I came to Washington when I was 17 because I wanted to get involved in politics. I had heard about the Congressional Page program when I was in high school, and thought it sounded so exciting, but it was not a realistic option for me. Instead, I came to Trinity to study Political Science; I dreamed of becoming a staffer to a Congressman on Senator, or even running for office. I never did get around to working on the Hill, turning to the study of law rather than the practice of politics. But I remain intensely interested in politics, and in the ways in which young citizens can learn the ropes of political engagement. I’m so proud of all Trinity students and alumnae who participate across the political spectrum in the great work of advancing democracy through political action.
I first met Congressional pages when I was running the Street Law program at Georgetown University Law Center, a program in which law students taught courses about law and the legal system to high school students. We had a Street Law course at the Congressional Page School, high up in the dome of the Library of Congress. At long last, I got a chance to go to the Page School! I was there as a supervisor of the law student instructors. The pages were some of the brightest, most interesting young people I ever met (next to my own Trinity classmates), and I always looked forward to the days when I would visit the Page School for my supervisory duties.
The Page Program is one way that young citizens can learn about the federal political system, how Congress works, and perhaps even more important, how the people who make our federal laws really work — not just the civics “How a Bill Becomes a Law” textbook education, but the real wheeling-and-dealing of lawmaking. There’s nothing wrong with learning how to wheel-and-deal; it’s the stuff of political life in this country. Good for the young citizens who earnestly want to learn about the political process through the Page Program or Close-up or Presidential Classroom or any one of the numerous other programs that help our young citizens learn how to become the next generation of political leaders for the nation.
Sadly, we now come to Foley’s Follies. Congressman Mark Foley clearly was living a lie, masquerading as a conservative member of Congress when he was hiding his personal secrets. His deception about his identity as a gay man is one thing, a matter of personal choice. He could be forgiven that; even a public figure has some right of privacy. But his shameful, sick, exploitation of the youngsters in the Page Program is unforgiveable. This story has cascaded across the news this week as reams of lurid emails and instant messages between Foley and various former pages become public. The shameful details are readily available elsewhere, no need to repeat them here.
The fact that members of the House Leadership might have known about Rep. Foley’s bad behavior but did nothing to stop him is equally shameful. How many times, over how many years, do we have to hear about men in power looking the other way while their clearly disturbed colleagues engage in the sexual exploitation of children? The scandal of pedophile priests in the Catholic Church should have been a powerful enough lesson for all others in positions of supervisory authority. But there always seem to be powerful people who assume that the rules are different for them. Some people never learn anything from the crises of others.
Foley’s follies are NOT about the Page Program, rather, they are about the intoxication of power and the dysfunctional conduct of an individual, and the spinelessness of those who looked the other way. Congress should not damage the Page Program by imposing “fixes” that are unrelated to the problem. It’s the abuse of power among members of Congress and the leadership, not the Page Program, that needs fixing.