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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Does the Foley scandal prove the existence of a God?

(Updated below)

The Foley scandal is so perfectly tailored -- one could even say artistically designed -- to expose every character flaw of this country's Republican leaders (and their followers), and it has evolved so flawlessly (like the most brilliantly coordinated symphony), that one is almost inclined to believe that it was divinely inspired. It is difficult to believe that human beings (let alone Democrats) could create something so perfect (as Billmon wrote in comments here the other day, the relentless efficiency of this scandal is proof positive that Democrats had nothing to do with it). I agree with John Podhoretz's description:

This whole Foley business is one of the most dazzling political plays in my or any other lifetime - like watching an unassisted triple play or a running back tossing a 90-yard touchdown pass on a double-reverse.

The perfection of this scandal lies in its substance, not its theatrics. The Foley scandal is not -- as even some Bush opponents have asserted -- an aberrational, isolated, inconsequential melodrama that is unrelated to the substantive and important critiques of the Bush movement and which just coincidentally emerged as a cynical weapon that can be used to defeat the Republicans. The opposite is true. This scandal has resonated so powerfully because it is shining such a powerful light on the towering hubris, utter lack of intellectual and ethical integrity, and deeply engrained corruption that accounts for virtually every other Bush disaster -- from Iraq to law-breaking scandals to torture to Abrahmoff-type corruption schemes and everything in between.

There are, as Matt Yglesias pointed out the other day, huge numbers of people in this country -- clearly the majority of the electorate -- who are not at all stupid but simply do not have the time or inclination to pay close attention to political events. In that regard, people who spend substantial time in the blogosphere are aberrational; it is not the norm to monitor political developments on a daily basis. Most people rely upon journalists and pundits, as Yglesias said, "to let them know if something goes dramatically wrong with the governance of the country." But journalists have failed in that duty and the conservative pundits on whom many people (particularly conservatives) rely have purposely obscured what has been happening.

But for so many reasons -- its relative simplicity, its crystal clarity, the involvement of emotionally-charged issues, the salacious sex aspects -- this Foley scandal circumvents that whole dynamic. People are paying attention on their own. They don't need pundits or journalists to tell them what to think about it because they are able to form deeply held opinions on their own. None of the standard obfuscation tactics used for so long by Bush followers are working here. To the contrary, their attempted use of those tactics is making things much worse for them, because people can see that Bush followers are attempting -- through the use of patently dishonest and corrupt tactics -- to excuse the inexcusable. And seeing that, it gives great credence to all of the accusations voiced over the last five years that this is how the Bush movement operates in every area, because people can now see it for themselves.

In that regard, this scandal is like the Cliffs' Notes version of a more complicated treatise on how the Bush movement operates. Every one of their corrupt attributes is vividly on display here:

The absolute refusal ever to admit error. The desperate clinging to power above all else. The efforts to cloud what are clear matters of wrongdoing with irrelevant sideshows. And the parade of dishonest and just plainly inane demonization efforts to hide and distract from their wrongdoing: hence, the pages are manipulative sex vixens; a shadowy gay cabal is to blame; the real criminals are those who exposed the conduct, not those who engaged in it; liberals created the whole scandal; George Soros funded the whole thing; a Democratic Congressman did something wrong 23 years ago; one of the pages IM'd with Foley as a "hoax", and on and on. There has been a virtual carousel -- as there always is -- of one pathetic, desperate attempt after the next to deflect blame and demonize those who are pointing out the wrongdoing. This is what they always do, on every issue. The difference here is that everyone can see it, and so nothing is working.

What Bush followers did yesterday really encapsulates what they are about. They had Matt Drudge -- the same Matt Drudge who "broke the story" in the 2004 campaign of the intern who fled to Africa in order to escape John Kerry's lecherous stalking -- post a screaming headline claiming that one of the pages claims that he only engaged in sex chats with Foley as a prank. There are countless, obvious reasons why a page might claim that he only engaged in sex talk with a 53-year-old man on the Internet as a prank (much the way people caught with child pornography claim they have it only for research), but assume that it's true that this particular page chatted with Foley for that reason.

