Bill Clinton, Mark Foley and Sexless Sex

William Saletan draws some interesting parallels between the sex scandals that brought down Mark Foley (and perhaps the Republican Congress) and that led to the impeachment (but not the downfall) of Bill Clinton:

Eight years ago, when Bill Clinton was caught lying about his affair with a White House intern, Mark Foley voted to impeach him. “It’s vile,” said the congressman. “It’s more sad than anything else, to see someone with such potential throw it all down the drain because of a sexual addiction.”

As we say on the Internet: LOL. We now know that Clinton and Foley were on different teams, but not in the way Foley pretended. And the irony only begins there. The two men have played similar roles, not only in their reckless personal lives but in the cultural revolutions of their respective decades. Clinton introduced us to the ambiguities of sex. Foley is introducing us to the wilder ambiguities of cybersex.


The ethereality of cybersex makes it hard to prosecute. Every state outlaws Internet solicitation of sex with kids. But if you postpone physical sex till your quarry is 18, as Foley tried to do, you can skirt these laws. That’s why he kept asking boys about their birthdays. Until that day, the sex had to stay online. Like Clinton, Foley carved out a kind of sex that in his mind wasn’t officially sex. For Clinton, it was oral; for Foley, it was digital. He’d pick you out as a page. He’d befriend you by e-mail. He’d groom you with instant messages. He’d find out your birthday. When you turned 18, he’d pounce.

To be sure, there are some significant differences. While both arguably abused their power, Clinton’s intern was unquestionably an adult while Foley’s were not. Once confronted with the charges, Clinton lied to the American people, a grand jury, a judge, and others while Foley confessed and went into rehab. Still, the parallels are interesting.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. lily says:

    The issue, to me, isn’t Foley. In a group of individuals as large as Congress bad apples will occasionally be found. If the bad apples are promptly removed, their exposure shouldn’t reflect on the group.
    1, Lots of Republicans knew about Foley and some knew for years.
    2. Foley removed himself. He was not removed by the Republicans, who, on the contrary, have a track record of protecting their sleazeballs. Remember how the Republican controlled Ethics Committee handled Delay?
    3. The response of the Republican party has been to spread lies (the Democrats knew about this etc. when the facts about the leakers are well known and the leakers were also Republicans, except for CREW and CREW released their info when they got it.)

    It is much more comparable to Watergate in that the real ethics violations and crimes are in the cover-up.

    Actually it’s worse than that. The response of the Republicans who knew about Foley, before , during and after his exposure has revealed them to be individuals who value nothing except the preservation of their on power. That’s why this scandal is so devastating. To most Americans it’s a no-brain situation. Anyone who knows about inappropriate conduct toward a minor should investigate and respond immediately. If they fail to do that they should say they are sorry they failed. They should not respond with the rationalizations of a twelve-year-old.

  2. MrGone says:

    Lily, don’t you get it, it is and always will be Clinton’s fault.

  3. floyd says:

    “As I pass through my incarnations in every age and race,
    I Make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market-Place.
    Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
    And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.”…. Rudyard kipling

  4. floyd says:

    the rest of this poem is certainly applicable, and worth the read

  5. just me says:

    Lily and just when did the Dem leadership force Jefferson to resign?

    The reality is that more often than not the bad apples in the GOP do resign and the bad apples in the DNC keep getting reelected.

  6. Triumph says:

    The reality is that more often than not the bad apples in the GOP do resign

    Right. First of all Jefferson has not been convicted of anything. Nevertheless, the HOuse Dems voted to strip him of his committee assignments until the investigation of Jefferson is complete. He hasn’t been charged with anything.

    Compare Jefferson to Republican Congressman Bob Ney–who has PLED GUILTY to corruption charges and has not resigned.

  7. floyd says:

    it is one thing to hold one’s nose in order make voting for a democrat more palletable in light of his oponent,but to delude oneself to such an unprecedented degree as to be proud of that action is tragicly shameful .

  8. Bithead says:

    I’m of the belief that the more accurate parallel is that of Gerry Studds.

