Sunday, October 01, 2006

Four Frames For The Foley Affair

In a short diary at Dkos and elsewhere, Frameshop maestro Jeffrey Feldman has advanced the frame “Hastert Protected A Predator.” We could quibble a bit—perhaps “House Republicans Protected a Predator” would be better as a broad indictment of their entire leadership, perhaps not, since it’s too impersonal—but there’s no question that conceptually Jeffrey’s scored a direct hit. The question is—are there others?

Of course there are. And I’d like suggest three more in this diary. They’re not all for pushing as equally accessible media frames. Some are primarily for clarifying our own thinking, and just beginning to introduce them to a wider audience. Because, you see, frames are not just about how we communicate messages. They are also about how we think.

The frames discussed are:
    “Hastert Protected A Predator.”
    “We Need Eagles, Not Ostriches”
    “Investigate Now: Stop The Public Coverup”
    “Corruption Is The Symptom, Conservatism Is The Disease”
Let's look at each of them.

Frame #1: “Hastert/House Republicans Protected A Predator”

While there are still plenty of folks around the internet who love to grouse about framing, Jeffrey Feldman’s Frameshop diaries have repeatedly providing the proof in the pudding. And this one—“Frameshop: Hastert ‘Protected A Predator’”—is no exception. It’s generally bad form to quote an entire diary. But this one is so brief, so focused, so compelling—so worthy of further exposure—that I’m going ahead and presenting the it in full (though without the almost identical photos of the two men that have to be seen to be believed, and the updates calling for action):
Fifty years from now, when historians write about the social problem of sexual predators in early 21st Century America, they will put a photo of Cardinal Bernard Law next to a photo of Republican Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert.

These are men who had the chance to protect our children, but chose to protect a predator instead.

They did more than just fail as leaders--they endangered our families.

Like Cardinal Law, Hastert was the most powerful man in his Archdiocese--in this case, the United States Congress.

Like Cardinal Law, Hastert learned that a sexual predator was working for him--in this case a Congressman from Florida, not a parish priest.

And like Cardinal Law, Hastert chose to help the predator to protect the image of his organization instead of exposing the predator to protect America's children.

Protecting a sexual predator instead of protecting our children is a failure of leadership and a threat to the safety of America's families.

For Cardinal Law, this failure led to his resignation.

For Dennis Hastert the result must be the same.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives--the third most powerful person in our federal government--cannot keep his job now that America sees he knowingly protected a sexual predator.

Hastert protected his predator. And now that America knows--America must protect itself from Hastert.

The United States House of Representatives simply cannot survive with a leader who chose to protect a sexual predator rather than protect our children.

No more debate.

No more distraction.

Dennis Hastert must step down.
As a first-out-of-the-box frame for putting out our message, placing responsibility where it belongs, defining the debate and pressuring the GOP to respond, this frame defines the meaning of “A+”. The “House Leadership” variant doesn’t fit with this articulation, but works more as a follow-on, since Boehner, who would normally succeed Hastert, was implicated as well.

Of course, the GOP is still muddying the waters. Jeffrey’s frame speaks to that. It’s helpful, therefore, to take their “he didn’t know” defense and turn it against them—without, of course, accepting the premise.

Frame #2: “We Need Eagles, Not Ostriches”

As the House sexual predator scandal continues to shock the nation, Republican Speaker Dennis Hastert and other Republican leaders who failed to protect the young house pages are trying to defend themselves by saying they didn’t know—they didn’t know what was in the messages, they didn’t see them, they didn’t know that Foley was lying to them, they didn’t know there was more to the story, they didn’t know that other pages had been stalked and harassed, they didn’t know, they didn’t know, they didn’t know.

What comfort is that to the victims?

What’s almost as horrifying as the scandal itself is the fact that they think this is a defense. It was their job to know. And what they didn’t know, it was their job to find out.

At the first whiff of trouble, they should have been on red alert. All hands on deck. Instead, just like Bush and the warning, “bin Laden Determined to Strike US,” they went on vacation.

