posted by bitchphd
In a nutshell, what I was saying is that it isn't just a simple "sex sells" or "Americans are Puritans" situation. The timing and broader significance of this thing, I think, are why it's a big deal--after all, it's not as if we haven't had previous Republican sex scandals. David Hagar, Bryan Doyle, and my own Governator: any of those ring a bell?
But the Foley thing, I think, is different. First, we're a month away from midterm elections.
Second--and this is the point I was really trying to make on the air yesterday--I think that it really speaks to the heart of the Republican Party's platform in the last few years, which is all about the public/private divide. Are abortion, birth control, gay marriage private issues, or are they subjects for public policymaking? Do the problems of the workforce for parents with families constitute a public crisis, or are they merely the inevitable result of private decisions that women make about whether or not to work? Are we willing to give up our privacy in order to secure public safety? Is protecting the "homeland"--and if any sphere is defined as private, the "home" is--from political problems of the larger public world really what the Iraq war is all about? Does the renewed Patriot Act go too far by suspending the habeas corpus rights of private individuals in order to protect the American public? Does that same American public have a right to know about classified reports on issues of national import? Should the private individuals who leak classified material to public forums be considered traitors or heroes? Do we need public records of what happens in the privacy of the voting booth?
This stuff is key for the Republicans. They have built their house on the ideas that the private arena of sex, gender, and sexuality is a matter of public concern, and that the public's right to know and debate political decisions threatens the government's need to keep such decisions private--for the public good. It's pretty significant that this Foley thing is the public scandal that's keeping Woodward's book and the new Patriot Act's dismissal of habeas corpus off the front pages and the nightly news. And I think that, on some unrecognized level, Foley's role as scapegoat for Republican family values hypocrisy serves as a synechdoche for the much bigger Republican hypocrisy of turning the public and private spheres inside out.
And then there's the fact that it's an internet scandal--captured in IM, discussed all over the blogosphere (at the time of writing, "Foley" is the top search word on Technorati; "Mark Foley" is number three. The internet plays a key role in all of these other public / private issues, too: its ability to spread information quickly, our ability to dig beyond mainstream American news sources, its role in grassroots electioneering and political organizing, are all various said to be making a huge difference, or to be making no difference at all. In both the family values discussion and the political arena, the internet's ability to bring the public world into the private home (and vice-versa) generates celebration but also anxiety.
So I don't think it's a coincidence that Foley's IMs with a 16-year old page, or a few of them, is a big deal. Nor do I think it's merely vouyeristic sensationalism. I think that the publication of Foley's private flirtations with young people he knew because their first forays into the public sphere brought them in contact with him, and the questions about whether his private flirtations constituted an abuse of his public responsibility and whether Hastert covered up the situation (kept it private) to keep it from becoming public--I think all of this stuff is touching a nerve because it's playing out in ways that highlight our contradictory ideas about publicness and privacy.
In any case, I hope it creates a big difference in our public representation when all those Americans go pull the privacy curtains on those voting booths. Because while I don't personally give a rat's ass what Foley thinks is hot, I do think we're well overdue for some big public changes. Contradictory it may well be, but I'm rather fond of the traditional American relationship between private and public, where what I do with my private parts isn't the public's business, and what the government does with public policy, is.