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.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Mark Foley and the unmasked Republican Party

Denny Hastert is smack in the middle of one of the tawdriest and ugliest sex scandals in American political history. As a result, he has been the target of aggressive criticism, even from a few members of his own party, and, by all accounts, is desperately battling to keep his job.

In need of moral absolution and support from a respected and admired figure who possesses moral authority among Hastert's morally upstanding Republican base, to whom does Hastert turn? A priest or respected reverend? An older wise political statesman with a reputation for integrity and dignity? No, there is only one person with sufficient moral credibility among the increasingly uncomfortable moralistic Republican base who can give Hastert the blessing he needs:

Rush Limbaugh. And so that is where Hastert went yesterday in order to obtain the Decree that He Did Nothing Wrong.

As much as I tried -- and, trust me, I really tried -- I couldn't expunge this picture from my mind yesterday because, in all its visceral hideousness, it really illustrates what I think is the principal reason why this Foley scandal is resonating so strongly. This is the real face of the ruling Republican party, and it has been unmasked -- violently -- by the exposure of Mark Foley and his allies who protected and harbored him.

If the term "moral degenerate" has any validity and can be fairly applied to anyone, there are few people who merit that term more than Rush Limbaugh. He is the living and breathing embodiment of moral degeneracy, with his countless overlapping sexual affairs, his series of shattered, dissolved marriages, his hedonistic and illegal drug abuse, his jaunts, with fistfulls of Viagra (but no wife), to an impoverished Latin American island renowned for its easy access to underage female prostitutes.

Yet that is who Hastert chose as the High Priest of the Values Voters to whom he made his pilgrimage and from whom he received his benediction. The difference between Rush Limbaugh and Mark Foley, to the extent there is one, is one of hedonistic tastes, not moral level. Rush Limbaugh isn't just tolerated within the party that stands for religious piety and moral strength. He is a leader of it, arguably the leader of its most righteous wing. Is it really all that surprising that a political movement that has chosen a moral degenerate like Rush Limbaugh as one of its most revered and morally respected leaders is not all that bothered by -- and therefore actively harbors -- the Mark Foleys of the world?

The individuals who never tire of making public displays of how concerned they are with our moral fabric -- the Kathryn Jean Lopezs of the world who find Bill Clinton's sex life such a cause for condemnation and who publicly crusade to have John Kerry shunned by good Catholics because of how immoral he is and interrupt such crusades only in order to coo with giddy love and profound respect for Rush Limbaugh -- are well aware that their party is filled to the rim with sleazy, corrupt hedonists with as bloated and piggish a sense of entitlement as can be imagined. But as long as they help keep the party in power, they are not just tolerated but embraced. That dynamic is a core operating principle of the Bush-led Republican Party, and it is why Mark Foley was able to rise within it despite its being an "open secret" in Washington GOP power circles -- a very open secret -- exactly what he was.

When this scandal first broke, I spent a few hours researching federal law with regard to Internet sexual activities and "minors" and, while I knew that Foley was involved in enacting some of these bills, I was really amazed how far beyond that it went. Mark Foley was literally at the center of virtually every activity and law and program over the last 10 years ostensibly designed to battle the evils of Internet sex and minors. Mark Foley spent 12 years in Congress and it is not an exaggeration to say that he basically devoted his whole Congressional career to adding decades of imprisonment on to the mandatory punishments for those who use the Internet to talk about sex with children. He didn't just condemn that which he was doing. He made the crusade against it his life's work, in the most vocal and public way possible.

Mark Foley isn't some isolated case of shocking hypocrisy. Quite the contrary. People who have a publicly and vocally expressed obsession with other people's moral behavior and who want to use the power of the Government to enforce that obsession -- the Rick Santorums and Rush Limbaughs and Newt Gingrichs and Jim Bakkers and Ralph Reeds and Mark Foleys of the world -- are almost always fighting their own demons, not anyone else's. It is so important for them to parade around as moral protectors and moral warriors precisely because they have no other way to cleanse themselves, despite being in desperate need of a cleansing. That's why, all over the Internet, one easily finds things like this:


"I am pleased that the House of Representatives passed the Child Obscenity and Pornography Prevention Act, a bill that will strengthen the ability of law enforcement to protect children from abuse and exploitation. I urge the Senate to bring this important legislation to the floor as soon as possible.

"I want to thank Chairman Sensenbrenner for guiding this important legislation through the Judiciary Commitee (sic), and Congressmen Lamar Smith, Mark Foley, and Earl Pomeroy for their leadership on this bill. They have worked tirelessly to protect the health and safety of children.

"The Department of Justice remains solid in its commitment to identify, investigate, and prosecute those who sexually exploit children. I look forward to working with Congress to see to it that this legislation becomes law, so that we may continue in our efforts to eliminate child pornography and prosecute offenders."

This isn't some "great find"or specially revealing document. Documents like this are everywhere, because this is the twisted, warped, dysfunctional and rotted political rule to which we have been subjected for the last six years and even before that (though not with the unchallenged power it has now). Mark Foley is the GOP face of efforts to combat the use of the Internet to sexualize minors, and Rush Limbaugh is their High Moral Priest.

We have been barraged with laws, programs, sermons, demagoguery and all sorts of moral demonization from a political movement whose most powerful pundit is a multiple-times-divorced drug addict who flamboyantly cavorts around with a new girlfriend every few months in between Viagra-fueled jaunts to the Dominican Republic. It is a political movement whose legacy will be torture, waterboards, naked, sadomasochistic games in Iraqi dungeons (or, to Rush, "blowing off steam"), with all sorts of varied sleaze and corruption deeply engrained throughout its DNA -- all propped up by a facade of moralism and dependent upon the support of those who have been propagandized into believing that they are voting for the Party of Values and Morals.

It is not a coincidence that the GOP was harboring someone like Mark Foley within its highest ranks while their most powerful political officials purposely looked the other way and even actively helped to conceal what he was up to, thereby enabling him to continue. After all, even now that this conduct has been exposed, their instinct -- all the way to the highest levels -- is to excuse and defend those leaders and offer up the most disgusting defenses -- all because preservation of their political power depends on it. This is not some bizarre aberration. This is how they operate and it is what they are. And the Mark Foley scandal is making it virutally impossible for anyone to convincingly deny it any longer.

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