Hey, Congress: The Pages Aren't at Fault!

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We former House pages can see it coming. Instead of taking responsibility for their own weird or perverted actions against pages in the Rep. Mark Foley case, House leaders are going to take it out on the pages. It's happened before, and it's looking as if it will happen again. And former pages are angry at the assault. All you have to do is read the chat rooms and Yahoo! groups run by the ex-congressional gofers to see the concerns.

But before the Foley panic train gets too far down the track, let's look at what happened and offer some suggestions. First, recall that the last time there was a lawmaker-on-page scandal, Congress moved to take care of pages. Whereas my classmates and I in the mid-1970s lived in apartments and partied on the off hours, pages now live in a dorm and under a curfew. What more can Congress do to protect kids other than lock them in the dorm when not in school or at work?

And in this case, the "crime" was that Foley E-mailed and sent instant messages to former pages, though it appears he lined up the contacts while they served in the House. Let's face it, kids E-mail, text message, and IM all the time, so that can't be controlled.

But kill the whole program, as some have suggested? That's crazy. There is absolutely no program or course anywhere that gives teens on-the-ground political training like being a page. Yes, the job is mostly delivering notes between offices, but it also provides a rare front seat to the business of Washington.

Still, Congress generally and the GOP specifically are going to do something, so here are a few ideas short of shutting the program down that might both work and help the Hill save face:

l For every representative, senator, or committee that has a page, tap a youthful staffer who will be responsible for checking in with the page weekly. Fact is that pages are rarely contacted by their sponsoring offices, and even if they are, it's by some old fogy whom they won't confide in anyway. Having a younger staffer as a contact might help build rapport.

l Create an outside group–maybe of former pages, as a New York Times contributor suggested–that can both keep in touch with pages and make suggestions to Congress.

l Kick the high schoolers out, and make it a college-level educational internship open to political science majors. Presumably, college kids are a bit more worldly, or at least of age, à la Monica Lewinsky.

Check out the House and Senate page programs.