The saying that "history turns on little hinges" is a recognition that petty and personal issues often produce earth-shaking events. And there is no smaller hinge than Mark Foley's creepy e-mails.
The uproar over the former GOP congressman's lecherous behavior toward male pages is turning Washington inside out and upside down. The town that usually sees no evil has suddenly found it under every rock. The frenzy is rich with ironic comeuppance, as Democrats engage in a gay witch hunt and Republicans demand criminal probes of themselves. It's almost enough to make you forget Iraq.
And there is the problem. The temptation is to be distracted by, and even enjoy, the unusual spectacle of members of Congress actually worrying about what ordinary Americans think of them.
Yet good sense compels the conclusion that we are verging on too much of a good thing. It's not just that, once again, our obsession with sex makes us a laughingstock to the world. It's about whether we really want Foley's behavior to be the deciding factor in who wins the midterm elections, and thus controls Congress. And controls tax policy and judgeships and the war on terror and ... you name it.
I sure don't, and it's not because I believe Republicans have done such a swell job of running everything. With control of the White House and Congress, the GOP has made a mess and deserves a good beat-down. Having Democrats responsible for something other than second-guessing could help put the checks back in checks and balances. Mixed government proved its virtues in the mid-'90s, after Republicans swept the '94 congressional elections and forced Bill Clinton to be a more centrist President.
So I'm all for throwing the bums out. I just don't want to do it because Foley had a sick thing for young boys and nobody in power blew the whistle. I felt the same way about Clinton and Monica. Impeachment wasn't the answer. Censure and ridicule were.
A level-headed approach is critical now. We're at war with an enemy that wants to wipe us off the map unless we're willing to convert to Islam and feed Israel to the wolves. That addiction to oil President Bush cited - we haven't taken the first step in kicking it.
Our port security is a joke. We are increasingly vulnerable to Third World diseases and biological and chemical attacks. We have a huge illegal immigration problem. Our budget deficits are funded by foreign governments. We're losing too many good jobs to other countries.
Too many of our children are not getting a good education. Our irrational health care system is cruelly stingy in some ways and drunken-sailor generous in others.
Oh, and Iraq is going to hell before our eyes. The elected government we helped establish as a beacon for democracy is on the brink of collapsing. Three months ago, there was a recognition that security had to improve by the end of the year.
But things are getting worse, and no less than Republican Sen. John Warner, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, warned last week that time was running out.
"In two or three months, if this thing hasn't come to fruition and if this level of violence is not under control and this government able to function, I think it's the responsibility of our government, internally, to determine: Is there a change of course that we should take?" Warner said.
Warner's point is on target. The only question is how we should change course. That is a proper subject for an election, and a worthy hinge for history.