March 28, 2020


As deplorable as former Rep. Mark Foley’s advances at pages are, if Congress uses the salacious details of this episode to hide its own sorry oversight record, in this and other recent situations, those teen pages would be misused again. Nothing hides other faults like possible sexual impropriety of an elected official.

The FBI is now looking into the alleged actions of Rep. Foley, a Republican from Florida, including a report that explicit electronic messages were sent to former pages in 2003 and that he sent milder versions in 2005, when he was quietly told by leadership to stop it. He should be thoroughly investigated and charged accordingly, and who would be surprised by the release of more e-mail messages with the congressman propositioning more pages?

But the fact that leadership may have known about this behavior and did little or nothing about it fits a different pattern of abuse. It is the abuse of congressional oversight, and just as leadership may have looked the other way in this case, it looked the other way when measures to restrict lobbyists were quietly killed and the next Jack Abramoffs got a free pass.

It looked the other way when federal agencies such as the Department of Interior showed signs of favoritism and bias, events so prevalent they caused the agency’s inspector general to conclude that, “short of a crime, anything goes at the highest levels” of the department. It looked the other way when it was Congress’ responsibility to oversee the White House program on detainee treatment and it codified a system that leaves these detainees with no means for challenging indefinite imprisonment.

Is it mere irony that a Congress infinitely connected to the larger world and perfectly sensitive to home-state reactions is at the same time ever more insular and convinced that the public cannot see into the cloister of the Capitol? Its approval rating is a pathetic 25 percent – President Bush is soaringly popular by comparison – but that’s not the reason for members to speak up and end the years of timid negligence.

Detainees have been abused and Congress failed to act; government ethics were abused and Congress failed again. Now it is children, and Congress is worried. Wonderful, but the die was cast years ago.

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