Jacob Sullum

With Republicans squabbling over whom to blame for the congressional page scandal, it's easy to forget that we've already identified the real culprit. I'm referring, of course, to alcohol.

When he resigned from the House, Mark Foley said he was entering treatment for "alcoholism and related behavioral problems," the latter including his online flirtation with teenage boys. His lawyer said the Florida Republican had written the sexually charged messages that got him into trouble while under the influence.

Alcoholic impairment may be the world's oldest excuse. It was the reason Noah cavorted naked in his tent, the reason Lot slept with his daughters, the reason (some say) Aaron's sons, Nadav and Avihu, brought "strange fire" into the Tabernacle.

The defense does not always work; Nadav and Avihu, for instance, were immediately consumed by divine fire. But it must work often enough for people to keep trotting it out after all these years, and why it does is a bit of a puzzle.

Foley seems eager to be known as a drunk as well as a pervert, pressing his case in the face of skepticism from associates who never noticed he had a drinking problem, who can't even remember seeing him with a drink at any of the Washington receptions he attended during more than a decade in office. And since one of Foley's incriminating instant message exchanges occurred during a House vote, he wants us to believe he was passing judgment on legislation while he was plastered.

Picturing Foley staggering into the House Chamber to cast a vote is supposed to make us think better of him. If he's an alcoholic, suffering from a disease that makes him incapable of drinking moderately, he is not fully responsible for his behavior. In those online exchanges with pages, it was his disease talking, not him.

Even Alcoholics Anonymous, the group that has done the most to promote the idea that habitual drunkenness is an illness, does not go quite that far. For one thing, people who know they have difficulty drinking responsibly can be held accountable for drinking to begin with. And while A.A. members have to acknowledge they are "powerless over alcohol" and submit themselves to God, they also have to accept responsibility for their actions and make amends to people they've wronged.


Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
 
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