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And yet. It's not excusing Foley's sins to note that he wasn't the first--or the worst--predator in congressional history. Some of these guys have actually been re-elected. Brooklyn Democrat Fred Richmond admitted soliciting sex from a 16-year-old boy in 1978; he apologized and won 77% of the vote that fall. More famously, Gerry Studds, another Democrat, served in Congress for 13 years after admitting he had sex with a 17-year-old. Republican Bob Bauman was nearly re-elected in 1980, just four weeks after he was charged with soliciting a 16-year-old. (In his 1986 book, The Gentleman from Maryland, Bauman admits soliciting sex, though he says nothing about the age of "the muscular young blond.") Bauman has striking similarities with Foley: both Catholic; both the sons of conservative fathers; both self-described alcoholics; both closeted most of their lives.
Today it's inconceivable that Foley could retake his seat; in the wake of the priest scandals, we have never been more vigilant about pedophiles. But according to the clinical definition, Foley wasn't exhibiting pedophilia. Pedophiles desire the prepubescent, and Foley's boys were 16, the legal age of sexual consent in most states. It's also not illegal under federal law to have virtual exchanges with a minor unless they lead to sex. "People here are challenged on how to find a violation of a federal statute," says an official familiar with the Foley investigation.
At the very least, we want to call Foley sick, but is he? "Any man can find an older adolescent attractive," says Dr. Fred Berlin of the National Institute for the Study, Prevention and Treatment of Sexual Trauma. "But you do get a disorder where people are recurrently drawn to adolescents and have no interest in people their own age." Again, that seems not to describe Foley. So what is he? A pathetic flaneur who exchanged louche messages with unattainable youths rather than own up to his homosexuality. The FBI is apparently looking into reports that at least one boy responded to Foley's IMs only as a prank, to embarrass the Congressman. He deserved no better.