Posted: Oct 06, 2006 12:01 AM

"We should not subject young men and women to this kind of activity, this kind of vulnerability." So said Illinois Congressman Ray LaHood, who is recommending that the congressional page program be suspended at least temporarily.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, you cannot trust members of the United States Congress with your teenage children. And you cannot trust them with your money either.

These titillations, er, scandals have developed a predictable choreography. High-ranking official, Hollywood star, business executive, you fill in the blank, is caught in flagrante, and what does he or she do? He attempts to frame himself as the victim -- of abuse, of alcoholism, of drugs, and often of all three. A fly on the wall of these treatment centers would doubtless discover that some of their celebrity clients are not alcoholics at all, but simply charlatans anointing themselves with alcoholism to wring sympathy from an infinitely forgiving public. There was a time, children, when public figures did not write tell-all "confessions" about their sexual lives. They were uptight and unliberated. James McGreevey is the model now. Former governor of New Jersey, former husband, former father (?), he includes lurid passages in his new book about discovering his homosexuality with an aide while his wife was at the hospital giving birth.

Former Rep. Mark Foley has set some kind of land-speed record in framing himself as a victim. His seat in the House was barely cold before he let it be known that a) he was checking himself into rehab for alcoholism, and b) he was himself molested as a youth by a "clergyman." A two-fer! Book this man on "Oprah" now.

Perhaps with Foley, America will finally reach the point of gagging on victimhood. Obviously Foley was the perpetrator, not the victim. He was a powerful man preying upon kids away from home for the first time, abusing his prestige and power, betraying the public trust, and in a particularly sour twist, sponsoring legislation to shield kids from Internet predators. And now he asks us to spare some sympathy for him?

It's probably true that the Republican leadership should have done more with the early warnings they received. Memo to file: Any number of e-mails above one from a grown man to a teenage boy or girl is too many. Full stop.

But for the Democrats to be clutching the draperies in horror is a little hard to credit. This is not the first time members of Congress have hit on pages. In 1983 there was a bipartisan page scandal. The Republican, Dan Crane, had been involved with a teenage girl page. He tearfully apologized but was defeated in the next election in a heavily Republican district. Gerry Studds, a Democrat, was involved with a teenage male page. But Studds was re-elected six more times by his Massachusetts constituents. Both Studds and Crane admitted to having sexual affairs with the 17-year-olds. And while the House censured both men, neither resigned. Foley has so far not been charged with actually touching anyone.

It goes without saying that if the Republican leadership had moved against Foley based solely on his "overly friendly" e-mails, they would have been accused of homophobia, of drawing prejudicial inferences based on the fact that he was gay. It is also the case that a number of leading Republicans and conservatives have called upon Speaker Denny Hastert to resign. How many Democrats called for Bill Clinton to resign? Ted Kennedy? William Jefferson (of the cash in the freezer fame)?

But the Democrats, who overlook so much by so many, and who instructed us sternly that Bill Clinton's affair was a trivial matter despite the fact that it fit the classic sexual harassment scenario the Democrats themselves enshrined in law, are fortunate that Foley's target was under 18. If he were older, they would be debarred from expressing any disapproval at all. In fact, if shame were able to silence anyone anymore, Washington would be a tomb.