The Shame

Mark Foley, the Florida congressman who abruptly resigned his seat in the House of Representatives on Friday after sexually suggestive e-mail and instant messages with a 16-year-old male former congressional page became public, has — predictably — entered an alcohol treatment facility and has said how sorry he is for the harm he has caused. Foley’s contrite statement came as the FBI began “conducting an assessment to determine if there has been any violation of federal law,” according to a spokesperson.

The probe announcement followed a call by Dennis Hastert, the powerful Speaker of the House, to get the Department of Justice, which oversees the FBI, involved in the case. While they’re at it, they might want to investigate how Hastert, who entered Congress with a stated net worth of $300,000, has managed in just a few years to leverage his position into a newly calculated net worth of $6 million. Hint: Not by winning the lottery, selling a start-up business, inventing a revolutionary product — or any of the other methods folks normally employ to realize a more than 20-fold increase in their personal fortune. In fact, Hastert did it the old fashioned way, the way machine politicians prefer: He muscled through federal legislation for a highway project that happened to sidle up next to his personal real estate holdings, which almost overnight became fantastically valuable. No shame in that, right?

And while they’re at it, they might want to reopen their decade-long investigation (quashed, reportedly, by Karl Rove, George Bush, and their cronies), into HCA (Hospital Corporation of America), the criminally negligent fraud factory that has already paid fines of $1.7 billion, the largest in history, to settle charges of over-billing the government. The man who owns $26 million worth of HCA stock, and whose brother runs the company, is the Senate Majority Leader, Bill Frist. Over the weekend, he appended to a crucial port security bill an absurd rider that outlaws online gambling. Never mind that the law is unenforceable and probably in violation of international norms. Frist and his fellow moralists seek to cleanse the shameful stain of offshore wagering from the American fabric, keeping it at home, in casinos, racetracks and church bingo halls, where it belongs. Defrauding Medicare and doing the bidding of the pharmaceutical industry, however, is business as usual. No shame in that, right?

This sort of repugnant chicanery doesn’t play well with anyone. But illicit gay sex is a particularly bitter pill for the GOP faithful to swallow. There’s no way to spin it to the Christian right. Foley, a six-term lawmaker known as a tireless advocate of child protection laws, had been favored to win re-election against his Democratic challenger in the November 7 elections. Indeed, he co-chaired the House caucus on missing and exploited children and recently introduced legislation to crack down on Internet child pornography sites. But the shame of lust has put an end to all that.

Perhaps one day soon the shame of greed will catch up with the rest of his political party. To be realistic, it’s unlikely. And that’s the real shame.

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