Sunday, July 27, 2003
by Wayne Besen
For many years, Rep. Mark Foley, F-Fla., and his chief of staff Kirk Fordham made up a “dynamic duo of denial”. Foley would revel in his active gay social life and Fordham would keep frothing activist and media hounds at bay.
This dog and phony show was supposed to end last week after protective watch-poodle Fordham scheduled an emergency press conference to discuss published and percolating rumors about Congressman Closet’s sexuality.
“Yep, I’m Gay” was clearly the headline people expected to see in the morning’s newspaper. Shockingly, the opposite happened with Foley holding a bizarre press conference to announce he would remain in the closet. Who throws a “staying in” press conference?
''Elected officials, even those who run for the United States Senate, must have some level of privacy,'' Foley said at his press conference. “My mother and father raised me and the rest of my family to believe that there are certain things we shouldn't discuss in public.” Foley went on to call the reports of his sexuality “revolting and unforgivable.”
Foley, who is now a U.S. Senate candidate in Florida, will remember this press conference as his political funeral. It was a craven miscalculation that infuriated gay activists who were disgusted by Foley’s self-loathing. He alienated religious conservatives who will never support and openly gay Senator. And Foley also showed swing voters that he is a remarkably cynical politician who stands for nothing other than advancing his own career.
Foley is now an exiled politician with no core constituency – unless you count closeted Republicans, which incidentally, is no small group. In a statewide race, however, who is going to serve as Foley’s foot soldiers? I doubt Florida’s Christian Coalition is going to mobilize volunteers to elect Congressman Closet.
Foley’s 1950’s-style denial made homosexuality seem like a shameful, dirty secret that shouldn’t be discussed among polite Republican company. He set back the clock and offered a destructive message for gay youth - the subtext being that job success depends on secrecy.
Foley, for his part, seems to wish the issue would just go away so he could propel his career and talk about “real issues”. What Foley doesn’t seem to understand is that gay civil rights and privacy rights are not tangential, but very real issues that are at the top of the nation’s political agenda. The Supreme Court will soon unveil its decision on the constitutionality of sodomy laws.
And Sen. Rick “Sanctimonious” Santorum, R-Penn., caused a recent furor when he suggested that there is no right to privacy for Americans, particularly those who are gay.
It is interesting that Foley is such an adamant “privacy” rights advocate when it comes to his own personal privacy, yet he was virtually silent regarding Sen. Santorum’s dangerous comments. This disconnect proves that until Foley comes out he would make an ineffective Senator who would self-censor and avoid key political debates to protect his closet.
But Foley will ultimately fail because he has been exposed as a political opportunist who lacks integrity and who will be unable to inspire voters. While John F. Kennedy will be remembered for saying, “Ask not what your country can do for you,” Foley will be remembered for saying, “Don’t Ask.” This is hardly a stirring message and it will turn off swing voters who want politicians who are honest and sincere.
Ironically, Foley smeared Democrats by accusing them of a smear campaign that was entirely imaginary. But despite Foley’s transparent partisan tactics, it is becoming clear that right wing Republicans will ultimately lower the guillotine on Foley’s withering political career.
According to the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, Republican state committeeman for Palm Beach County, John Parsons, recently sent an e-mail raising questions about Foley's sexual orientation to the 24 members of the state House of Representatives who are on Foley's Senate campaign steering committee. Following Foley’s strange press conference Parsons remained unimpressed by Foley’s denials.
"By dodging the question, it makes him appear to be a homosexual to me," Parsons told the Sentinel.
The best political advice I can give Foley is to watch the reality show “Extreme Makeover”. Because once Foley loses his party’s Senate primary after a sustained Republican whisper campaign, he will have to make a tough choice. He can remake himself into a moderate Democrat and apologize for voting in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996, a federal law that bans gay marriage.
Or he can pursue his second option, which is staying in a virulently homophobic party that rejects him and offers him no political future. For such a slippery, protean politician I believe the choice will be simple. Foley will do what is best for Mark Foley’s career and eventually switch parties.
Foley is not a man to pity such as the confused and tortured Michael Huffington. He is simply a vain, calculating, solipsistic politician who stands for nothing but his own résumé. He has betrayed the GLBT community, deceived the right wing and offered nothing substantive or enduring to public service. Florida and America deserve more than having Congressman Closet become Senator Secret.
I hope Foley chooses to redeem himself after his political career collapses, but he will have a lot of work to do.