  9. anjin-san says:


    So your response to the Foley scandal is to harken back to scummy actions by a Democrat in the 70’s? Kind of like the many mentions of Chappaquiddick we have been hearing.

    There must be some corrupt patent clerks from the Roosevelt administration you can dredge up too…

    No one is saying Democrats are not capable of being slimy, crooked, corrupt, whatever. But you might think about getting next to the fact that the number of GOP House members that have resigned in disgrace in this century is starting to pile up.

  10. c says:
  11. Dave Schuler says:

    The key difference is that the Democrats are the party of sexual libertarianism and the Republicans aren’t.

  12. Bithead says:

    So your response to the Foley scandal is to harken back to scummy actions by a Democrat in the 70’s? Kind of like the many mentions of Chappaquiddick we have been hearing.

    But notice, please, that while the Democrats went out of their way to defend these, they also went out of their way to attack Foley on the same ground.

    The phrase “double standard” comes to mind.
    pretty much par for the course where Democrats are concerned.

  13. lily says:

    Look, when a twelve year old gets in trouble the typical response is “Johnny did it too.” or “Johnny is worse” or “It’s all Johnny’s fault.” Maybe the little brat will say, “I only did it one time,” when in fact he/she is a repeat offender. All of the people who are still trying to rationalize their support for the Republican party engage in this sort of excus-making. It is notable that not one defender of the Republicans responded to my point: that the offense isn’t Foley; it’s the cover up and the enabling of Foley that matters. And there is no parrallel behavior from the Democrats at this time or any time close enough to matter.

  14. anjin-san says:


    OK, which Democrats went out of there way to defend Stubbs and also attacked Foley? Names, por favor. Your use of “they” is kinda weak…

  15. Just Me says:

    I once again bring you Foley.

    The democrats of Louisanna opted not to endorse him for his reelection, but that was a just barely thing, with 43% in favor of endorsing him.

    Your excuse is that he hasn’t been convicted of anything, but then neither has Foley (as far as we can tell Foley’s behavior is looking more and more to be just scummy, but not illegal-but further investigation may dig something up).

    Reid-he was involved with Abramoff and has some recent troubles, if the DNC takes the senate, how much you want to bet, he stays the leader?

    And the reality is that the Dems weren’t exactly fonts of ethical behavior while they were in charge of congress. There was that post office scandal, ab scam (jack murtha was part of that, and he is still running for elections and getting elected).

    The reality is that both parties have bad apples, it is just that the dems tend to more often than not keep theirs around.

  16. Michael Chance says:

    To my mind, the reactions of the two major political parties to similar situations is starkly clear.

    Stubbs, Franks, Clinton, Kennedy (both Ted and Patrick) – the Democratic leadership not only didn’t punish the behavior, they went out of their way to defend it. Especially the feminists (who usually equate all male employer-female employee sex as rape), gay activists (who usually insist that the “gay lifestyle” doesn’t include pedophilia), and those who want to legalize drugs (because recreational use doesn’t hurt anyone). There were no calls for anyone in the Democratic leadership to resign over any of these sitautions.

    But in the Republicans case, the leadership always condemns the behavior and punishes the offender, if the offender doesn’t “fall oh his sword” first. Ney isn’t running for re-election and has already stepped down from his leadership positions, Foley resigned, etc. But this isn’t enough for the Democrats – they want nothing less than the immediate resignation of every elected Republican official anywhere in the country.

    DeLay is a different situation. Unlike Jefferson (who was caught red-handed with his hand in the cookie jar – and the cookies still in his refigerator), all DeLay is guilty of is finding the loopholes in a badly written set of election financing laws. His indictment by an self-avowed political advisary is simply proof that a determined prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich – even if he’s got to try repeatedly to find enough patisan panelists to do it.

  17. Wayne says:

    There is a big difference between a physical act like a blowjob and talking dirty or typing nasty stuff.

    I’m glad Foley is gone. However, his e-mail while the page was under 18 did not contain sexual content just inappropriate context. It wasn’t until the person became a former page over the age of 18 that Foley but sexual content into an IM.

    Both took advantage of young subordinates and both should have left office.