“The list”

A massive “outing” campaign by gay Democrats is a fantasy. A purge of gay staffers by panicked Republicans isn’t.

Tom Maguire, struggling as hard as he can to avoid drawing the obvious inference that the leaders of his favorite political party in the House of Representatives are a few bricks shy of a full moral load, spins a fantasy in which Democrats respond to the Foley Follies with a massive outing of gay Republicans, and demands that liberal bloggers pre-emptively denounce said fantasy.

Done. I think Maguire’s fantasy is disgusting. If any Democrat starts outing gay Republicans, I’ll think he’s lost his moral compass (to say nothing of his political sense). But Maguire’s idea is a fantasy, and nothing more.

A couple of other points worth noting while we’re at it:

1. In the view of anyone but gay-baiters (i.e., in the view of almost any non-Republican), the issue here is sexual exploitation by adults of minors, and in particular by powerful men of minors entrusted to their care. It’s not homosexuality. Similarly, the McGreevey scandal wasn’t about his being gay, but his stealing from the taxpayers by putting his lover (who, as it happens, was male) on the public payroll. The scandals would have been exactly the same, morally, had McGreevey’s squeeze been a woman and Foley’s victims teenage girls rather than teenage boys.

2. The Gerry Studds affair was twenty-four years ago. He and his Republican colleague, who engaged in the same behavior, were treated the same way. I thought at the time they should both be expelled. Things were different back then; Congressmen were more protective of one another, even across party lines, and the press was more protective of all of them.

3. “Outing” is an issue among gays, and particularly among gay men, some of whom feel betrayed by people who deny their sexual orientation and either attack gays as a group or serve institutions that do so. I’ve never heard a straight liberal with a good word to say for it. (Yes, there was lots of speculation about which White House staffers might have been employing the services of prostitute Gannon/Gluckert, but a female prostitute given special access to the White House in the guise of a reporter would have attacted no less attention.)

4. The Christian Right and its allies, trying to escape the obvious meaning of the Foley affair (that the right-wing politicians running the House of Representatives are pond scum) want to make it instead about homosexuality. Some right-wingers are starting to circulate the idea that the failures in the Foley case were due to a “network” of gay staffers, centered on Kirk Fordham, and that the right response is a purge. This would be strictly analogous to the response of the Pope and other reactionary Catholics to the pedophilia scandal: ignore the institutional problems, and keep celibate homophile men out of the priesthood.

I understood the Corn column as a pre-emptive strike against that movement. Whether it was a good tactic or not I don’t know, though I note that, to my knowledge, not a single Democratic politician or Blue blogger has pursued the theme. I’m on one email list that goes to a bunch of Blue bloggers, and the only traffic I’ve seen about his has to do with the fear that the Republicans will try to stir up a moral panic about gay Congressional staff.

5. Maguire, like the other apologists for Hastert, continues to ignore the most salient point: Hastert didn’t have to choose between denouncing Foley and letting the problem fester. The right thing to do was to find out how big the problem was, by having someone inquire among pages, former pages, the staff of the page program, and other Members and staff, about whether anyone knew anything about inappropriate behavior by Members toward pages. No need to mention anyone’s sexual orientation. No need to name names, either of the kid who first complained or of the suspected Congressman.

Yes, those emails weren’t obviously salacious, though the request for a picture was more than a little bit odd. If I’d been a newspaper editor, I’d have hesistated to publish a story based on them. But if I’d been the Speaker of the House, I would have made damned sure that someone took a hard look at the problem, rather than just asking Foley “Have you been naughty?” and then telling him “Okay, don’t do it again.”

Hastert preferred not to know, just as he preferred not to know about DeLay’s extortion, Cunningham and Noe’s bribe-taking, and the massive “transactional lobbying” by Abramoff and MZM. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. Add ’em all up, and what do you get? Evil.

Update Kevin Drum and I agree, both about the moral question and about the political tactics. Apparently the “list” comes from some gay activists, and is not the tactic of any Democratic politician or strategist. I think linking the Foley problem to homosexuality, rather than keeping the focus on sexual misconduct with minors, is a mistake of analysis and a tactical blunder. I also think that people’s sex lives ought to be their own business until they make it the public’s business: for example, by putting a lover on the public payroll or, as in this case, messing around with minors.

Second Update: As might have been suspected, Tom Maguire’s accusation that Democrats were going to pander to homophobia was a preparation for Maguire’s … pandering to homophobia. He’d love to blame the whole thing on a cabal of gay Republican staff members. Disgusting.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

23 thoughts on ““The list””

  1. Rule number one for understanding absurb and totally wigged-out charges by Goopers against Democrats: they only accuse Democrats of things they are doing themselves or would do themselves.
    Corollary to rule number one: the best way to confirm what they're up to is to see what they accuse Democrats of.
    They are creatures of limited imagination, despite their strong technical and manipulative skills. They cannot imagine beyond what they desire themselves.

