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William Rivers Pitt: The Tipping Point

The Tipping Point

By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Wednesday 04 October 2006

Let's see.

Anything important happen over the last several days?

Seventeen American soldiers have been killed in Iraq since Saturday. Dozens of civilians have died in the last few days as the sectarian civil war in Baghdad reaches new and horrific levels of violence. The bombers have gotten clever, it seems; they detonate one device to bring in rescue workers, police and onlookers. When the post-blast crowd is thick enough, they detonate another device.

Condoleezza Rice has been exposed once again as a bad liar. Several new reports confirm that CIA Director Tenet and CIA Counterterrorism Director Black did, in fact, deliver a stern warning to her regarding an impending terror attack two months before 9/11. That same warning was given one week later to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Attorney General Ashcroft, in a briefing described as a "10 out of 10" on the Take-This-Seriously-o-Meter by the official who prepared it.

Rice, Rumsfeld and Ashcroft all received frightening warnings before the attacks, with Bush getting the August 6th PDB warning to cap it off, and nothing came of it. This moves matters well beyond simple negligence. It is abundantly clear that there was a policy in place to whistle past any and all terror warnings in the months before 9/11. It wasn't about incompetence. It was policy.

Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff reappeared on the scene over these last few days. A bipartisan Congressional report described hundreds of contacts between Abramoff and the White House, including 82 contacts with Karl Rove's office and at least ten between Abramoff and Rove himself. Recall that former White House spokesman Scott McClellan brushed off any White House-Abramoff associations back in January, describing them merely as a "few staff-level meetings."

Congressman Henry Waxman, minority chair for the House Government Reform Committee, released a massive batch of emails from Abramoff to various Washington DC power players. In one, dated March 18, 2002, Abramoff wrote, "I was sitting yesterday with Karl Rove, Bush's top advisor, at the NCAA basketball game, discussing Israel when this email came in. I showed it to him. It seems that the President was very sad to have to come out negatively regarding Israel, but that they needed to mollify the Arabs for the upcoming war on Iraq."

"The upcoming war in Iraq," wrote Abramoff casually, one year and two days before the invasion was undertaken. It seems those "few staff-level meetings" availed Abramoff of some significant information. How this criminal came to know war in Iraq was coming before the rest of the world did is something that deserves a great deal of intense scrutiny.

So, yeah, a few things have bubbled up in the last few days that, one would think, might bring a drop of sweat or two out on any number of Republican brows. Amazingly enough, however, it isn't the war or the 9/11 lies and failures or even Abramoff that is inspiring the Republican perspiration.

No, it's a sex scandal. Of course.

The details, which everyone but a few hermits living in caves deep below the earth have heard by now, are astonishingly lurid. Congressman Mark Foley, Republican of Florida, engaged in long bouts of sexually charged email and Instant Message correspondence with male teenage Congressional pages. In one graphic instance, Foley indulged in online sex with a page while waiting for a vote on funding appropriations for the Iraq war. This man, it should be noted, was co-chair of the Congressional Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus.

Foley quit his office two hours after being asked about these emails and IMs by ABC News reporters, making his departure from Washington the fastest on record since the British torched the city in 1814.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who apparently knew of Foley's predilections, is currently being savaged on all sides for his failure to deal with the situation. The word "resignation" is being bandied about, and Hastert may well be fed to the wolves by his fellow Republicans, who need a scandal like this on the eve of razor-close midterm elections about as much as they need ... well ... about as much as they need a pedophile in their caucus.

Foley, after resigning, claimed all these bad things he's done are because he is an alcoholic. He has entered a clinic, run by the Scientologists, for treatment of alcohol abuse and behavioral disorders. Foley's lawyer appeared before cameras on Tuesday to reiterate the claim that all this happened because of the demon rum, and then took it one step further: Foley's attraction to children is a product of the sexual abuse he absorbed as a youth at the hands of an unnamed clergyman.

Interesting, that. There are hundreds of people alive today who were molested by priests when they were children, and there are probably millions of alcoholics abroad in the land. One wonders how many of these people, especially those exposed to the wretched behavior of priests, went on in life to stalk and sexually dabble with children. It cannot be denied that the abuse Foley absorbed, if true, was unimaginably damaging. Yet rumor has it that he is a member of The Party of Personal Responsibility. That boat, it seems, is taking on water.

Foley is not a pedophile, said the lawyer. Foley absolutely did not engage in direct sexual activity with children. The lawyer should have checked his notes. In April of 2003, Foley apparently had a dalliance with an underaged page which he later commented on in an Instant Message. "I miss you lots since san diego," reads the message obtained by ABC News.


The reaction on the Right has been scattered, to say the least. Social conservatives and the family values brigades have been thrown so off-stride by the Foley scandal that they cannot decide whether to scratch their watches or wind their butts. Many have simply gone silent. More than a few, however, have gone into full battle mode. It is all a Democratic plot, said Rush Limbaugh. It's a plot to destroy me, said Speaker Hastert. In one unutterably amusing scene, the Fox News Network reported on the Foley scandal and flashed his picture on the screen three different times. Beneath the picture was a caption that read, "Mark Foley (D-Fla.)." Yep, he's a Democrat now.

It is difficult to nail down which aspect of all this is more repugnant. Certainly, a congressman using his position to prey on children, all the while sitting on a committee aimed at protecting children from people like him, is beneath contempt. Almost equally disgusting has been the all-too-familiar chorus from bigots like Pat Buchanan, who cannot miss an opportunity to conflate homosexuality with pedophilia. To paraphrase comedian Chris Rock, that train's never late.

But perhaps worst of all is the fact that a story like this is what captures the complete attention of the news media, and by proxy, captures the attention of the American public. Iraq, 9/11 and Abramoff don't pique the interest of those tasked to report the facts. A sex scandal, however, is a five-alarm house on fire. This does not say much for them, and in the end, doesn't say much for the rest of us, either.

Still, there is this. Columnist Molly Ivins once famously noted that you got to dance with them what brung ya. This Foley scandal may well become the tipping point that drives this catastrophically dangerous Republican party out of power in Congress come November, and may finally unleash an avalanche that will sweep some degree of accountability back into government. It is sad and sorry and sick that it took the exposure of a molester to even entertain the possibility, but then again, this is George W. Bush's America. Sad and sorry and sick have been our watchwords for a very long time.


William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence. His newest book, House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America's Ravaged Reputation, will be available this winter from PoliPointPress.

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