The Mark Foley affair

I came to work today not wanting to write about the Rep. Mark Foley scandal on Capitol Hill. I didn’t want to simply vent over yet another congressional brouhaha. But I find I must turn my attention there. At the very time I am watching the Foley affair unfold, I am reading a book on the meaning of “beauty” – On Beauty and Being Just, by Elaine Scarry. Wow! What a contrast, or is it? The basic point of the book is how something beautiful can help to engage us in thinking about justice; in short, when we come into contact with beauty, we are prompted not only to enjoy that which is beautiful, but also to recognize that which is not present or remains to be done.

But how about when we see ugliness? When we peer into ugliness, when we come face-to-face with it, what do we do then?

As I watch politicians and pundits respond to the Foley affair, I keep wondering, “How hard is it to respond to this scandal?” Does every issue demand a calculated political response? Watch even the clearest-minded politicians on this issue, and even they can’t seem to help themselves, returning time and again, after their initial comments, to taking political jabs.

At some level, politics is politics; it has always been a tough endeavor and not for the faint of heart. But merely to stop there would be to declare, even embrace, a defeatist attitude. It would be to surrender, I believe, to ugliness.

I’m still on my Hope Unraveled book tour and as I travel the country talking with people about their retreat from public life and politics, and their deep desire to find authentic hope, I keep hearing a similar refrain: Will someone please stand up and lead?

But let’s be clear. People are not waiting for the knight in shining armor to ride into town and save them. They know the situation is more complex than that.

Rather, what I think people want is for someone – their neighbor, the local United Way, a community foundation, faith leaders, the mayor, even themselves – to step forward and ask some basic questions: Is it too much to ask that public life and politics reflect something good in us; that it help to activate and animate our aspirations and hopes; that our intentions be driven by some notion of trying to do the most good?

The ugliness of the Mark Foley scandal should help us to see what we already know. Ugliness will always exist. But in confronting ugliness, we can also come to see that we need not accept it.