Bill Long 10/3/06
Not the Kind that You Expected
It is a classic rule in American politics that in October of an election year the party in power will try to pull out an "October surprise" which, because of their control of money or easy access to the news outlets, will enrage or galvanize voters to give them another two or four years in power. Republicans have become masters at manufacturing such a surprise. For example, in 2004, when many of my Democratic friends were hoping that John Kerry would dump Bush, I told them that, frankly, that would be impossible because Kerry just handn't built enough of a cushion to sustain an attack or a Repulican "coup" in the Fall. Sure enough, Kerry was vigorously attacked by the Swift Boat Veterans and his campaign weakened. Then, the Republicans announced glowing progress in Iraq--that elections were imminent and a constitution was about to be adopted. Before you knew it, Kerry was history.
As we were approaching October 2006, I thought the Bush people and Republicans were toast, but then I realized the three-fold nature of the October surprise they were planning. One aspect was legislative--to pass laws allowing strict interrogation of suspected terrorists and to limit access to courts for these people by curtailing the writ of habeas corpus. Then, the Republicans would present themselves as tough on terrorism and paint the Democrats as wimps. Second, the Republicans would arrange with a sympathetic Saudi prince to increase the daily output of oil so that gas prices, which have been high in the US of late, would fall just before election time. Third, as a result of the gas dip, the stock market would rise, possibly to all-time highs.
Well, the Republicans pulled off their plans without a hitch. A "tough" new series of laws started to deflect attention away from how miserably the War in Iraq was going. And, the economic news was quite good--better even than expected. Gas prices have even fallen in my town to less than $2.50 per gallon for regular unleaded. It seemed as if Karl Rove or the other Bush strategists had, once again, pulled a political miracle. You had to hand it to them; the strategists have made the most out of very little since the Israelites survived on manna in the Wilderness.
The Real October Surprise
But then, just as everyone least expected it, the real October surprise may have just exploded--and exploded right in the Republicans' faces. It really is a one-two punch or, better said, a "one-two-three" punch which might indeed bring the Republicans down a notch next month. First there was the Clinton interview on Fox TV, which began to put the heat on the Bush Administration for their having ignored terrorist warnings in July, as well as August, 2001. Then, when this was dying down a bit, Bob Woodward came out with his latest book which indicts the White House for the same issue. Woodward also argues that the Administration has been in a "state of denial" about the level of continuing violence in Iraq and has hidden the truth about it from the American people.
These things would have been bad enough, and would have possibly been sufficient (though I don't think they would have been) to loosen the Republicans' strangle hold on the Legislative branch. But then, the biggest surprise came. It is not that the actions of former US Rep Mark Foley (R-FL) harmed people in the same way that the War in Iraq harms people. It is not that he has committed criminal acts, though he may have done so. Rather, it is that Mark Foley's acts stand so diametrically opposed to what the Republicans have been trying to say about themselves to the nation for the past few decades..that they are the party of family values and "one man, one woman" relationships. It is the symbolism of what he has done, more than anything else, that has Republicans scrambling for their political lives' now. This October surprise ought to warn us, then, that it is not totally in the competence of the party in power, not fully in the control of even those who seem so maddeningly in control, to dictate the course of events. But, before I close, I want to say a word about Mark Foley.
A Few Words of Understanding
Mark Foley's career as a positive and influential public figure is now and probably forever at an end. He, who was one of the vocal critics of Clinton's sexual dalliances, now has to pay his own piper. But from what we can limn about his life from this side of the salacious and inappropriate email exchange with underage boys, does conjure up some understanding, if not sympathy. He, too, along with tens of thousands of boys now men my age, were probably sexually abused by religious leaders they trusted. And, along with that abuse go days and nights of self-hatred, confusion, anger, desire to cover up, bouts of depression and, in Foley's case, incredible energy directed towards trying to "outrun" his troubles by becoming a noted public figure.
And, he seemed to have succeeded. But the incredible loneliness, which only those who have been abused or are members of sexual minorities, who have tried to "hide" our "outrun" their distresses, who have tried to "submerge" their griefs in alcoholism or one or another form of addiction, the loneliness caught up with Mark Foley. He might have been committed to, at the same time titillated by the youth he tried to sponsor. He probably wanted to have some kind of "closeness" to them while not crossing the "line" into bad behavior. But the magnet of human connection, of longing and disgust, of self-hatred but desire to overcome his past, became too strong for him.
Lonely nights in hotel rooms are the prime place where middle-aged men contemplate doing unwise things. And, so it was for Foley that the conversations he had with an unnamed page from his Pensacola hotel room in 2003, revealed last week, undid him. I don't understand even a portion of the mental torment that Foley faced over the years as he tried to run from his deep past. But now he may have a chance, finally, to face it. Now, perhaps, he doesn't have to run from the ghosts of Boston in the 1960s anymore. Maybe now he can gain a measure of personal dignity and self-knowledge, when the world is simply shaking its finger at him.
October surprises abound, then, for all of us this year. But maybe Foley's surprise might lead us to examine our own lives, to discover what we might be running from and to resolve that honest facing of our present and past should be our choice for this year...
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long