Defending the 12th century since the 14th; blogging since the 21st.

Catholicism, Conservatism, the Middle Ages, Opera, and Historical and Literary Objets d'Art blogged by a suburban dad who teaches law and writes stuff.

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Who was Cacciaguida? See Dante's PARADISO, Cantos XV, XVI, & XVII.

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Saturday, September 30, 2006
L'affaire Foley: Well, there goes the ChildhelpUSA Man of the Year award, as Pat Buchanan might have put it. And there goes FL 16, as the NRCC is probably thinking.

1. What happened

You know, it wasn't the e-mails: those were creepy, but not instant-resignation time. The problem was the IMs. (Say -- if Foley had used the phone instead of IM, then would we have had to rely on the NSA to detect him?) Mr. Foley didn't quit when the e-mails became public: he quit when ABC News (apparently tipped off by CREW, an organization whose leaders include numerous alumni of "Alliance for Justice," they of Anita Hill fame, Washington's principal leftwing attack unit in judicial confirmation politics) began asking questions about the IMs. Then Foley resigned. Then the IMs began appearing on the 'net.

This is not, of course, the first time a Member, so to speak, has gotten in trouble for trying to stick his hand, so to speak, in the deep cookie-jar that is the Capitol page corps. Rep. Dan Crane (R-IL-Straight) tried it, and lost his next election. Rep. Gerry Studds (D-MA-Gay) tried it, and got reelected time and time again until he jolly well felt like retiring.

2. E mi farà il destino
ritrovar questo paggio in ogni loco!

Why does Congress have pages, anyway? As a means of communication, they've been outmoded since the invention of the telephone, never mind the fax and e-mail. No, they serve two purposes: (1) patronage -- Members can cultivate donors by giving donors' kids a cool credential for their college apps; and (2) chicken.

I don't know whether this is relevant to the Foley case or not, but I've been on Capitol Hill and there's something I should tell you about the pages. Being straight as a slide-rule myself, I'll confine my remarks to the subject of the page girls. Female and gay-male friends with Hill experience may, if they like, comment on whether the equivalent can be said of the boys.

The page girls are most noticeably characterized by long, thick, exquisitely managed hair that they flick at you in the elevators. They are all extremely pretty. They wear make-up very well, by which I mean, they never overdo it; it helps, never hurts, the over-all effect. This suggests to me -- but what do I know about this, really? -- that they spend more time on their make-up than on delivering messages. But then, is delivering messages really why they're there? Or why the Members who hire them put them there?

Of course in all charity I should assume that every one of them is there to learn about government, that they take care of their looks because that's what nice girls do, and that they want others to see how nice-looking they are because they're full of youthful enthusiasm for the legislative process. So consider it assumed.

3. "Hypocrisy" estoppel as incipient speech regulation

One more thing: everyone's using the word "hypocritical" in relation to Foley's legislation on behalf of sexually exploited children. But is it necessarily "hypocritical," say, for an alcoholic to vote for prohibition? Or for a porn addict to vote for tough obscenity bans? Such legislators could be hypocrites -- or they could just be, ummm, policy experts. They may vote for restrictions because they think (rightly or wrongly) that they understand better than others why restrictions are needed. I wonder if there isn't more hypocrisy in people who vote to ban vices that they happen not to be attracted to. I have more problems with the alcoholic who's "tough on drugs" (meaning, other people's drugs) than with the child molester who's tough on child molestation.

It's not fairness to Foley that I'm concerned about; he can go either home to West Palm or to prison, as far as I care. What concerns me about the way we throw around the word "hypocritical" is that it tends toward preventing sinners (i.e. all of us) from debating public responses to sin, even where such public responses may be appropriate.

St. Thomas rightly teaches that it does not belong to the state to repress all evil; but surely it belongs to the state to repress some evil. Even libertarians agree the state should ban force and fraud. But how will it do that if the rules on "hypocrisy" inhibit debate by any who have ever committed, or even been tempted to commit, some form of force or fraud?

Not infrequently, it's those who've been around the block who know best why one shouldn't go around the block. Sometimes they're the only ones who know it. So sure, let's silence exactly those people -- who benefits from that?

EDITED TO ADD some 2nd day folo: This is a tough case for the Democrats too. They don't want to be seen as soft on ephebophiles, but neither do they want to alienate their base. So what's their spin? That the dirt on Foley should have been handed over to them. Makes a certain kind of sense: you can't buy oppo research like that.

The Nation's spin is that it's all the fault of those rightwing voters in Florida who, one just knows, would never "accept" Foley "for who he was," thus creating "pressures" to stay in the closet, and once you're under that kinds of "pressures," we-el then, it's no wonder....