The Foley Matter
History suggests that once a political party achieves sweeping power, it will only be a matter of time before the power becomes the entire point. Policy, ideology, ethics all gradually fall away, replaced by a political machine that exists to win elections and dispense the goodies that come as a result. The only surprise in Washington now is that the Congressional Republicans managed to reach that point of decayed purpose so thoroughly, so fast.
That House leaders knew Representative Mark Foley had been sending inappropriate e-mail to Capitol pages and did little about it is terrible. It is also the latest in a long, depressing pattern: When there is a choice between the right thing to do and the easiest route to perpetuation of power, top Republicans always pick wrong.
The news about Mr. Foley should have set off alarm bells instantly, even if the messages the leaders saw were of the “inappropriate” variety rather than the flat-out salacious versions that surfaced last week. But there was certainly no sense of urgency in their response, which seemed directed at sweeping the matter under the rug rather than finding out precisely what was going on.
The obvious first step — notifying the bipartisan committee that oversees the page program — was never taken, presumably because that would have meant bringing a Democrat into the discussions. After Mr. Foley assured everyone that he was simply engaged in mentoring, whatever leadership inquiry there was ended with telling him to stop e-mailing the youth who got the inappropriate letter.
It’s astonishing behavior for a party that sold itself as the champion of conservative social values. But then so was the fact that a party that prides itself on fiscal conservatism managed to roll up record-breaking deficits, featuring large amounts of wasteful pork earmarked to the districts of powerful legislators or the profit sheets of generous campaign contributors. So was the speed with which the party that billed itself as the voice of grass-roots exurban and suburban America turned itself into the partner of every special-interest lobbyist with a checkbook.
The good news is that American democracy, so flawed in many ways, is often fairly efficient at punishing parties that become addicted to self-perpetuation. This November may not force Congress to come up with a plan for Iraq, or even immigration. But if it reminds elected officials that there’s a punishment waiting for those who fall in love with their own sense of entitlement, it will have done its job.