The Last Yankee

Mark Foley's one-handed defense of America's real pastime


Institutional sex scandals come in only one package these days. The downfall of former Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) has become a gift that keeps on giving, but in its broad outlines it isn't much different than the sexual abuse accusations that rocked the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston in 2002. In both cases a media organization turned up a story that had been kept quiet by authorities: In the case of the Catholic Church, The Boston Globe provided the most voluminous documentation on a story that had been simmering for decades; in the case of the Congress, ABC News broke a story that Florida papers had apparently been sitting on. In each case defenders of the organization were quick to savage the media outlet in question. Neither case contains as much sex as initially advertised: Cases of actual pedophilia in the Catholic Church were rare, and instances of pederasty (that is, incidents involving adolescents rather than pre-adolescents) somewhat more common; as Kerry Howley noted yesterday, "the Mark Foley pedophilia sex scandal lacks two things: pedophilia and sex."

For different reasons, opponents of and apologists for both the Church and the Republican leadership found it convenient to accentuate the sexual aspects of the respective cases. For opponents the motivation was obvious: Both organizations trade in the regulation of human desire and are not shy about promoting their own virtues, and the scandals revealed pitch-perfect hypocrisy. But the apologists have a more complex goal: The kid-happy Republicans who are falling over themselves to denounce Foley's "obscene," "abhorrent" and "sick" antics (it's disappointing that Rep. John Shimkus, the Illinois Republican who chairs the House Page Board, hasn't yet made the two-fingered gagging gesture in any of his news conferences, but there will be plenty of time for that) are engaged in the same game as Catholic apologists who scrupulously counted each instance of improper touching a few years ago. Maximizing the questionable sexual behavior minimizes the obvious failures of management that constitute the real scandal.

This is a tried and true formula: First mischaracterize the nature of the scandal, then defend the mischaracterization. So far, however, it has proved fruitless. Mark Foley's attempt to blame the whole thing on a never-previously-hinted drinking problem is a strategy for which the number of sellers (one) is far greater than the number of buyers (zero). The House leadership may do slightly better, provided the amount of energy left in the scandal is smaller than the amount of doubletalk left in House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).

Keeping the focus on Foley's pathetic attempts at sex also point up the story's most visionary element: the normalization of masturbation as the true national pastime. With the possible exception of some enchanted evening in San Diego, Foley's lawyer claims that the congressman conducted his affair with a House page entirely in the virtual realm. Hard as that is to believe, it dovetails with ABC's Brian Ross' decision to call one of Foley's trysts "internet sex." This is an odd term, like "phone sex," that gussies up an ancient practice with a fancier or more salacious name. It's not sex at all: It's masturbation. Whatever her failings as a U.S. Surgeon General, Jocelyn Elders never had to resort to such euphemisms or blue-phemisms.

Foley was not shy about his preference for manual stimulation, even the form of two-man solitaire that frequently surfaces in the sexual explorations of youngsters (and legislators whose mid-life crises involve full-blown adolescent regression). "[D]id any girl give you a haand job this weekend," he asks his prospective boyfriend at one stage. When the boy replies that he's now single (and, tantalizingly, available), Foley asks the obvious followup: "[D]id you spank it this weekend yourself." And to the boy's reply that he is too tired, Foley gives what will undoubtedly become the capstone of his career: "[I] am never to busy haha." (All quotes are direct and uncorrected.)

There's an element of bragging in that last line, a close cousin to the kind of porn spams that promise "You'll be able to yank it like a pro." This is something new, and it's to the left-handed credit of Foley that he's at the forefront of it. Masturbation used to be vaguely shameful. Long after autostimulation was no longer regarded as sinful or unhealthy or a cause of blindness or hairy palms, it was still looked on as something of a failure, evidence that you were unqualified for sex with another adult human. For Foley, masturbation is not only a practice without shame, but a matter of great fascination, as this not-safe-for-work exchange will demonstrate:

