Like all such scandals, the matter of Mark Foley and his lurid valentines to congressional pages is instructive for what it reveals, and not just about Foley, but about his party, its leaders and us.
Having checked in to "rehab," after it was revealed that he had written salacious e-mails and instant messages to pages, Foley shoved his lawyer out front to say he was an alcoholic, gay and had been abused by a clergyman as a boy.
What is Foley up to?
Rather than speak directly to the charge against him -- that he is a homosexual with the hots for teenage boys -- Foley's lawyer is entering a plea, in the court of public opinion, of diminished capacity.
Foley is portraying himself not as a sexual predator out to pick up boys, an unappealing figure, but a victim of compulsive forces over which he had no control and for which he cannot be held accountable.
Call it the Larry King-Oprah defense. Even as he takes "full responsibility" for his lewd and lascivious conduct, his lawyer implies he didn't know what he was doing. The e-mails and IMs were sent in an alcoholic-induced stupor -- between votes on the House floor
Will it work? Perhaps. The shamed and shunned Foley will appear increasingly as a figure of interest, and then of sympathy, in our forgiving society. Offers of six-figure book advances are probably in the mail.
What does the episode say about Speaker Hastert and the GOP? Surely, it speaks poorly of their executive decisiveness, though, thus far, it does not speak all that badly of them as human beings.
All of them knew Foley was gay. All of them had to recognize that the early e-mails -- where Foley was asking for a picture of a departed page now 1,000 miles away -- were warning flags.
With this limited knowledge, Foley's colleagues did what Fox News and the Miami Herald did. They chose not to reveal the e-mails, which would have outed Foley, ruined his career and destroyed his life, as they had no evidence he had committed any indecent act with the pages under their supervision.
Two decades ago, Gerry Studds of Massachusetts attempted the seduction of several pages, and had an affair with one and took him off on a European tryst. Though censured, Studds was re-elected five times and given a chairmanship by the Democratic Party of Nancy Pelosi -- which now professes itself sickened at how Denny Hastert and Co. tried to protect the homosexual in their midst, who, while committing sins of desire, has, as far as we know, committed no lewd or indecent act.