/Democrats do.
In fact, the Red State/Blue State divide was buoyed by an undercurrent of Religion. Bush “won” a second term in large part because he cheated in Ohio, but also because, we were told, morality voters were fed up with the state of things in America.
During his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic Convention, Barack Obama spoke eloquently about how we, those of us who live in Blue States, worship a mighty God too. And he was/is right. But evangelical churches turned more and more political. They showed DVDs prepared by candidates and PACs to support whatever cause you can imagine – amending constitutions, Middle East policy, tax policy, etc. Churches, especially mega-churches, endorsed candidates – conservative candidates. They developed a massive get out the vote effort, all with the goal of electing Republicans. By electing Republicans, they hoped to fuel a return to a more moral America.
My mother-in-law, who often makes astute observations about the world, made a point months and months ago that really struck a chord with me. She said (I’m paraphrasing) “that America is no worse than it used to be. It was as dangerous to let a kid play in a park in the 1950’s as it is today, we just know about things more than we used to.” And she’s right. It’s the digital age. Words once spoken are now sent by Instant Message where they can be printed and saved. Scandals that were swept under the rug, now play out, day by day, on the internet. The incidents of pathology probably haven’t increased. There are, proportionately, the same number of pedophiles and rapists and kidnappers and (most despicably, and I come near tears just thinking about it) people who would seek to murder children in Amish schoolhouses in Pennsylvania. We just know about it more than we used to.
And my point of this very long post which shows no sign of tapering is this: if we know anything from the Mark Foley scandal it is this:
No party can truly claim the moral high ground.
We, as humans, often lack the strength of our convictions.
Most politicians (regardless of party) value power over virtue.
Our systems encourages this approach.
Pride goeth before the fall (and our conservative friends were very proud, very proud indeed)
I would ask for the following:
Anyone who knew of this, however playful they perceived it to be, should resign immediately.
Republicans, should be seen for what they really are: an imperfect party filled with imperfect people – a party that manipulates the religious right for political gain.
Republicans are no better able to lead our return to morality than anyone else. Consider the evidence:
Karl Rove (more great Rove stuff here and here)
George W. Bush
I say again, George W. Bush
And it’s not just individuals. Companies with ties to the Bush Administration like Enron (a number of impressive articles are linked here) and Halliburton suggest a conservative system of values that isn’t exactly Christ-like.
And look, my goal is not to criticize people for mistakes they’ve made or addictions they’ve had. My goal is not to poke fun at tragedy. My goal is to point out that if we treated all these folks the way Clinton was treated, or if we denied to conservatives the ability to speak on matters of principle and morality because one person fell down, well then I’m sure we’d have a different executive branch than we do today. We’d have different political priorities. We’d have less ham-handedness and pride.
Does conservative “leadership” call to mind a return to morality to you? Do recent efforts to minimize scandal suggest the high road? The lies behind the war against Iraq. The revenge sought against Valerie Plame. The greed, the drugs, the fraud, the lies, the nationalism – does any of it seem moral? At what point to we call these conservatives on the carpet for their hubris?
And let me answer my own rhetorical question. We call them on the carpet at the point when the average citizen finally puts it all together. Our leaders are incompetent. They seek an authoritarian form. They lie. They cover up. They are indifferent to the death and suffering which is a direct result of their incompetence and dishonesty. They are, in their own eyes, flawless. They don’t respect you. They don’t respect me. They don’t respect life. They only respect power.
For where you have…selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.