There’s one prominent Republican who has remained silent during the flood of publicity and recriminations surrounding lurid emails sent by GOP Congressman Mark Foley of Florida to teenage male Congressional pages. He lives in California.
President Bush checked in saying Foley’s resignation and the allegations of a cover-up by top Republican lawmakers including House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois amount to nothing.
Hastert’s top deputies waffled, saying first that they informed him, then that they might or might not have. Plenty of Republicans are calling for Hastert’s ouster.
But there’s one central point on which few are focusing: Creepy as Foley’s emails might have been, odd as his apparent pursuits of pages and other young men at cocktail parties might have seemed, so far there is no evidence of any physical acts.
So why is California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger one of the few major Republicans keeping silent on the scandal roiling his party? Might it be because he lives in a glass house and doesn’t want to throw stones?
Schwarzenegger, remember, didn’t just talk about his own sexual peccadilloes. He acted on them and admitted to it when found out. He even promised to hire a private detective to investigate his own behavior, and then never did.
Yes, there are differences. Foley’s suggestive emails were to minors, while Schwarzenegger’s admitted and alleged acts were on non-consenting adults, at least one of whom sued him. And there are no allegations of pedophilia or homosexuality against Schwarzenegger.
But no journalist in California, no national political writer, has apparently even noticed the fact that Schwarzenegger – with a double digit lead over reelection challenger Phil Angelides in every major poll – has a history of sexual misdeeds. He admitted to physical acts, something Foley, for one, has not.
The situation here is a lot like what has transpired in baseball, where almost everyone in the sport knew for at least 10 years before it became a scandal that the use of performance enhancing drugs was common, but almost no one said anything about it.
When one Associated Press reporter, Steve Wilstein, wrote about spotting a bottle of androstendione tablets in the locker of slugger Mark McGwire during his 1998 home run derby with Sammy Sosa, other reporters and baseball fans vilified Wilstein and not McGwire or Sosa, with their inhumanly huge biceps. No one denied that androstendione is a performance enhancer and McGwire admitted using it.
Similarly, when the Los Angeles Times wrote at length in 2003 about Schwarzenegger’s history of groping women and Schwarzenegger – like McGwire – admitted to the behavior involved, politicians and voters vilified the Times, with accusations it was engaging in “last-minute hit pieces.”
Like baseball fans choosing not to heed what McGwire was doing during his 70-home-run season, voters elected Schwarzenegger governor by a 15-point margin over the second-place finisher. He even got 42 percent of the women’s vote, to the puzzlement of many.
And this fall, when audiotapes revealed Schwarzenegger telling aides how “hot” Latino Republican Assemblywoman Bonnie Garcia is, voters and journalists and Garcia herself simply accepted his lame explanation that he meant she was “fiery” and intended no sexual implications. Right.
The question that arises from all this is simple: Why did Foley have to go, while Schwarzenegger continues getting a free pass for all his coarse language, his threats to “kick the butt” of the state nurses’ union and his “girlie men” and “losers” insults toward Democrats and others who ended up kicking his butt in last November’s special election?
The answer can only be star power. It’s apparently OK to say almost anything if you’re the Terminator and married to a Kennedy. It’s OK to promise never to take special interest money and then set records for doing so. It’s OK to promise to fully fund public schools, then take billions away and later proclaim you are a champion of education.
It’s all OK because if you’re a movie star and the voters and the press corps and even your opponent and the leaders of your party are adoring and ignoring enough, you can get away with behavior about as crude as what now has your own political party in complete disarray and near panic.
It all brings back one thing Thomas Jefferson famously said in 1801: “In a democracy, the people get precisely the government they deserve.”