What may be most revolting about ex-Rep. Mark Foley is what shows through his debasing IM sex talk with teenage boys: the congressman's absolute lack of what was once known as restraint, inhibition, a sense of social taboo. In this same absence of restraint is the absence of a moral compass guided by maturity. On a different level (one removed from sexual malfeasance), there's something somewhat unseemly about the media's unblushing -- dare I say shameless? -- reportage. They may claim a fig leaf by acting in the "public interest," but that doesn't completely cover up a practically carnal zeal for smutty details. And let's not even think about the IM-leaker's as-yet secret ecstasy. Restraint, inhibition and social taboo have become dirty words in the decades since the 1960s, but the culture that lets it all hang out, it seems, doesn't have much inside.
I say this as the rapid-response conventional wisdom insists the Foley fiasco will discourage GOP voter turnout in November, particularly among all-important, so-called "values voters," thereby vaulting Democratic majorities into Congress. If so, this is a 21st-century twist on Bread and Circuses any Roman emperor would applaud. In the ancient tradition of distracting Ye Olde Populi from events of national import, sex-scandal-focused GOP voters are expected to stay home because of Mark Foley's appalling lack of traditional values, helping to elect Democrats who are more likely to eschew such values in the first place. And the war goes on -- or not, with Democrats in charge.
All of which is to say that Foley's transgressions (first, overlooked by the House GOP leadership, and later, set to explode at election-time by persons unknown) are unlikely to resonate culturally even as they have become political dynamite. That's partly because the GOP in smithereens is never a victory for "values." It's also because Foley is less a creation of his "traditional values" GOP than he is a creature (cretin) of his time -- our sex-drenched time. It's also because society's ire is directed not at his (homo)sexuality, but at his exploitation of youth and power. Such context doesn't excuse Foley's monstrous behavior, but it helps explain why his fall, why the Republicans' possible fall, won't usher in an era of cultural restoration.
Meanwhile, cultural restoration isn't what this election is about. It can't be.
Culture wars, such as they are, necessarily become secondary political issues in times of war. And these are certainly times of war, even if leaders on both sides prefer to mask them in less momentous terms, as when they exhort us not to triumph over Islamic jihadism, but rather to fight against "terror," or, lately, "extremism."