Friday, October 06, 2006

From Alger to Foley


To compare Mark Foley with Horatio Alger, Jr. is to be reminded that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

If very few people any longer know who Horatio Alger (1832-1899) was, almost everyone now knows who Mark Foley is. Son of an ex-Marine, a Catholic with Boy Scout connections, the Republican congressman from Florida resigned recently after it was revealed he had sent lewd emails to congressional pages. He reportedly engaged in mutual masturbation online with a page while waiting to vote on an authorization funding bill for Operation Iraqi Freedom. His case illustrates not only how sleazy politicians can be but also how hypocritical, because he was the point man in the Republican family values oriented campaign to stop perverts from preying on children on the internet. And he almost got away with it. The parents of the first boy whose case had come to light wanted the matter dropped to save the boy from embarrassment.

After Foley was exposed as a sexual predator, some wag ridiculed the Republican campaign he spearheaded with the slogan “No child’s behind left behind.” But in most of the news reports and in all the public emails that I have read no distinction is made between pedophiles and pederasts. You would think a nation alarmed about sexual abuse and determined to stop it would know a little more about the subject.

Foley has often incorrectly been called a pedophile, but he is a pederast or an adult male who is sexually attracted to adolescent males. An adolescent is someone who has reached puberty, someone who has acquired secondary sexual characteristics and is capable of sexual reproduction. A child is someone who has not acquired secondary sexual characteristics and has not reached puberty and adolescence. Adult males who are sexually attracted to children are pedophiles. Foley is a pederast, not a pedophile. The sixteen-year-old pages he pursued on-line were adolescents, not yet men but no longer children. Some states recognize sixteen-year-olds as having reached the age of consent, so sexual relations with them, however reprehensible, is not always illegal. Making contact with them and soliciting sex from them on the internet could be, however, and that may be what Foley gets nailed on. Ironically, Foley was the politician who made a name for himself in Republican politics by proclaiming that the law should show no mercy to such predators.

The failure to understand the difference between pedophilia and pederasty is a failure to understand why some men are a menace when they around children and others, like Foley, are a menace when they are around adolescents. Foley loved being around adolescent males, and a corps of sixteen-year-old male pages apparently sent him over the edge. Nobody in the last ten years paid more attention to congressional male pages than Foley and nobody showered them with more praise. As each class of pages graduated, he was heartbroken. Footage of him getting choked up at a graduation exercise is part of the stock footage being shown over and over on television. But his love of pages was anything but fatherly or platonic. His tears were not necessarily a crock, but he gives a whole new meaning to wanting to take the measure of boys before they are men.

Horatio Alger, Jr. was the son of a preacher. He was born in 1832 in what was then known as Chelsea but is now known as Revere, Massachusetts. This is the city I grew up in and am now writing a history of. Alger, Jr. went to Harvard, as his father had done. (The likeness I have included here is his Harvard graduation photo.) Again, like his father, Alger became a Unitarian minister. The first pulpit he occupied was in the town of Brewster, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod. A young bachelor, Alger, Jr. spent lots of time with the boys of his parish. It was not quality time, though, for before long very disturbing rumors circulated about his relationships with a few of the boys. It was whispered that the new young pastor had committed unspeakable sexual acts with them. Called before an ad hoc church committee, which questioned him about these rumors, the tight-lipped Alger neither admitted nor denied the rumors were true. He confessed only to having been “imprudent.” Not long afterwards, he slipped out of town. The church complained bitterly to the Unitarian headquarters, in Boston. A deal was struck whereby Alger would not be exposed or prosecuted if he promised never again to serve as a minister. So, to protect the abused boys from further trauma, which prosecuting Alger would have entailed, the whole sordid business was hushed up.

Unofficially defrocked, Alger moved to Manhattan and began a career writing uplifting dime novels about boys who work themselves up from poverty to success, novels with names like Strive and Succeed and Sink or Swim. Alger became one of the most popular authors in the U.S., and his name became synonymous with the rags-to-riches version of the American dream. His name became synonymous with capitalism, which is preumably why Michael Moore has a chapter in Where’s My County Dude? called “Horatio Alger Must Die.” In Ragged Dick, the novel that brought Alger recognition, he editorialized, “Now, in the boot-blacking business, as in the higher avocations, the same rule prevails, that energy and industry are rewarded, and indolence suffers.” Since Alger’s pederasty had been kept secret, when he began befriending newsboys and bootblacks of Manhattan, nobody suspected anything. He was viewed as a saintly faith-based benefactor of homeless and orphaned boys. Because of the self-help message his novels presented, he became after his death, in 1899, kind of saintly icon of laissez-faire capitalism. After the Second World War, the Horatio Alger Association was founded in New York City, to promote the conservative Republican values Alger’s young heroes were believed to have exemplified. Alger Awards, or “Horatios,” were given annually to Americans who had overcome adversity to achieve success through perseverance and hard work.

In 1971, Richard Huber published a book, The American Idea of Success, in which he revealed publicly for the first time the charges against Alger in Brewster. After Huber outed Alger, a right-wing Republican columnist Medford Evans, writing in the John Birch magazine Public Opinion, denounced the revelation as a liberal slander, as “totally unproven allegations against a man of blameless life.” The Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, as it now calls itself, ignored Huber’s embarrassing revelation, and as far as I know has never acknowledged that Alger was a pederast. Many famous Americans, most of them Republicans, have been recipients of Alger Awards. Before he became an infamous figure in the Enron scandal, Ken Lay won an Alger Award in 1998. The Alger Association even had the chutzpah to establish an award for those who achieved success in spite of having been sexually molested in their youth! If I recall correctly, Oprah was the recipient of this award.

Another group, the Horatio Alger Society, was formed in the Midwest in 1961. I wrote an article in Bootblack Magazine (July-Aug 1989) about this group, which was founded by a religious mailman from Kalamazoo, Michigan. The Horatio Alger Society had many of the characteristics of a religious cult, of which Alger was the prophet. The mailman knew of Alger’s molestation of boys, but he was in denial and kept that knowledge from members of the society, some of whom idolized Alger, but others of whom, aware of the pederastic elements in Alger’s novels, collected them and figurines of bootblacks and newsboys as erotic art objects. I also published, again in Bootblack (Nov-Dec. 1991), copies of which are in the Shawnee State library, an article “Horatio Alger: the Art of Pederasty,” showing how Alger’s sexual interest in boys found expression in novels like Cast Upon the Breakers, especially in the relations among boys and between boys and older males, and indirectly through symbols and symbolic action. The pederastic pleasure Foley found explicitly in emailing Congressional pages Alger perhaps got more prudently in writing some hundred so-called “wholesome” novels about boys.

Liberal Democrats can be pederasts. There was the creepy Massachusetts Congressman Gerry Studds, who was involved sexually with a 17-year-old page. But the tradition of conservative Republican sexual predation runs deep, if silently, and in terms of hypocrisy and cynicism, has no parallel. Gerry Studds did not wrap himself in Family Values. From Horatio Alger to Mark Foley, the Republicans have been the hypocritical party of Grand Old Perverts. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

I recommend the following article, “Republican Hypocrisy Revealed,” in the following blog: