My name is Jonathon.
I became interested in politics while a junior in high school during Clinton's second term which seemed, unfortunately, to have been dominated by the Lewinsky affair, whether by design or happenstance. The majority in the Lakeland area were up in arms about the President's extramarital relations performed right in the nation's sacred Oval Office. Thus, they not only wanted him impeached, but beheaded. Central Florida is predominantly right-wing, the extreme intolerant variety. It is commonly known as the "I-4 Corridor" for Interstate 4 which slices the state in half, from Tampa to Daytona.
As a non-conformist, I refused to share their sentiments, although declaring myself a Libertarian and registering Republican when finally reaching 18 a year later – for nothing other than the sake of my own best interest. Yes, I was an opportunist, guilty as charged. Because I really didn't believe in basic GOP doctrine. I was no ideologue either, which type dominates the party at present. But I wanted to take advantage of the situation to further my own ambitions. The GOP was simply a stepping-stone.
In 1998 I inquired about serving as an intern or congressional page in Washington. Soon thereafter, Representative Mark Stadler's administrative assistant called to congratulate me on being selected to serve as a page on Stadler's staff. It seemed such an honor to have been chosen from among hundreds of applicants.
At the end of the semester, I hastily packed and drove my old '88 Honda to Washington DC. It was an adventure about which I'd only dreamed.
The morning I met Congressman Stadler was an eye-opener. Stadler had arrived in Washington with dozens of other freshmen Republicans as a direct result of Gingrich's Republican revolution of '94 where GOP leaders presented their 'Contract With America.' I honestly was not impressed with this bullshit which was generously dished out to an ignorant electorate. But I went along for the ride despite misgivings.
Mark Stadler was strikingly handsome – with his red hair, green eyes, and great physique indicating he worked out rigorously. I was impressed. But what really caught my attention was the way his eyes darted about the room focusing on particular young men, fresh recruits to his congressional page brigade. Stadler was allowed ten, and nine of them were males – just out of 11th grade. Only one female was present, probably a token or the daughter of some big contributor. All nine guys were attractive.
My first thought: "How could a so-called conservative Christian politician whose electability solely depended on his behavior while in office act in such a manner to compromise his re-electability?" Lakeland-Winter Haven is a right-wing bastion, not some freaky left-wing Massachusetts district on Cape Cod which elects a Barney Frank every term.
Then it dawned on me, "There's method to his madness." All politicians caught in the web of scandal seemed to have been implicated by affairs with females, not males. So, having a secret affair with another man, at that time anyhow, seemed less risky. Especially if the politician was skilled enough to put out a believable anti-gay message. It's like Jimmy Swaggart preaching against adultery all those years so he could divert attention away from his own affairs. Congressmen pull the same trick, I learned.
These were the days before Mark Foley was caught and Wide-Stance Larry was arrested (but continued serving out his term with impunity).
Ken Starr had just uncovered Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky, a female, and the discovery provided red-meat to a right-wing movement determined to take power at any cost, ethics and the nation's best interests be damned.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich also left himself wide open to attack by his careless trysts with female staffers. And guess who outed him? Tom DeLay, who seized the opportunity, thereby arranging Gingrich's premature departure so he could take his place or else choose his replacement thereby accumulating more power for himself. Gingrich had earlier outed Speaker Jim Wright of Fort Worth so he could take his place; then Tom DeLay outed Newt to take his place; now Tom DeLay is sentenced in Texas for political finance but never got caught for protecting the sex-slave trade in the Mariannas. It's dog eat dog.
Capitol Hill and all inside the Beltway were awash in scandal; it was a sea of corruption (still is) where bigger fish swallow the smaller as accepted behavior. It's a game of "Who can out whom the quickest." Or "Who can cover up the most the best." Those that hid the most corruption and cronyism were called "successful," and those who made careless mistakes that were later uncovered were called "failures." It wasn't the crime, it was getting caught committing the crime.
So, this was the atmosphere I walked into the summer of '98. Stadler was unusually handsome, had packed his page complement with spry high school boys from throughout his home district, and was obviously a closeted gay himself – or else deeply appreciative of male anatomy; I wasn't sure which. At first.
Six weeks went by after we had undergone orientation and got our feet wet. More or less we were simply "gofers" ("go-fors") as they called them. But we were privileged to sit behind the congressmen at committee meetings televised by CSPAN. I honestly think it was for window-dressing, because all we did was sit there and look attractive. Millions watch CSPAN, so the more attractive the people in the background, the better for the politician. It was all a PR stunt.
Once in a while we'd do actual work, like helping compile records, research topics limited to unclassified materials, opposition research ("dirt-digging"), and editing speeches and articles published in national and regional periodicals. Seldom were we allowed to speak directly to the congressman's constituents, at least never about policy. We were allowed to respond to emails, but only with preselected text, never our own. It boiled down to they had no trust in us.
Ironically, most of the representative's policy papers originated from RNC headquarters and arrived daily as "talking-points." Yes, the congressman read a canned script written by people over him seldom seen. He was rarely allowed an original thought, much less permitted to introduce resolutions and/or amendments outside what headquarters produced that was, in truth, created by lobbyists. In effect, only party-sanctioned lobbyists were allowed to propose legislation; congressmen simply served as conduits who "on-the-record" introduced legislation for the camera-eye, but such legislation was composed by lobbyists behind the curtain. Congressmen were downgraded to spokesmen for lobbyists and lobbyist served as puppets to major corporations and special interests who, in turn, never propose anything in the general public's best interest, only their own. No wonder the country's falling apart. Everything that masquerades as patriotic is destroying democracy as we once knew it.
The "K Street Project" was designed by Stadler and DeLay to solidify one-party rule. The plan went like this: DeLay and team signed contracts with lobby firms which denied employment to non-party lobbyists while guaranteeing positions to retired and former congressmen loyal to the party. All others were excluded, hence, guaranteeing the GOP a lock on power. Lobbyists outside the "Project" were essentially neutered, carried no influence on legislation whatsoever. As a result "K Street" firms hired only Republicans and approached only a few token Democratic legislators on Capitol Hill because Democrats had no authority to introduce bills. The effect was the reintroduction of fascism, not representative democracy by any stretch.
Oh, I almost forgot. The most unusual twist occurred at orientation when Congressman Stadler's assistant presented us with non-disclosure agreements and informed us that our signatures were mandatory, not optional, if we were continue on staff. Although not on payroll, we were compelled to sign.
We read over the contract and one paragraph stood out: "Current and past pages under the supervision of Representative Mark Stadler will not disclose to the media or to any other person(s) outside this office any conduct or perceived conduct of the Congressman or his associates at any time, current or future, ad infinitum."
In other words, we were not allowed to rat on the congressman no matter what the offense, no matter what he did, good or bad. Whistleblowing was out of the question and we weren't provided immunity under any federal statute should we squeal to law enforcement, to the media, or to the ethics committee. Federal whistleblowing protections defaulted to the congressman's contract by way of our signatures, and no one in government would back us up if we did. It was more than a threat; it was a promise.
We signed, of course. But it raised a big red flag. What was Stadler hiding? What was he like behind the mask?
(Continued with next posting, April 10, 2011)