It would be unfair to suggest that liberals have been clamoring for gays to have an unfettered right to hit on teenage boys and are only reversing themselves out of partisan opportunism. Although the fact that liberals hardly objected to Democratic Rep. Gerry Studds' continued service in the House for 13 years after he admitted to having had actual sex with a teen page - as opposed to the less harmful cyber variety - and after an investigation revealed his advances were not always invited does cast a harsh light on those screeching about Foley being a sexual predator.
But it is fair to say liberals aren't thinking things through. Democratic strategist Bob Beckel suggested this week that the mere fact Foley is gay should have "raised questions" about his friendships with pages. If Foley were a Democrat and GOP spinners suggested gays are automatically suspect as predators, the now-silent Human Rights Campaign and other gay rights groups would go ballistic.
What liberals don't understand is that social conservatives actually believe their moral rhetoric, even when it's politically inconvenient. That's why GOP Rep. Bob Livingston of Louisiana had to resign when his marital infidelities became public during the Clinton impeachment, much to the chagrin of Democrats who wanted to advance the "everybody does it" defense of Clinton. And that's why vast numbers of social conservatives now want House Speaker Dennis Hastert's head on a pike.
Meanwhile, the only moral lapse that consistently offends all liberals is hypocrisy. As Howard Dean declared on "Meet the Press" last year: "Everybody has ethical shortcomings. We ought not to lecture each other about our ethical shortcomings." But he continued: "I will use whatever position I have in order to root out hypocrisy." This is a convenient principle insofar as it can indict only people with actual principles.
Fanning the flames of righteous fervor over Foley will probably reap electoral benefits for Democrats. But the time will come when something like the "Foley standard" will be inconvenient to Democrats. In response, liberals will hold another fire sale. And yet, they will be stunned again when people claim the Democrats don't stand for anything.