Republicans are Whistling Past the Foley Graveyard

Talk about whistling past the graveyard (or, in Denny Hastert's case, holding a press conference in one).

Despite a new poll showing that 79 percent of Americans think GOP Congressional leaders sacrificed the safety of teenage pages on the altar of political expediency, Republicans are desperately trying to act like the Foley scandal isn't going to have an impact on Election Day.

Indeed, during a panel discussion I was part of on Paula Zahn's show last night, author David "Rush's Brother" Limbaugh tried to make the case that the Foley story actually "could backfire" on Democrats by making them "too cocky" and by causing Christian voters "to realize just how poorly Democrats, secular Democrats, safeguard values issues. They are the party that promotes the radical homosexual agenda. They're the party connected with NAMBLA and the ACLU, which enables NAMBLA, the National Association of Man/Boy Love."

Now I'm not sure how Republican House leaders covering up the story of a predatory Republican Congressman preying on teenage pages would cause Christian voters to make the Democrat-Man/Boy Love connection... but, as frantically grasping at straws goes, Limbaugh was actually on to something: the fact that our electoral choices are frequently based on completely irrational feelings (see George Bush, circa 2004).

No one understood this better than Newt Gingrich. The classic example of his trying to exploit it came just days before the 1994 election, when Gingrich sought to make political hay out of the story of Susan Smith, the South Carolina mother who drowned her young sons by rolling her car into a lake with them strapped in the backseat.

Throwing logic and coherent thought to the wind, Gingrich called the crime "a sign of how sick the system is," adding: "And I think people want to change. The only way you get change is to vote Republican."

Now, Gingrich was roundly criticized for making this crude and illogical connection. But, on a gut level, he understood the impulse to lump all the bad things happening in our country together and seek a simple solution: vote for the party not in power.

Twelve years later, the time-for-a-change shoe is on the other foot.

The Foley story -- at least the cover up aspect of it -- is, of course, far more germane to the political debate than the Smith story ever was. But is it the reason for voters to clean House -- and the Senate? Not when compared to the far better reasons being played out on the streets of Iraq every day.

But anything that makes voters feel -- rationally or not -- that things are going to hell in a hand basket (or in an IM message) intensifies the longing for change.

Mark Foley -- and the GOP's see no buggery, hear no buggery, speak no buggery handling of him -- is one more "sign of how sick the system is."

And, this time around, the only way you get change is to vote Democrat.