I know it's the sex that is giving the Mark Foley scandal sizzle. But it's the substance that is giving it staying power.
I've been seeing this picture all over the internet: I took this version from John McQuaid's Huffington Post blog. He looks at it and sees symbols (well, of course I do, too). But the message this picture, and the whole mess that this sex scandal has become, sends the American people is that the folks in charge are clueless.
The first serious criticism of the Bush administration came in an article by Run Suskind in Esquire "quoting John DiIulio, former Bush director of the White House Office Of Faith-based and Community Initiatives, saying that politics, not policy run the Bush White House, that speeches come first and policy is hastily and sketchily constructed later, that Bush is kept on the short leash of far right preconceptions of the world that often don't jibe with reality, and that fear of Karl Rove prevents staffers from providing him with news from the real world that might contradict his extreme, conservative vision.
In DiIulio's words, 'there is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: complete lack of a policy apparatus.'"
The one thing to add is that this is not just the modus operandi of President Bush; it is the modus operandi of the entire Republican Party at this point. Nor is this a new thing. If you paid attention to the Clinton Impeachment trial, the astonishing thing was the way the Republicans served up their conspiracy theories as if they were factual, and then were left high and dry when it turns out Vernon Jordan wasn't in Little Rock cutting a deal with a judge but on a plane over the Atlantic on his way to Europe. And what made it truly astonishing was: the Republicans apparently never even considered the need to check their facts.
Thus all the weird and delicious dust the wingnutteria is serving up right now: blame the gay activists, blame the Democrats, blame the pages, blame the press, just please, in the age of accountability, don't blame us.
What this huge imbroglio shows is that while the Republicans think an awful lot (and frightfully well) about getting elected, they simply are completely lacking in any thing that would resemble a political philosophy, much less a governing philosophy and totally without the ability to engage in critical thinking.
What this huge imbroglio shows is that there are no more adults left in the Republican Party. What coherence the party had was built around Tom Delay and his ability to enforce discipline. He made the Republican party a disciplined parliamentary party that came into its own when it could mark in lockstep with its executive leader. I'm sure the political history professors will be having a field day studying what he did for as long as we have political history professors. Maybe the past six years have resembled the gilded age of the 1870s, but was that Republican party really so disciplined or just corrupt? Could a single figure in that era enforce his will the way Delay could--across not just the party apparatus in Congress, but across the web of lobbying shops and think tanks.
What this huge imbroglio most clearly shows is that with Delay gone, there's no one to enforce discipline. The only role the current house leadership has ever had was to keep the money flowing and keep the apparatus greased to do Delay's bidding. Now, its every man for himself.
The sad thing is that no policy (other than putting oneself up to the highest bidder) is worse than bad policy. Just as with the parliamentary party falling off a cliff, the fiscal pressures are also going to drive the country over a cliff. Bad things will happen in a hurry. They believe their policies only produce good things, so they will continue their policy to prove reality wrong. Exhibit A: Iraq.
It is a big and fabulously prosperous country, with many strengths which I hope means I am wrong. But I believe that six years of Republican rule has fundamentally weakened the country, that far worse disasters than a middle-aged man exchanging ribald talk with a teenager lurk in our near future, and that if these folks remain in charge, we are finished as a world power. I look at Baghdad and keep thinking: if these people have their way, that's what they'll make of Washington.