Is The Foley Scandal A Wedge Buster? genre: Gaylingual & Hip-Gnosis & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Driving a wedge

The dust has yet to settle on the scandal surrounding the resignation of Florida Congressman Mark Foley after the exposure of solicitous emails to an underage male page. Foley's actions are especially damaging to the GOP given his position on the Congressional committee intended to protect children from exploitation. The fact that the Republican congressional leadership seemingly ignored some of the troubling emails despite being alerted to their existence may offer the Democrats a much needed wedge buster. The Washington Post discusses the ramifications in a new article published today.

From The Washington Post:

As House GOP leaders defended their role in handling revelations that forced Foley on Friday to give up his House seat, party strategists said the scandal threatens to depress turnout among Christian conservatives and could hamper efforts to convince undecided and swing voters that Republicans deserve to remain in the majority.

There was intense anger among social conservative activists in Washington yesterday, and some called for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) to resign.

Others warned that the impact could be much greater. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council and an important social conservative leader, said "there's a real chance" that the episode could dethrone the Republican majority. "I think the next 48 hours are critical in how this is handled," he said, adding that "when a party holds itself out as the guardian of values, this is not helpful."

By yesterday, a number of GOP strategists reported widespread gloom about the party's prospects, combined with intense anger at the House leadership.

In a further sign of the outrage, The Washington Times, a notably conservative newspaper, also called for the resignation of House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

From The Washington Times:

House Speaker Dennis Hastert must do the only right thing, and resign his speakership at once. Either he was grossly negligent for not taking the red flags fully into account and ordering a swift investigation, for not even remembering the order of events leading up to last week's revelations -- or he deliberately looked the other way in hopes that a brewing scandal would simply blow away. He gave phony answers Friday to the old and ever-relevant questions of what did he know and when did he know it? Mr. Hastert has forfeited the confidence of the public and his party, and he cannot preside over the necessary coming investigation, an investigation that must examine his own inept performance.

In my opinion, these recent events provide the Democratic Party with an opportunity to begin the process of dismantling the values wedge that has been created by the Republican Party. Time and again, the GOP has attempted to characterize the Democratic Party's position on issues of morality as inferior and designed to undermine religious beliefs. Don't get me wrong...I'm not suggesting that conservative Republicans are going to immediately change their political affiliations and begin voting Democratic. Nonetheless, I think this situation provides the Democrats an opportunity to draw some important distinctions.

The GOP has been able to characterize Democratic support for a woman's right to choose, support for gay rights issues, and support for a number of other values topics as positions of insufficient moral standing. I believe the Democrats can pivot from the Foley situation to redefine themselves to values voters. Democrats need to make clear to religious voters that they are not opposed to religion and that they have been unfairly accused in that regard by a Republican Party that has sought to exploit the beliefs of this important voting block.

Here's how I would frame the message if I were a Democratic strategist. It begins with a clear explanation that the duty of elected officials is to uphold our constitution...the social contract that we American's embrace and that was designed to provide equal rights and equal opportunity to all Americans without the imposition of any particular religious doctrine. Therefore the document is first and foremost about fairness and tolerance. In that regard, the actions of elected carrying out their constitutional responsibilities may not always comport with specific religious beliefs...but they will always honor the intent of the constitution.

Further, that consistency is not intended to invalidate the religious beliefs that voters may hold...but it is also necessary to avoid the imposition of one belief system over another. At the same time, in observing the constitution, elected officials may not require a citizen or a group of citizens to embrace or act in any way that may well be contrary to the religious convictions of the individual or the group. In other words, the constitution provides equitable reciprocity.

I would then compare and contrast that with the actions of the GOP and suggest that while the Republican Party may, from time to time, be willing to endorse particular religious beliefs and occasionally seek to legislate those beliefs...those actions may not be based upon the same religious convictions and may well be a calculation intended to give the appearance of endorsing those beliefs in order to obtain the votes they seek to maintain power. I would ask that voters consider the numerous Republican scandals as well as examine the apparent disconnect between their words and their actions.

I would conclude by asking values voters to consider the possibility that the Republican Party has sought to deceive the many religious voters they have courted and while the Democrats may not endorse some or all of the measures values voters support, they have not engaged in manipulation for political gain. Finally, I would ask voters whether the honesty and integrity demonstrated by many Democrats in opposing the imposition of religious beliefs...based upon upholding our constitution...may well be favorable to the repeated revelations that the GOP gives lip service to values in order to amass power. In essence, isn't honesty also a question of values?

In the end, the Democrat's goal need not be to promise values voters that they will endorse legislation they believe is contrary to the constitution just to appease them...they merely need to point out that the Republican Party isn't the Party of values they purport to be. Doing so may not immediately change votes, but it removes an advantage that has tilted the playing field for far too long. If values voters can be convinced that their voting decisions aren't actually black and white, they may well take the time to listen to the arguments made by Democrats that have been so successfully characterized by their Republican counterparts as the ranting of anti-religious extremists. From my own perspective, I would trust an honest and candid opponent with my well being far more than someone who is willing to deceive me in order to win my allegiance.

This may be the opening Democrats have long sought to dispel the presumption that the depth and breadth of values can be encompassed in the Republican rhetoric of gays, guns, and God. The absence of honesty and integrity being witnessed in this scandal and numerous others finally exposes the degree to which Karl Rove and his operatives have blatantly manipulated this particular voter constituency. Perhaps this incident can finally be the catalyst to begin the difficult task of uniting, not dividing.

Daniel DiRito | October 3, 2006 | 9:13 AM
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