  2. This isn't directly relevant to the Foley affair, but I take issue with your point 3.
    If a closeted gay public official has a habit of openly attacking gay people and their civil rights, then what's wrong with "outing" him? Isn't that a matter of exposing hypocrisy?
    Exactly where to draw the line is a tough one, I admit. If you're a Republican staffer, and one of your party's themes is gay-bashing, should you be outed. Probably not. There is a line somewhere in between these two cases, but I don't know just where.
    I am sorry if straight liberals don't see the hypocrisy issue. Try this: Imagine it's the 1930s, and a prominent and strident antisemite, an admirer of Hitler, is also secretly of Jewish parentage. Wouldn't it be a public service to "out" such a person? Isn't his whole enterprise based on a toxic falsehood?

  3. Hal is correct — there's a different between outing "gay Republicans" and hypocritical bigots. If any gay Republican has been denouncing the Horror of Homosexuality, he is fair game.
    The gray area (and there may be a lot of real-world examples of it, if Corn's story is correct) is where a Republican politician who engages in such attacks has an aide whom he knows is gay — do we out the aide to smash the hypocrite? I think, on balance, we do — since the harm done to gays as a whole by allowing the bigot to continue to rant is much greater than the harm done to the aide by exposing him.

  4. Mark, I agree with you that this describes the ideal, but I cannot agree with you that this describes the reality.
    First of all, there are plenty of Democrats who do things like vote for amdendments to their state constitution banning gay marriage. For them what happened is more titillating because Foley is gay . . . and I find it hard to deny that the reason the words "child molester" and "pedophile" are being used in reference to instant messages between Foley and a boy who was eighteen at the time they were written is that the contact was homosexual. The correct term is "ephebophile" or "dirty old man", not child molester. Need I point out that many Democratic blogs, including your own, have been making these sorts of comments?
    On the same token, it's ridiculous to say that his behaviour has nothing to do with being homosexual. He's a normal homosexual man who is attracted to young men; as *The Man who Would Be Queen* points out, this is the dominant attraction profile for both heterosexual and homosexual men. He is not a pedophile; he is a homosexual who has not internalized the (good! necessary!) social taboo against consorting with minors, nor developed the moral control to keep himself from acting on his urges.
    Nor do I think it is reasonable to say that the issue with McGreevey is that he put his boyfriend on the payroll; for many people the issue was that he was gay, and for many more the issue was that he was gay, and lying to his wife about it. Putting loved ones on the state payroll in jobs they are unqualified for is practically a requirement for holding public office in New Jersey. New Jersey is a majority Democrat state (and many of its Republicans are of the fiscally conservative/socially liberal type); you can't just blame this on nasty Republican mores.
    The fact is that we live in a society that views gays as different, and gay scandals as more salacious than straight ones. This scandal is *not* just about Foley abusing the trust of minors; had he been behaving this way towards girls, he probably would have had to resign, but it seems very unlikely to me that the scandal would be threatening to bring down the party. I agree with you that your casting of it is how we *should* be going about the debate, but it is not in fact how the scandal is unfolding, and it is disingenuous to pretend that there is no generalised homophobia about that the scandal is tapping into. I don't think that Democrats can fully exploit this scandal without substantially pandering to, and possibly feeding, homophobia; since I'm not a Democrat, I won't venture to say how they should choose. But it does make your task harder if you *don't* want to stoke those emotions.

  5. This just in – David Corn confirms my evil suspicions:
    Copies of The List (see below) have been sent by gay politicos [what is a 'gay politico" – keep reading] to a variety of social conservative groups that look to the Republican Party to make their religious right dreams come true. The recipients include the Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, the Alliance for Marriage, Concerned Women of America, the Eagle Forum, and the Southern Baptist Convention. Officials at most of these groups have had something to say about homosexuality and gay rights in the wake of the Mark Foley scandal.
    What's the point? The senders–gay people of a non-Republican bent–seem to be hoping to set off a civil war within the GOP, to turn the anti-gay social cons against the GOP's Velvet Mafia.
    Gee, "gay people of a non-Republican bent" – not normally the stuff of my fantasies, but it works for me here.
    I just know we will be seeing an update with a link to the Corn piece:
    Here is BlogActive.com as a bonus:

  6. "In the view of anyone but gay-baiters (i.e., in the view of almost any non-Republican), the issue here is sexual exploitation by adults of minors, and in particular by powerful men of minors entrusted to their care. It's not homosexuality."
    I wonder. Rare is the young lady who has not been warned about Dirty Old Man (and not so old – almost all men, actually, and most boys), but how many dads (or moms) spend a lot of time warning their sixteen year old son about that?
    I also happen to believe that the intervention/suppression effort would have been much more dramatic if Foley had been hitting on the girls, although I can't imagine how I would prove that. Anecdotally, however, I would bet that a lot more ink has been splashed on sexual harassment issues involving older men and younger women than has been spent on the Foley scenario.
    Certainly the sexual harassment "training sessions" I went through (for you youngsters, that was the early 90's, before Dems realized that sexual harassment was not a good issue for them) emphasized hetero encounters.

  7. I agree entirely with Jane: the reaction to this story relies on–and thus the success of the story as a political strategy depends upon and encourages–homophobia. How that benefits Democrats in the long-term, and how they should weigh those benefits versus the opportunity for short-term gain, is a decision for them.
    Mark's line on the Studds affair isn't helpful. Studds was serving 10 years ago, not 24. Was he barred access to pages? Was he singled out and identified to pages as someone they should avoid? The answer is no, isn't it? And yet Mark didn't complain then and now wants to empower the people who did that. That's evil, isn't it Mark?
    More interestingly, I'd like to know how Mark's position on his own employers' policy regarding powerful adults sexually exploiting teens entrusted to their care. Does it bother him that his university doesn't bar such relationships? That such relationships actually occur on his campus? Has Mark done anything to change that policy? Is the policy evil? Is Mark evil for tolerating it?

  8. Actually, Mark's employer (I don't know about his temporary one, UMd) forbids
    6. Entering into a romantic or sexual relationship with any student for whom a
    faculty member has, or should reasonably expect to have in the future1, academic
    responsibility (instructional, evaluative, or supervisory).
    7. Exercising academic responsibility (instructional, evaluative, or supervisory) for
    any student with whom a faculty member has a romantic or sexual relationship.
    The sexual harassment rules are very tough on all manner of hitting on students and colleagues as well.

  9. Michael, his employer pointedly refused to adopt a policy prohibiting adults from sexually exploiting teens entrusted to their care. The faculty–Mark is a part of it, so read Mark's name where you will–refused to adopt a policy that says faculty can't screw teens. The policy you point to is a cover for that–it says you can sexually exploit teens, but you must wait til the end of the semester. They had to debate the issue–it wasn't an obvious evil in the faculty's view–and after debating it, they couldn'd do the decent thing. The sexual harassment policy doesn't forbid faculty from sexually exploiting teens. And Mark wants to lecture the rest of us? Are you kidding me? Mark, clean up your own house, why don't you?
    I mean if you want a moral panic, we can have one. I'm not sure that's what you really want.

  10. Quoting Sullivan: "One aspect of this is worth further noting. The base of the GOP has been fed homophobia and gay-baiting for years now. It was partly how Rove won Ohio and the presidency. Gay-hating is integral to their machine. Now, the very homophobia these people stoked and used is suddenly turning back on them. Part of me is distressed that the GOP could lose not because of spending recklessness, corruption, torture, big government, pork, and a hideously botched war … but because of a sex scandal which doesn't even have (so far as we know) any actual sex. But part of me also sees the karmic payback here. They rode this tiger; now it's turning on them. And it's dinner time."
    Yes indeed, my poppets. The GOP has spent 30 years trying to get political mileage — and, to a considerable extent, succeding — by trumpeting that it's the Party of Sexual Morality, with said morality including the blanket declaration that All Homosexuals Are Evil. Now they've been caught shielding not only a would-be molester, but a would-be GAY molester. People detest hypocrites, and it will be impossible for the GOP to pull this Elmer Gantry routine anymore without somebody in the audience giggling. And "Jane Galt" (aka Megan) wants us to refrain from exposing professional political panderers to bigotry as hypocrites because it will feed bigotry?
    As for whether it's morally OK to out gay Republican aides, I will repeat: IF it can be established that their bosses knew about their orientation at the same time that they were yelling publicly that gays are evil, then hell, yes, out 'em. The good that will be done by blowing said demagogues out of the water far outweighs the harm that could be done to the exposed aides — and anyone who goes to work for a louse like that knew he was running a risk anyway and deserves no particular pity for selling out his own principles. (Indeed, one can argue that any gay who goes to work for a homophobic politician — even a sincerely bigoted homophobic politician — has put himself in a peculiar moral position.)
    By the way, regarding the attempt to distract our attention from the current affair by pointing to Studds, Billmon points out something interesting: 79 Congressmen (presumably Democrats) voted against censuring Studds, but 136 Congressmen voted simultaneously against censuring Dan Crane for his affair with a 16-year-old female page. How many of the latter were Republicans?

