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    October 23, 2006

    When ideology trumps fact

    Posted by: Chris

    One of the things that makes people so cynical about Washington is the rapidity with which facts are twisted, contorted and sometimes flat-out ignored to fit the ideology of the advocate.  Rather than accept and deal with difficult facts, they are treated as inconveniences easily sacrificed for a worthy, more important end, usually coinciding with political power for the advocate and his allies.

    Reaganclinton We've seen it played out with George W. Bush over Iraq, with Bill Clinton over Monica Lewinksy, and with Ronald Reagan over the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal.  And now we're seeing it play out in how not just the right, but the left, is treating the scandal over Mark Foley's inappropriate contacts with teenage pages.

    On the right, conservatives have tried at times to blame Foley-gate on a conspiratorial release of the damning online chats just before an election.  Never mind that the media learned of the scandal from Republicans, not Democrats.  Then they tried blaming a favorite right-wing punching bag: political correctness.  Frank Rich, the liberal New York Times columnist, neatly sums up the argument (in a piece only available for pay):

    The Family Research Council's Tony Perkins, a frequent White House ally and visitor, led the way. "When we elevate tolerance and diversity to the guidepost of public life," he said on Fox News Channel, "this is what we get — men chasing 16-year-old boys around the halls of Congress." A related note was struck by the Wall Street Journal's editorial page, which asked, "Could a gay Congressman be quarantined?" The answer was no because "today's politically correct culture" — tolerance of "private lifestyle choices" — gives predatory gay men a free pass. Newt Gingrich made the same point when he announced on TV that Mr. Foley had not been policed because Republicans "would have been accused of gay bashing."

    This explanation ignores the fact that the very conservative politicians it's intended to defend — principally House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) — are saying exactly the opposite: that they were unaware of any sexually explicit online chats by Foley until the day he resigned, and would have acted if they had, political correctness or no.  Add that to the fact that no voice from anywhere along the spectrum, including the liberal bastions of political correctness, has offered any defense of Foley's actions, even after he pled alcoholism, homosexuality and a history of being abused as explanations for his actions.

    But the facts, as they have emerged thus far, are also inconvenient for those on the left, mainly gay activists and their allies.  I have always tried, while recounting them and suggesting a theory worth investigating, to also acknowledge what's known and what's not.

    Follow the jump to see how leftist ideologues have rushed to judgment:

    From the beginning, I was confident that three of the five people who knew before last fall about Foley's misconduct — retiring Congressman Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), former Foley chief of staff Kirk Fordham, and former House Clerk Jeff Trandahl — were gay, but I had only rumor and the absence of evidence to the contrary about the other two: Scott Palmer and Ted Van Der Mied, both top aides for House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). 

    But rather than acknowledge the inconvenient possibility of such a "thin pink line," gay activists and their allies have chosen to twist the evidence on its head.  Rich, in the same column, dismisses any suggestion that gay Republicans acted to protect Foley as a "classic from the annals of anti-Semitism":

    Any inference that gay Republicans on the Hill conspired to cover up Mr. Foley's behavior is preposterous. Mr. Fordham, the gay former Foley aide who spent a day testifying under oath about his warnings to Denny Hastert's staff, is to date the closest this sordid mess has to a whistle-blower, however tardy. So far, the slackers in curbing Mr. Foley over the past three years seem more straight than gay, led by the Buffalo Congressman Tom Reynolds, who is now running a guilt-ridden campaign commercial desperately apologizing to voters.

    Since Rich's Oct. 15 column, gay activists have picked up on the approach, offering up a good offense as the best defense.  The St. Petersburg Times today published a story that quotes conservatives as circumspect about the role of gay GOP-ers, while several leading gay activists, flip the facts for their own advantage:

    [Gay political activists] say Fordham, Trandahl and Kolbe did more than others to alert people about Foley, who resigned from Congress Sept. 29 after the disclosure of sexually explicit messages he sent to a former page.

    “Mistakes were made by a lot of people. Some of them were gay, some of them were straight, but sexual orientation was sort of irrelevant to what happened,” said Patrick Sammon, executive vice president of the national Log Cabin Republicans, a gay political group.

    “And it was the gay people involved who were trying to do something about his behavior.”

    Chuck Wolfe, president of the Victory Fund, a gay and lesbian political action committee, agreed.

    “I don’t buy into this whole conspiracy thing,” Wolfe said. “It appears so far that it wasn’t only the gay people who knew something was amiss. But it appears that the gay people tried to do something about it.”

    Of course the problem with this defense is that it holds true, even if there was in fact a conspiracy.  The gay Republicans can't be credited with "trying to do something about it" if all they did was tell each other and otherwise keep the matter secret, rather than take aggressive action.  It's one thing to point out the danger in suggesting a "homosexual conspiracy" before conclusory evidence of it emerges, but it's quite another to take what is known and suggest homosexual heroes.

    Instead, those on the left have rushed to pin the Foley scandal on Republicans who really matter, like Speaker Hastert and Congressman Reynolds, who in 2004 and 2006 has headed up the GOP effort to retain control of the U.S. House.  But those pesky facts still stand in the way:  To date, no one has offered proof that either Hastert or Reynolds had direct knowledge about Foley's sordid conduct; they've thus far only been smeared indirectly, through knowledge by their gay (or rumored gay) staffers.

    The culture wars can no doubt pressure activists into taking preemptive stances that aren't justified by known facts.  And it greatly satisfieds karmic justice to see this scandal hurt conservative Republicans, who have been the primary generals in the culture wars, while Democrats mostly change the subject or plead pacificism. But the left should take note at the experience of all three presidents, noted earlier, who let ideology trump fact.  They only ended up crippling their causes.



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