Say Good Night, Denny….or who cares about Mel Reynolds?

So now it’s the abuse excuse. Poor Mark Foley. He was abused by a clergyman as a boy. But according to his lawyer, who released this information, he’s not asking us to excuse him for what he did 40 years later.

So what’s the point? Bad things (may) have happened to him as a child. Get help. Of all people, he was in a position to do something about it. But what did he do instead? He used his power to prey on vulnerable kids. And we’re supposed to feel sorry for him? No way. And, oh yes, he’s a gay man. Mr. Right Wing Conservative. Do you think he would have told his constituents that if he hadn’t been caught? Not a chance.

The bigger question is, did they have a right to know what everyone else in Washington apparently did? I don’t care what people do on their own time (with consenting adults who don’t work for them) as long as they don’t turn around and vote like hypocrites. But that is, unfortunately, precisely what the Republican closet caucus does. And everyone knows.

I was in a green room one night, having just been made up to do television, looking great with nowhere to go, when a (Republican) congressman I know mentioned that he and his aide were on their way to a party on Capitol Hill. Oh, I said, innocently, stupidly, it was only eight o’clock west coast time, can I come along?

The makeup artist looked at me as if I had just lost my mind. The congressman and his aide looked at me as if I had asked them if I could accompany them to a bathhouse. It took me about 90 seconds to figure it out. I yawned loudly. Never mind, I said. Maybe I’ll just go to sleep.

Straight Democratic women are not welcome at closet caucus parties. How dumb could I be?

Some years ago, the Boston newspaper agonized over whether to out Boston’s liberal gay congressman Barney Frank. But in Barney’s case, it was ultimately no big deal: Barney’s voting record was fully consistent with his personal orientation; no one has ever accused Barney of hypocrisy.

The same cannot be said of those who play to the Christian right’s condemnation of homosexuality while covering it up among their own leaders. That becomes especially reprehensible when they know, or should know, that those leaders have their eyes on young boys. The fact that Foley’s attorney is now splitting hairs as to whether it was cyber sex or real sex only makes this mother even madder.

This man was a Congressman. He had power over these boys. He shouldn’t have been having any kind of sexual contact with them – cyber or physical – and the fact that the leadership knew that he had a problem and did nothing about it makes them as guilty as he is.

Some things are complicated. This isn’t.

The man was supposed to be protecting children. Instead, he was exploiting children. The authorities were notified. Higher-ups in the Republican party knew they had a problem. These men aren’t fools. They knew what was going on. They understood what this guy’s problem was. They told him to stay away from young boys. How much clearer can you be? They just didn’t want to make it their problem.

Speaker Hastert can’t remember. Maybe it just wasn’t very important to him that one of his members was sneaking out from the closet to approach pages. What’s a kid – or a couple of kids – compared to holding on to Congress? He kept his eye on the prize. Children were not his prize.

What does that tell you about his qualifications to continue as Speaker as the House, in the line of succession to the presidency?

The Republicans' only answer is to find an ex-Congressman who was a Democrat who had sex with an underage campaign volunteer and got pardoned by Clinton. Damn him too. I went to law school with Mel Reynolds. He never returned his rental car from the 1980 Kennedy campaign. Should’ve known then.

Two wrongs don’t make a right. Enough with the tit for tat. And say good night, Denny.

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Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California and a member of the Board of Contributors of USA Today. She writes the "Portia" column for American Lawyer Media and is a contributing editor of The Los Angeles Times. She was appointed by the president to serve on the National Holocaust Council and by the mayor of the City of Los Angeles to serve on that city's Ethics Commission.

Estrich's books include "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System," "Dealing with Dangerous Offenders," "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women" and "Sex & Power," currently a Los Angeles Times bestseller.

She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel.

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