Q: Give a good example of a reaction formation. A: Republican Congressman Mark Foley

September 30, 2006 | By | 2 Replies More

Here’s the definition of “reaction formation” from Wikipedia:

In Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, reaction formation is a defense mechanism in which anxiety-producing or unacceptable emotions are replaced by their direct opposites. This mechanism is often characteristic of obsessional neuroses.

Here’s the example given on Wikipedia:

A man who is overly aroused by pornographic material who utilizes reaction formation to take on an attitude of criticism toward the topic may sacrifice many of the positive things in his life including family relationships by traveling around the country to anti-pornography rallies. This view may become an obsession, whereby the man eventually does nothing but travel from rally to rally speaking out against pornography.

Based on this story about Republican Congressman Mark Foley, we now have a clear-cut real-life example of a reaction formation:

Congressman Mark Foley, Republican from Florida, resigned today just hours after ABC news questioned him about a series of sexually explicit instant messages involving current and former underage male Congressional pages. Foley used the login name Maf54.

Maf54: Do I make you a little horny ?
Teen: A little.
Maf54: Cool.

Foley was the chairman of the house caucus on missing and exploited children and has long crusaded for tough laws against those who use the Internet for sexual exploitation of children.

How interested was Foley in this issue?  Here’s an excerpt from a press release issued by Foley (Foley’s own web sites are not accessible any longer):

Congressman Mark Foley (R-FL), Co-chairman of the Missing and Exploited Children Caucus, applauded Senate passage of legislation he authored and introduced overhauling our nation’s sex offender registration and notification laws.

“For too long our nation has tracked library books better than it has sex offenders.  That day is coming to an end,” said Foley.  “Senator Hatch and Leader Frist have been resolute in keeping this legislation on track.  We are closing loopholes that sex offenders and pedophiles have used to prey on children.”

This story makes me wonder how many other crusading conservatives have skeletons in their closets.  My operating assumption: where there’s sanctimonious crusading about morality, there’s fire.

The hypocrisy is actually systemic, according to this story by the NYT:

Top House Republicans knew for months about e-mail traffic between Representative Mark Foley and a former teenage page, but kept the matter secret and allowed Mr. Foley to remain head of a Congressional caucus on children’s issues, Republican lawmakers said Saturday.

If Foley had been a liberal gay Democrat, he would have been in prison last year, needless to say, and his actions would have been blamed on the fact that he was a liberal gay Democrat.

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Category: Current Events, Politics, Sex

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (2)

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    Check out Steve Young's post at Huffpo. The title will give you an idea of where he's going: "WILL O'REILLY PUSH FOR A LAW TO STOP REPUBLICAN CHILD MOLESTERS AND THOSE WHO PROTECT THEM? Will Onion Sue GOP For Conceptual Theft?"  Click here for the post.

    It does appear that we've got Republican legislators who have not learned A THING from the secretive and devious Catholic clergy. There are many conclusions one can draw from this episode, including this one, by Steve Young:

    If the Republicans refuse to protect underage children in harm's way, how can we expect them to protect our older children in harm's war? Say, in a war. A war where information detrimental to your children has been known for years yet concealed so that the war abusing hundreds of thousands, men, women and children, could continue.

  2. Jason Rayl says:

    Two things: on of the reasons sanctimonious power-brokers refuse to rationalize on such issues is for exactly that–power. Make something illegal (or illicit) and they have an "issue" and a chance to exercise power for as long as they can keep it illegal.

    The corollary is that part of what turns such people "on" is having the power to deny others what they indulge themselves. The people in charge seldom do without. Look at the list of Elmer Gantry's that have headed up self-righteous movements and turned out to keep for themselves just what they were telling everyone else they shouldn't have.

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