Thursday, October 5, 2006

What may be most revolting about ex-Rep. Mark Foley is whatshows through his debasing IM sex talk with teen-age boys: the congressman’s absolute lack of what was once known as restraint, inhibition, a sense of social taboo. In this same absence of restraint is the absence of a moral compass guided by maturity.

On a different level (one removed from sexual malfeasance), there’s something somewhat unseemly about the media’s unblushing — dare I say shameless? — reportage. They may claim a fig leaf by acting in the “public interest,” but that doesn’t completely cover up a practically carnal zeal for smutty details. And let’s not even think about the IM-leaker’s as-yet secret ecstasy. Restraint, inhibition and social taboo have become dirty words in the decades since the 1960s, but the culture that lets it all hang out, it seems, doesn’t have much inside.

I say this as the rapid-response conventional wisdom insists the Foley fiasco will discourage GOP voter turnout in November, particularly among all-important, so-called “values voters,” thereby vaulting Democratic majorities into Congress. If so, this is a 21st-century twist on Bread and Circuses any Roman emperor would applaud. In the ancient tradition of distracting Ye Olde Populi from events of national import, sex-scandal-focused GOP voters are expected to stay home because of Mark Foley’s appalling lack of traditional values, helping to elect Democrats who are more likely to eschew such values in the first place. And the war goes on — or not, with Democrats in charge.

All of which is to say that Mark Foley’s transgressions (first, overlooked by the House GOP leadership, and later, set to explode at election time by persons unknown) are unlikely to resonate culturally even as they have become political dynamite. That’s partly because the GOP in smithereens is never a victory for “values.” It’s also because Mark Foley is less a creation of his “traditional values” GOP than he is a creature (cretin) of his time-our sex-drenched time. It’s also because society’s ire is directed not at his (homo)sexuality, but at his exploitation of youth and power. Such context doesn’t excuse Mr. Foley’s monstrous behavior, but it helps explain why his fall, why the Republicans’ possible fall, won’t usher in an era of cultural restoration.

Meanwhile, cultural restoration isn’t what this election is about. It can’t be. Culture wars, such as they are, necessarily become secondary political issues in times of war. And these are certainly times of war, even if leaders on both sides prefer to mask them in less momentous terms, as when they exhort us not to triumph over Islamic jihadism, but rather to fight against “terror,” or, lately, “extremism.”

Come to think of it, maybe such rigid adherence to euphemism is a bona fide show of restraint. But in this case, “restraint” is not mature. Restraining the libido (which Mr. Foley did not amid a culture that does not) comes down to a matter of mind (or morality) over matter — a display of forbearance which is by definition mature. Intellectual restraint — self-censorship-in matters of war and peace belies a lack of will or confidence that defines the unformed uncertainty of immature man.

Then again, maybe war-talk “inhibitions” simply show how “repressed” we are as when we observe the “social taboo” of denying the Islamic nature of our foe. I’m playing around with these 1960s cliches to try to illustrate a key aspect of our social condition: Sexually untrammeled, we have become intellectually moribund. We continue, tiresomely, to highlight sexuality in the culture, even as we continue, perilously, to stifle debate that touches on non-Western topics such as Islam. Are the two related? You bet, because they both carry the stamp of approval from the school of political correctness that was established amid the sexual revolution and the rise of multiculturalism. What we might regard as sexual liberationism and multiculturally rigged reason are on track to roll back the Enlightenment that produced Western civilization as we know it today.

This symbiosis may in the end help explain why, in the midst of a global war to determine the fate of Western civilization (as in whether Western civilization will continue to have a fate), American voters and politicians alike appear poised to turn all-important midterm elections into a meaningless referendum on a sexual predator already ostracized, while still failing to debate, examine, or even recognize urgent facts before us.

For a culture with few taboos, we sure have a lot of hang-ups.

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