Xxxxxxxxx (7:50:57 PM): i dont do it very often normally though
Maf54 (7:51:11 PM): why not
Maf54 (7:51:22 PM): at your age seems like it would be daily
Xxxxxxxxx (7:51:57 PM): not me
Xxxxxxxxx (7:52:01 PM): im not a horn dog
Xxxxxxxxx (7:52:07 PM): maybe 2 or 3 times a week
Maf54 (7:52:20 PM): thats a good number
Maf54 (7:52:27 PM): in the shower
Xxxxxxxxx (7:52:36 PM): actually usually i dont do it in the shower
Xxxxxxxxx (7:52:42 PM): just cause i shower in the morning
Xxxxxxxxx (7:52:47 PM): and quickly
Maf54 (7:52:50 PM): in the bed
Xxxxxxxxx (7:52:59 PM): i get up at 530 and am outta the house by 610
Xxxxxxxxx (7:53:03 PM): eh ya
Maf54 (7:53:24 PM): on your back
Xxxxxxxxx (7:53:30 PM): no face down
Maf54 (7:53:32 PM): love details
Xxxxxxxxx (7:53:34 PM): lol
Xxxxxxxxx (7:53:36 PM): i see that
Xxxxxxxxx (7:53:37 PM): lol
Maf54 (7:53:39 PM): really
Maf54 (7:53:54 PM): do you really do it face down
Xxxxxxxxx (7:54:03 PM): ya
Maf54 (7:54:13 PM): kneeling
Xxxxxxxxx (7:54:31 PM): well i dont use my hand.i use the bed itself
Maf54 (7:54:31 PM): where do you unload it
Xxxxxxxxx (7:54:36 PM): towel
Maf54 (7:54:43 PM): really
Maf54 (7:55:02 PM): completely naked?
Xxxxxxxxx (7:55:12 PM): well ya
Maf54 (7:55:21 PM): very nice
Xxxxxxxxx (7:55:24 PM): lol
Maf54 (7:55:51 PM): cute butt bouncing in the air
Xxxxxxxxx (7:56:00 PM): haha
Xxxxxxxxx (7:56:05 PM): well ive never watched myslef
Xxxxxxxxx (7:56:08 PM): but ya i guess
Maf54 (7:56:18 PM): i am sure not
Maf54 (7:56:22 PM): hmmm
Maf54 (7:56:30 PM): great visual
Maf54 (7:57:05 PM): i always use lotion and the hand
Maf54 (7:57:10 PM): but who knows
Xxxxxxxxx (7:57:24 PM): i dont use lotion.takes too much time to clean up
Xxxxxxxxx (7:57:37 PM): with a towel you can just wipe off..and go
Maf54 (7:57:38 PM): lol
Maf54 (7:57:45 PM): where do you throw the towel
Xxxxxxxxx (7:57:48 PM): but you cant work it too hard..or its not good
Xxxxxxxxx (7:57:51 PM): in the laundry
Maf54 (7:58:16 PM): just kinda slow rubbing
Xxxxxxxxx (7:58:23 PM): ya..
Xxxxxxxxx (7:58:32 PM): or youll rub yourslef raw
Maf54 (7:58:37 PM): well I have aa totally stiff wood now
Xxxxxxxxx (7:58:40 PM): cause the towell isnt very soft
Maf54 (7:58:44 PM): i bet..taht would hurt
Xxxxxxxxx (7:58:50 PM): but you cn find something softer than a towell i guess
Maf54 (7:58:59 PM): but it must feel great spirting on the towel
Xxxxxxxxx (7:59:06 PM): ya
Maf54 (7:59:29 PM): wow
Maf54 (7:59:48 PM): is your little guy limp.or growing
Xxxxxxxxx (7:59:54 PM): eh growing
Maf54 (8:00:00 PM): hmm
Maf54 (8:00:12 PM): so you got a stiff one now
Xxxxxxxxx (8:00:19 PM): not that fast
Xxxxxxxxx (8:00:20 PM): hey
Xxxxxxxxx (8:00:32 PM): so you have a fetich
Maf54 (8:00:32 PM): hey what
Xxxxxxxxx (8:00:40 PM): fetish**
Maf54 (8:00:43 PM): like
Maf54 (8:00:53 PM): i like steamroom
Maf54 (8:01:04 PM): whats yours
Xxxxxxxxx (8:01:09 PM): its kinda weird
Xxxxxxxxx (8:01:14 PM): lol
Maf54 (8:01:21 PM): i am hard as a tell me when your reaches rock

This pathetic exchange (and there's plenty more where that came from) marks a departure. Before the scandal is over, Foley will undoubtedly play another card, the one that seems to have worked for former New Jersey governor James McGreevey: He will come out not as an alcoholic or a victim of priestly sexual abuse (a gambit that joins the decade's two great sex scandals), but simply as a gay man, a Republican Barney Frank, pursuing happiness in his own way.

But the Foley in this exchange doesn't seem particularly committed to any gender preference. It's yanking it that's the source of the real fascination. And it's too bad he didn't stay true to that love. The great advantage of masturbation is that it spares you the pain and risk of dealing with another person. And the heartbreak: While he may not be a pedophile, Foley here resembles Humbert Humbert toward the end of his affair with Lolita, an old, pitiful man getting played by a child who is finally aware of the power he or she can wield in exchange for doling out stingy amounts of sexual release. In that case the IM exchange that Brian Ross coyly describes as "Foley and the teen [appearing] to describe having sexual orgasms" may be a form of distance learning.

With Foley gone from the scene, however, the scandal now grinds on in the regions where it should remain: as an example of a self-protecting institution that, like the Catholic Church before it, responded to a crisis in ways that reveal its detachment from whatever social norms exist in the United States. (And come to think of it, why do both the Congress and the church seem so attached to maintaining a permanent catamite class, in the form of pages and altar boys, respectively?) But Foley's work is already done. Jerking off may not have been cloaked in darkness and shame before he came along, but it took the hypocrite congressman to wrap it in a sheen of pride and vigor. And he did it with one hand behind his back.