In fact, the Republican Congress has been on vacation for years. After 9/11, there should have been an immediate investigation—just as there was after Pearl Harbor. Instead, the Republican Congress was AWOL. Instead, the Republican Congress stonewalled. Instead, the Republican Congress looked away. Instead, the Republican Congress stuck their heads in the ground. It took an impassioned campaign by the widows of 9/11 to shame Congress into authorizing an outsourced investigation.

When the Bush Administration trumped up phony intelligence to rush us unprepared into war with Iraq with too few troops, too little body armor and no exit plan, the Republican Congress should have been asking hard questions before putting our troops in harm’s way. Instead, the Republican Congress was AWOL. Instead, the Republican Congress looked away. Instead, the Republican Congress stuck their heads in the ground.

When the Bush Administration sat around twiddling their thumbs while New Orleans drowned, there should have been an immediate Congressional investigation. Instead, the Republican Congress was AWOL. Instead, the Republican Congress looked away. Instead, the Republican Congress stuck their heads in the ground.

One sexually-harassed 16-year old is one victim too many left for the vultures by the ostriches in the GOP Congress. But the entire nation has been victimized by the ostriches in the GOP Congress.

We need eagles in Congress, not ostriches. We need Democrats, not Republicans.

Frame #3: “Investigate Now: Stop The Public Coverup”

Background: The concept of a public coverup is one that will take a long time to fully educate the public about. It has a long history—Ford’s pardoning of Nixon, the Iran/Contra investigations, the theft of the 2000 election, etc.

In the classic, full expression of these cases, there were three things: (1) Prima facie evidence of criminal behavior--either of statutory or political crimes (the "high crimes" of "high crimes and misdemeanors" fame.) (2) A pretence of investigation. (3) An obvious failure to fully investigate. Sometimes, the pretense of an investigation was simply dispensed with, while those who called for one were treated like psychotic lepers. But in any event the investigation was clearly understood to be primarily, if not entirely a matter of show, which is where we stand today.

The Frame Itself: Ever since it became public that a Republican Congressmember had been cyberstalking 16-year old House pages, the GOP House leadership has plunged itself into a contradiction-riddled public coverup, continuing the long-term coverup that kept the story hidden for nearly a year. Even with the affair exposed, their first instinct is not to protect the victims, but to protect themselves.

The longer they are allowed to continue their coverup in public, trying to get their stories straight with one another, the harder it will be to ever know the truth, and punish those responsible for failure to protect vulnerable teenagers in their care. To get the truth, and secure justice for possible victims we need an immediate outside investigation, and halt to the public coverup:
  • First Boehner said that Hastert was in the loop, while Hastert denied it. Then Boehner changed his story to let Hastert off the hook.[link link]
  • Then NRCC chair Rep. Tom Reynolds issued a statement confirming that he had informed Hastert about Foley in early 2006.[ link]
  • On Saturday, September 30, Hastert and his staff spent several hours crafting a statement giving their version of events. They claimed that no one except the page’s sponsor, Congressmember Rodney Alexander, had seen the emails.
  • But a St. Louis Post-Dispatch story the same day said that Rep. John Shimkus, who overseas the page program, saw the emails, and said, "That was enough for us to approach [Rep.] Mark [Foley]." Indeed, a statement issued by Shimkus the evening before—with the help of Hastert’s staff—said that he “took immediate action to investigate the matter” (in late 2005) and then goes on to describe the email contents. [ link]
  • At the same time, Steve Tomaszewski,, spokesman for Shimkus, told the Belleview News Democrat that Shimkus "did not see personally any e-mail a year ago when he dealt with the issue." [ link link]

Obviously the House Republican leadership is lying, trying to put together a new coverup on the fly, right out in the open, daring the American people to do anything about it. We need an immediate outside investigation, before they have any more time to get their stories straight or destroy any more evidence than they may already have gotten rid of.

