In a curious way, the former Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) scandal will be to the Republican congressional leadership what the Monica Lewinsky imbroglio was to the Clinton presidency.
After all the boring scandals Whitewater, Hillary's investments, Paula Jones, Travelgate, the FBI files, the Rose Law Firm's billing records the Lewinsky scandal seared into everyone's consciousness. Those who failed to read the many volumes of Whitewater documents published by The Wall Street Journal or who despaired of following the paper trail that led to the Travel Office firings could easily grasp the simple facts of Clinton's dalliance with Monica. Nothing complicated. Nothing subtle. Easy to understand. And so the Clintonian penchant for scandal became universally known and has been an enduring part of his legacy.
Now, after the lobbyist travel scandal and the Abramoff favors for legislators and the growth of earmarking and the financial scandals that have faced Reps. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.), Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and a host of others, there is finally a simple sex scandal for everyone to focus upon. Nothing complicated about this one either.
It is not that the voters believe that all congressmen are child molesters, nor is it the details of what Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) knew, and when he knew it, that makes this scandal so important. Its centrality stems from the sheer arrogance and hypocrisy it demonstrates both on the part of Foley himself and his colleagues who hushed up the affair until it burst onto the public stage.
One more pious member of the Moral Majority, one more legislator who makes a career out of fighting for "values" and crusading to protect children turns out to be a hypocrite and an abuser himself!
One more congressman, a sponsor of legislation to help children, a member of the caucus on abused and exploited children, has abused and exploited them himself. The gap between what Foley professes and what Foley did is so huge that you can sink the entire Republican majority in both houses into the gap.
And once again, the arrogant leaders of the Congress circled the wagons and looked the other way to avoid investigating or even recognizing the child abuser in their midst.
The details don't matter much. Who really cares if Hastert only knew that Foley had asked a kid for his photograph or if he knew more about the e-mails that were flying around. And who cares if the Democrats had their own part in the scandal by taking no action and protecting a colleague until right before the election?
None of that really matters.
What is important is that all of the venality and hypocrisy, so evident when congressmen hire their wives or freeload on trips paid for by lobbyists or cram the budget with unjustified earmarks or encourage their sons and daughters to become highly paid lobbyists cashing in on their special access all of those misdeeds, have suddenly acquired a poster boy: Rep. Foley!
Rep.Tom Delay's (R-Texas) misdeeds are far too boring, in the same way that Whitewater was boring. The paper trail is hard to follow and the accusations murky.
But there is nothing murky about what Foley did and the voters will find the story interesting and easy to follow. Despite this, however, it is not Foley who is sinking his party. Its own misdeeds have already sunk it.
Bill and Monica. Foley and the pages. What we are watching now is the vindication of Karl Marx' comment that history repeats itself the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.