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Page Turner

By Russ Smith | Posted 10/11/2006

It's been a grand couple of weeks for the Democratic Party and the liberal media, who desperately hope the revelations of former Rep. Mark Foley's sexual appetite for adolescent boys will finally end Republican control of Congress in next month's midterm elections. The sanctimony coming from Capitol Hill (Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi) and Beltway-based pundits (The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne Jr.) is predictably irritating, although it's not quite as pathetic as GOPers who are ready to chuck under the bus nearly anyone who's ever shaken the disgraced Florida congressman's hand.

What's more, when the conservative Washington Times (Oct. 3) is in agreement with the Los Angeles Times (Oct. 6) that House Speaker Dennis Hastert should resign because Foley's extracurricular activities weren't discovered sooner, it's an indication of pre-election madness. There are any number of reasons I believe the GOP ought to replace Hastert as its House leader after the elections, but his alleged "cover-up" of the Foley scandal isn't one of them. It's understandable that a paper like the L.A. Times would call for Hastert's resignation; that would probably guarantee a Democratic takeover. What the editors at the D.C. daily were thinking is beyond me.

Like the vast majority of Americans, I find Foley's behavior repugnant, certainly on the same order as one-time Rep. Gerry Studds, a Democrat who was censured by colleagues in 1983 for having sex with a 17-year-old male page. True, that Foley was co-chairman of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children is ironic. On the other hand, Foley resigned immediately, unlike Studds, who was re-elected five times to his seat from Massachusetts. But one would think even the most broad-minded liberals would agree with me that his behavior was just as abhorrent as that of Foley's.

In fact, although Foley's now-famous instant messages to the page were lurid, there's no evidence he actually had a physical relationship with the young man in question. On Oct. 8, the L.A. Times' Walter F. Roche Jr. reported that Foley did have a "sexual encounter" with an anonymous former page, although this person was 21 at the time.

Dionne was really on his high horse Oct. 7 in claiming that "we" must have "a long talk about the meaning of `family values.'" I happen to agree with Dionne that "same-sex marriage is not the greatest threat to the heterosexual family," but his contention that Republican elected officials are alone in trying to ignore the repellent indiscretions of colleagues is wrong. He writes: "I am a married father of three, and that's more important to me than the fact that I am a liberal. Our kids matter infinitely more to my wife and me than the results of an election, even an election we both care a lot about." That's sensible, but Dionne's argument would've had a lot more weight if he also said that Studds should've resigned back in '83.

Conservative pundits such as George Will and John Podhoretz have, nearly a month before the midterms, predicted huge gains for the Democrats, mostly because sexual misconduct is easier for voters to understand than, say, the corruption of indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, whose greasy tentacles poisoned far more Republicans than Democrats. Podhoretz, in his Oct. 6 New York Post column, wrote: "The way for Democrats to win isn't to get Democrats hyped up. Democrats need to dampen Republican enthusiasm to keep GOP voters from journeying to the polls on Election Day. [The Foley scandal] has done it."

Will, a day before in The Washington Post, suggests that the cultural right will abstain from voting because "the problem with [the GOP] claiming to have cornered the market on virtue is that people will get snippy when they spot vice in your ranks."

Maybe so, but it's just as likely that by Nov. 7 the Foley flap will be almost forgotten and other issues, like lower gas prices, the North Korean nuclear test detonations, and a 4.6 percent unemployment rate, will take precedence over the actions of a single congressman who until two weeks ago was almost unheard of.

In addition, there's no way to know what other current events that could affect voter turnout will crop up in the next four weeks. For example, Newmarket Films is set to release Death of a President--the fictional depiction of President Bush's assassination, which debuted at the Toronto Film Festival last month--at several hundred theaters on Oct. 27. Although some of the nation's largest theater chains, such as Cinemark USA and Regal Entertainment Group, won't book the controversial film, even if it's confined to art houses the inevitable publicity won't sit well with most Republicans.

Furthermore, the idea that conservative voters will boycott the elections to teach Republicans a lesson doesn't make any sense. There are countless objections to the GOP-controlled Congress and Bush administration raised by Republicans of all persuasions--religious, libertarian, economic, etc.--but the prospect of Pelosi and Sen. Harry Reid running Congress and having the votes to block Bush's judicial nominees, tax policy, and steadfast defense of Israel almost guarantees a large turnout. The outcome, just as in 2004, when Bush's approval ratings weren't much higher than today, depends on which party gets more voters to the polls.

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