So former Republican Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert has been indicted on charges of paying hush money to silence a young man he sexually abused.
Not only did Hastert pay out more than $1 million, reports the Los Angeles Times, but he is up on charges of circumventing various types of financial transaction laws and giving false reports to the FBI. And at least one other victim of "the Coach," who back in the day was a teacher and wrestling coach, has come forward.
This, from a politician who pulled ratings between 90 percent and 100 percent from the American Conservative Union.
In 2004, Hastert published Speaker: Lessons From Forty Years in Coaching and Politics. Reviewing it for Reason, Charles Oliver noted that Hastert became speaker only after a series of sex scandals weakened his immediate predecessors, Newt Gingrich and Bob Livingston, and articles of impeachment were being served up to Bill Clinton for lying about sex:
Hastert never says why Republicans thought he was the "only one" who could lead them. Presumably, we are supposed to believe it was because of his experience and skill. But at the same time the Republican conference was selecting a speaker, the House was voting on articles of impeachment against President Bill Clinton. For most of 1998, newspapers and television newscasts had been filled with politicians involved in sex scandals or alleged scandals; Clinton, Gingrich, and Livingston were just the most notable. Hastert admits that voters were growing weary of it all and that it hurt his party. He just doesn't seem to have considered the possibility that his peers elected him because they considered him the House Republican least likely to be having sex.
I'm not sure if the current scandal is irony or karma or what. But before we forget about Hastert forever, it's worth remembering that he was not only an undistinguished leader but a exemplary Republican during the Bush years, when the small-government party lost its way:
Soon after being sworn in, Hastert says he and other House Republicans agreed on four things they needed to do to secure America's future. At the top of the list: Be fiscally responsible and balance the budget. That's one of the last times in the book we hear any talk of balanced budgets.
One can understand why Hastert doesn't want to admit that on his watch federal spending and deficits have skyrocketed. But why did the Republicans fail to achieve their top goal? Hastert offers no answers or even excuses. But a close reading of his autobiography gives us some clues.
From the time Hastert entered government, he has seen his job as cutting deals, passing bills, and getting re-elected. He really seems to come alive when detailing all the arm twisting and deal making behind various pieces of legislation. Thus, when he lists the accomplishments of Congress during his time as speaker, we get laundry lists of bills that have passed. "By substantial margins, we had approved the Do Not Call and Do Not Spam bills aimed at stopping consumers from being harassed through their phones or computer lines," he writes of the 108th Congress. "We passed the Amber alert bill to keep our kids safe from kidnappers, and we okayed spending to combat AIDS at the highest level yet."
When Hastert talks of congressional failures, it always has to do with legislation that didn't pass.
It seems like Hastert's last spate of headlines will revolve around his villanous behavior and hypocrisy (he, like a lot of Republicans, make a show of being morally upright characters who disdain homosexuality). That sort of treatment is understandable, but there's also another lesson to be learned from his experience in Congress: Many politicians, even or especially ones who rise to positions of great power, effectively have no principles to keep them moving in the right direction once they gain power.