  11. So, to sum up, I have serious doubts about Kleiman's moral reasoning on Point #3 — and I notice that Maguire is still not responding to Point #5. That is, he's still frantically trying to stir up clouds of minor side issues as chaff to conceal the morally disgusting central scandals — of which, in this case, there are two: the GOP leadership's willingness to conceal Foley's misbehavior (to quote Howard Fineman, why did they think those initial milder E-mails merited warning Foley to knock it off, but didn't warrant an investigation into what else he might have been up to?), and the GOP's enthusiastic willingness to pander to bigotry.
    Nice try, though, Tom. Almost as entertaining as your recent joke about waterboarding as a "frat-house" activity.

  12. From the post:
    "3. "Outing" is an issue among gays, and particularly among gay men, some of whom feel betrayed by people who deny their sexual orientation and either attack gays as a group or serve institutions that do so. I've never heard a straight liberal with a good word to say for it."
    Matt Yglesias said this:
    "I've always found there to be something of a generation gap among liberals in this town on "outings" with younger people saying go for it, and our elders being more hesitant. Certainly, I'm all for disclosre. The Republicans don't just "welcome[] the support of those who demonize same-sexers," they've made gay-bashing (along with terrorism) one of the primary emotional foci of conservative politics in America."
    All for it! I assure Mark that Matt is not my fantasy; I have no idea whether he is striaght.

  13. I'll go with Yglesias on this one. Why the hell shouldn't gays feel "betrayed by people who deny their sexual orientation and either attack gays as a group or serve institutions that do so"? They HAVE been betrayed by them. It's analogous to a very light-skinned black working as a high-ranking (and well-paid) aide to General Lee. I hve very little sympathy with such characters. The only argument against outing gay aides whose homophobic bosses weren't aware of their orientation is that outing the aides will do nothing to discredit their bosses, since the latter are "sincere" bigots — and even this reason doesn't apply in the case of homophobic demagogues who KNEW about their aides' true tendencies.
    So: calling such an outing campaign "morally disgusting" is a glaring overstatement — and, as you see, it has played perfectly into the hands of Maguire and his frantic attempts to distract everyone's attention from the two REALLY disgusting central scandals: the GOP's coverup of Foley's activities, and its long tradition of pandering to bigotry. (Let me add, however, how much I admire Tom's constant energetic ingenuity in such matters.)
    Let me add that I admire Tom's energetic ingenuity in trying to spin off red herrings.

  14. 1. "If any Democrat starts outing gay Republicans, I'll think he's lost his moral compass (to say nothing of his political sense). But Maguire's idea is a fantasy, and nothing more."
    2. "…is not the tactic of any Democratic politician or strategist."
    Care to opine on whethert Matt Yglesias is a Democrat?

  15. "I also think that people's sex lives ought to be their own business until they make it the public's business: for example, by putting a lover on the public payroll or, as in this case, messing around with minors."
    But they also make their sex lives "the public's business" by encouraging society — and the government — to pry into other people's sex lives and punish them for those sex lives. They have no right to uniquely escape the monster which they themselves are helping to grow.

  16. Meanwhile, back at the Chicken Ranch, another GOP staffer with inside knowledge of the case tells the Washington Post that Kirk Fordham is telling the truth and Hastert's chief of staff Scott Palmer is lying: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/arti
    The article also reports growing interest in the fact that House clerk Jeff Trandahl suddenly resigned without explanation a few days after he and Rep. Shimkus had that little talk with Foley about his Naughty E-Mails. Possibly Trandahl's stomach was a bit too delicate for what he saw was about to happen.

  17. There's a difference between the Democratic base in general (left, liberal, moderate, tend to vote Dem) and the official representatives or spokesmen of the party, i.e, "Democratic politicians and strategists." Among the former, there are mixed feelings about whether "outing" is a good thing, but it doesn't appear to be a strategy pursued by the latter.
    Maguire tries to conflate the two, implying, for instance, that because a liberal blogger such as Yglesias is OK with outing, that's evidence of an official Democratic gay-bashing strategy.
    Maguire's dissembling again. No October surprise there.

  18. Ah. JK has caught something I missed. It's always unwise to underestimate Maguire's tendentiousness.

  19. The Gerry Studds affair was twenty-four years ago.
    Actually, the affair was 33 years ago, in 1973. The revelation and censure were 23 years ago, in 1983.

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