Frame 4: “Corruption Is The Symptom, Conservatism Is The Disease”

Although he doesn’t put it in quite these terms, this frame was powerfully laid out in a diary by thereisnospoon, “It's Not Hypocrisy--It's What the Right is All About.” Here’s a summary, with some selected quotes:

This is not an isolated case of individual hypocrisy. "[W]hat Mark Foley has done is the perfect example of what "conservatism" is all about."

For liberals, humanity is flawed, but ultimately good. Yes, we have our flaws, our "selfish and destructive impulses" that "need regulation through a system of laws, checks and balances"

But we are also moral and ration, which allows us to improve, individually and collectively. “That's what being a 'progressive' is all about..."

This requires honest and openness in all things. “We demand that gay people be allowed to come out of the closet. That racism be studied honestly so that we may overcome it. That scientific inquiry be pursued, wherever it may lead.” And it means that private bad behavior is not just hypocrisy, but “hypocritical obscurantism [that] denies the possibility of real progress. Every hypocrite is a roadblock to a more honest, more open, more virtuous society."

On the other hand, conservatives believes just the opposite:

Humanity is wicked. We are evil creatures, “held together... only by the bonds of necessity.” In religion, their emphasis “is not on God's Love, but rather on Original Sin, and on the fires of Damnation.”

Because none of us is inherently good, the only thing that matters is that we act and appear to be good.:
Clinton's great crime, therefore, was NOT having an affair with an intern. To err is human. His crime was getting CAUGHT.

Men having sex with men isn't the problem--being OPEN about having sex with men is the problem. "Do it in your bedroom," they say, "but don't rub it in my face."

White-collar crime, behind spreadsheets, pay stubs and closed doors, is acceptable, because it is hidden. More open robbery and assault is unacceptable, to the conservative.


And THAT is what the Foley business is all about. It is why Foley was a Republican in the first place.

Mark Foley was forced to cover up the fact that he was gay. He was forced into the closet. He could not seek counseling for his pedophilic urges. He could not, in short, be OPEN.

Instead, he was required by his Conservative philosophy to remain a Coward. To accept the "truth" of his "Evil." And to put the best possible face on his behavior.

And that's how he became the poster-boy for blatant, mind-blowing hypocrisy.

But we must keep forever in mind that this is NOT an isolated case. Mark Foley is not just the poster-body for hypocrisy. Mark Foley is, in fact, the poster-boy for CONSERVATISM.
The bottom line can be put even more simply: Liberals—whether secular or religious—believe in forgiveness and redemption, that they are available for all. Conservatives do not. They believe in forgiveness and redemption in a pinch. When one of their own gets caught. Newt Gingrich and his adultery. Bill Bennet and his gambling. Rush Limbaugh and his pills. But in general, they believe in wrathful God. They do not believe in Jesus, despite what their words may say. Their actions say otherwise. As the Bible say, “By their fruits ye shall know them.”

There is much, much more to be said on this topic, as I suggest in my comment to thereisnospoon’s diary. My main point is that “conservatives believe in double-standards. Because they believe in two classes of people, for whom different rules apply.” I go on to discuss how this is illuminated by Social Dominance Theory, and Lakoff's Stirct Father/Nurturant Parent model. I write, in part:
Strict Father morality is primarily about strength to stand up to evil--but it doesn't actually produce the sort of autonomous moral individuals it is supposed to. So it is above all a matter of impressive displays. And, of course, since those who can pull off such displays know quite well that they can't maintain in private--and carry considerable self-loathing as a result--the projection of this self-loathing onto others (particularly those who don't obsessively strive to maintain in public) is a crucial part of their ego-defense mechanism.

In contrast, nurturant parent morality values strength as well, but it's strength in service to nurturance, which in turn is in service to a wide range of human capacities--for empathy, understanding, creativity, trust, intelligent, curiosity, etc. These are all the sorts of things that, in your explication, someone like Foley desperately needed, but could not access because of the ideology he was imprisoned by.
This is, necessarily, a more challenging frame to communicate. (It’s challenging even to grasp for ourselves.) It will take considerable time and effort to get it to sink in. But in the long run, it is most important, and fundamental frame of the four I have discussed.


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