It is painfully obvious that this proves nothing, that it does not help the House GOP leadership in any way or even remotely mitigate their conduct. It has been clear from the first day that Foley has been engaged in a pattern of sexual pursuit of numerous Congressional pages over many years. Some pages seemed to have welcomed the pursuit and encouraged it; others found it highly objectionable; and some may have been fueled by different motives. But nobody doubts that Mark Foley has been systematically pursuing pages for sexual pleasure for years now. That is not even in dispute. And even if this one page were engaged in a "prank," that would not change the nature of Foley's behavior or impact the obligation of the GOP House leadership to act (just as someone's guilt is not mitigated when they try to hire someone they believe is a hit man but who is really a policeman pretending to be one).

Even if this one page out of all of the others were engaged in a "hoax," it is still the case that Mark Foley was systematically pursuing Congressional pages while the GOP House leadership looked the other way. The Drudge item (even if true) changes nothing. It does not even arguably affect the scandal. That is self-evident. And, on top of all of that, the "report" came from the person who is probably the single least credible source on the Internet.

Despite all of that, Bush followers in every crevice immediately and mindlessly seized on this Drudge item and cited it virtually to proclaim the scandal over, suggesting-- based solely on this single item -- that the whole thing, the entire scandal, was a meaningless hoax from the beginning. Even the Deputy Editor of The Wall St. Journal, Dan Henninger, repeated the "report" in arguing that the whole affair was a meaningless distraction: "By midafternoon yesterday, a rumor emerged that in fact Mark Foley had been pranked by the House pages."

They all seized on a plainly false -- and, even if true, totally irrelevant -- "report" to declare that the whole scandal was nothing and was even the fault of those who talked about it. Their only objective, as always, is to defend their Leaders, who can do no wrong, even when caught red-handed, and they will grab onto any claim, no matter how unreliable, false and/or irrelevant, to do so.

Beyond the deceit and desperation is the hypocrisy so glaring that it makes one's eyes squint. The examples are literally too numerous to chronicle, but one of my personal favorites is the feigned above-it-all, dismissive bewilderment that something as inconsequential and petty as a sex scandal could possibly be getting so much attention.

The Wall St. Journal's Henninger yesterday asked: "Is this Mark Foley thing really happening?" Hennginger can't believe that with so many Important Things going in the world, our country would really be focused on what he dismissively refers to as "Congressman Foley's 1995 email traffic." Henninger is the Deputy Editor of the WSJ Editorial Page -- the same Editorial Page that spent much of the 1990s focusing on the spots on Bill Clinton's penis, Hillary's affair with Vince Foster, and semen stains on a blue dress.

The same people who impeached a popular, twice-elected President of the U.S. over a sex scandal involving consenting adults, who caused our country's political dialogue for several years to be composed of the filthiest and most scurrilous speculation peddled by some of the lowest bottom-feeders and dirt-mongers, and who constructed a political movement based in large part on sermonizing about private sexual morality and demonizing those who deviate, are now protesting -- without any irony -- the fact that a sex scandal is distracting from the Truly Important Issues our country faces and that Mark Foley's sexual pursuit over many years of 16 and 17-year-old Congressional pages is nothing that really matters.

It is as though Republicans are being punished for all of their serious political sins at once, in one perfectly constructed, humiliating scandal designed to highlight their crimes and exact just retribution for them. The Foley scandal is shining a very bright light on their conduct, not just in this one incident but with regard to how they have been governing the country generally over the last five years. That is why this scandal is so important and it is why Bush followers are so desperate to proclaim the whole thing over with -- even if it means having to jump on a pathetic Matt Drudge item to do it. The one thing they don't want is for a clear, illuminating light to be shined on how they conduct themselves.

UPDATE: The favorite "news" source for Bush followers, Matt Drudge, has been revealed, yet again, to be nothing more than a purveyor of fiction and lies. The lawyer for the page who was the subject of Drudge's report, Steven Jones (the lawyer for Timothy McVeigh), denounced the Drudge item as "a piece of fiction" and said that "there is not any aspect of this matter that is a practical joke nor should anyone treat it that way" (h/t TPM Muckraker). Ironically, many Bush followers touted the fact that the page had hired such a credible and publicly known lawyer as proof that Drudge's story was significant.

On a different note, The Buffalo News has a front-page article on the role which blogs have played in the Foley scandal, with a particular emphasis on how the work of blogs has affected their local Congressman, Tom Reynolds. The article features the work of local blogs as well as this blog in ensuring that light was shined not just on Denny Hastert but also on some of the secondary though still culpable guilty figures in the scandal, such as Tom Reynolds.

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