William F. Buckley

One may be in favor of all the corrective and punitive things that have been done and are in prospect of being done to former congressman Mark Foley. Still, we should draw breath and ponder a couple of destabilizing points:

(l) As far as we know, no child was in fact physically molested by Foley. There is an entire blog devoted to collecting Foley-type material. It is plainspokenly titled "stopsexpredators.blogspot.com." Although it was founded as recently as in July, it appears to have had the greatest influence in baring the story on Foley, by the simple device of sending out word that it would reproduce sex-minded letters sent by prowling adults. In a matter of weeks, a portfolio on Foley had accumulated.

(2) As of this writing, no indictments have been brought. One man of affairs (CNN's Jeff Greenfield, speaking off camera) even speculated that if Foley had simply engaged in sex with one of the 16-year-olds he was writing to, he might have got off more lightly. You see, the age at which sex is permitted reaches down nowadays, in some jurisdictions, to 16. However, laws against the corruption of minors sit alongside, in apparent contradiction. Permissive sex at early ages, OK. Seductive acts, not OK.

(3) As things now stand, what is it that Mark Foley is guilty of having done? He has, to use traditional language, attempted to corrupt minors. The stopsexpredators blog does not record Foley as actually having engaged in sex. It goes no further than to reproduce e-mails from Foley that can't reasonably be construed as other than sexual foreplay. And that, apparently, is how he construed them, because a matter of minutes after he was shown the instant messages that ABC News had collected, he resigned his office, and a day later put in for treatment at a rehab center, pleading alcoholism and related disorders.

(4) Everybody wants Foley out of sight for -- unseemliness. We just don't like this kind of thing. But if there were really a national uproar against the corruption of minors, Foley would be entirely incidental to such a campaign. We are mad at him for doing what he did, but we aren't really all that mad at the thing being done. If we were bent on prohibiting the corruption of minors, half the magazine stands in the United States would be closed down by midnight.

William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley, Jr. is editor-at-large of National Review, the prolific author of Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography.

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