My newest briefing for The Week is everything you need to know about Congressional pages. For the sidebar, I wrote about Gerry Studds, which was apparently the straw that broke the camel's back.
In the week before his death, Republican apologists were all over Studds like, well, a Congressman on a page. Krauthammer set the tone:
IN 1983, REPRESENTATIVE GERRY Studds, Democrat of Massachusetts, admitted to having sex with a 17-year-old male page. He was censured by the House of Representatives. During the vote, which he was compelled by House rules to be present for, Studds turned his back on the House to show his contempt for his colleagues' reprimand. He was not expelled from the Democratic Caucus. In fact, he was his party's nominee in the next election in his district--and the next five after that--winning reelection each time. He remained in the bosom of the Democratic Caucus in the House for the next 13 years.
In 2006, Republican congressman Mark Foley was found to have been engaged in lurid sexual Internet correspondence with a 16-year-old House page. There is no evidence yet of his ever laying a hand on anyone, let alone having sex with a page. When discovered, he immediately resigned. Had he not, says Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert, "I would have demanded his expulsion." Not only is Foley gone, but half the Republican House leadership has been tarred. Hastert himself came within an inch of political extinction.
Am I missing something? There seems to be an odd difference in the disposition of the two cases. By any measure, what Studds did was worse. By any measure, his treatment was infinitely more lenient.
Thanks for throwing in what you thought was a rhetorical question, CK, because, yes, you are missing something.
At least I think so. My reaction here is limited by the fact that back in 1983, the press was apparently less willing to dig deep into a sex scandal. I've looked at a bunch of articles from the time and here's the gist of what I learned about the Studds Affair.
In 1973, when he was 36, Studds had a relationship with a 17-year-old male page that lasted for several months and included a trip abroad and three nights of sex, the first one preceeded by drinking "Cape Codders," which is what the gays call vodka and cranberry juice. Ten years later, the page testified to the House Ethics Committee that Studds "was an intelligent, witty, gentle man with, I think, a high level of insecurity. He did nothing to me which I would consider destructive or painful. In another time, in another society, the action would be acceptable, perhaps even laudable. Unfortunately, this is not the case. I have no ax to grind with him. I have nothing negative to say about the man. In fact, I thought that he provided me with one of the more wonderful experiences of my life, if we exclude the instances of sexual experience which I was somewhat uncomfortable with. But I did not think it was that big a deal."
Here's what I was shocked not to be able to learn: whether Studds ever had a similar relationship with any other page, or any other barely legal (the age of consent is 16 in DC) boy. Somehow it just never came up. Given that the 73 affair was exposed during a thorough investigation ten years later (which also tripped up a hetero congressman), I'm going to assume that this means Studds' "very serious error in judgment" (his words) was a one-time thing. A case of a young man falling for a much younger one and inappropriately exploiting the power imbalance between them.
Without letting Studds off the hook, I'm comfortable saying that this is the measure by which what Foley did is much worse than what Studds did. Because Foley didn't fall for a single boy; he repeatedly and wantonly treated all male pages as targets to be groomed and pressured into quasi (and probably actual) sexual relationships. He manipulated them and, yes, preyed on them without any regard for their personhood. When they aged out, he moved on to the next batch. There is ample evidence that many pages found Foley, as one put it, "sick, sick, sick, sick, sick." Throw in the hypocrisy of all this coming from a man who worked hard to demonize and criminalize the very behavior in which he was engaging, and I don't see how you can say that Studds behavior was nearly as bad. Of course Studds was wrong to use his office as leverage for initiating a sexual relationship with a youngster who was more or less in his charge. And there's an argument that the age of consent in DC is too low (though not, as Matthew Yglesias has strikingly pointed out, "pedophilia" low). But if in fact his was a single slip-up, I think censuring and moving on was the appropriate action, while it's equally clear that Foley should never be allowed near Congressional pages again.