Thursday, October 05, 2006

Public Protector and Private Predator

Who woulda thunk I would ever feature George Will? Here he is in today's WAPO:
The Reverend Elmer Gantry was reading an illustrated pink periodical devoted to prize-fighters and chorus girls in his room at Elizabeth J. Schmutz Hall late of an afternoon when two large men walked in without knocking.

'Why, good evening, Brother Bains -- Brother Naylor! This is a pleasant surprise. I was, uh -- Did you ever see this horrible rag? . . . I was thinking of denouncing it next Sunday. I hope you never read it.'

-- Sinclair Lewis, 'Elmer Gantry'

In life as in literature, Elmer Gantry is a recurring American figure. He is making yet another appearance in the matter of former representative Mark Foley.

Sinclair Lewis's 'Elmer Gantry,' like most of his novels, is dreadful as literature but splendid as a symptom. Published in 1927, the year Charles Lindbergh flew the Atlantic and Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs and the American craft of ballyhoo was being perfected, the novel was a cartoonish blast of contempt for tub-thumping evangelists who were doing well for themselves while pretending to do good works to redeem this naughty world. Gantry succumbed to temptations of the flesh and the real estate market. The modern twist to the fall of Foley -- public protector and private predator of children -- is the warp speed with which it moved from expos´┐Żto therapy: Foley, who has entered alcohol rehab, says he takes 'responsibility' for what he has become as a result of abusive priests and demon rum.


After the 1936 election, in which President Franklin Roosevelt shellacked the Republican nominee in all but two states, a humorist wrote: "If the outcome of this election hasn't taught you Republicans not to meddle in politics, I don't know what will." If, after the Foley episode -- a maraschino cherry atop the Democrats' delectable sundae of Republican miseries -- the Democrats cannot gain 13 seats, they should go into another line of work.


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