Leader Blues

Monday, October 09, 2006

EDITORIALS>>Hastert won’t resign

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert says flatly that he will never resign his leadership post because of the mushrooming page scandal, and we would never suggest that he should quit, at least not for his shocking but predictable weakness in the page matter.

Denny Hastert is not much of a leader and never has been — he is a born follower, of his mentor Tom DeLay for the past eight years— but it is entirely up to the dwindling Republican membership in the House to determine who is the best one to lead them.

Like every other matter apparently, this is about political advantage, not justice or probity or the national well-being.
Hastert and the other party leaders who knew about Congressman Mark Foley’s harassment of teen-age pages and just chatted about it among themselves did nothing in the end because word could get out about Foley and harm the Republican Party’s image.

They followed the course of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church when word sifted up about priestly abuse of youngsters. Better to let things rest and protect the church from criticism.

The church, after all, was bigger than a few kids, and the party’s control of Congress was more important than the sensibilities of a few teenagers.

So it is up to 233 GOP Congress members to decide whether Hastert’s indecision and judgment will endanger their own elections back home, and Hastert divined Thursday that the members thought him not to be a great liability.
They are probably right.

Voters are not going to hold individual Republican candidates for Congress accountable for Mark Foley’s terrible behavior or Denny Hastert’s craven leadership.

Neither are voters going to hold their own Republican member or candidate responsible because others in the party’s national leadership who knew about the page business did nothing other than to alert the lethargic Hastert and his aides.
Thursday, the chief of staff to the New York Republican who chairs the Republican House Campaign Committee resigned. He apparently had been trying fruitlessly to get his boss and others to take action for a couple of years, ever since he left Foley’s staff.

Thursday, Hastert held a news conference back in his suburban Chicago district to announce his insistence on keeping his leadership job and to say that the House leadership (but not him personally) took responsibility for doing nothing. That sounded manly enough, but then he blamed — who else? — Bill Clinton.

He said Clinton or his “people” probably knew about the Republican congressman’s sexually charged notes to pages and decided to leak them to the media five weeks before the election to help get Democrats elected. Bill Clinton is, indeed, a busy man nowadays.

But does it not bespeak a lack of respect for Hastert’s own colleagues to suggest that no Republican would dare expose another Republican’s sinful dalliances with children, that it could only be a Democrat, and only a Democrat as low as Bill Clinton?

If Mark Foley’s iniquities and Hastert’s inertia should not affect the fortunes of other Republican candidates around the country, it is harder to make the case for separation in the other, far larger disgrace that plagues the Grand Old Party in 2006, the lobbying and influence-peddling scandal.

Foley at least has done his party the great favor of pushing Abramoff and the K Street Project off the front pages and even out of the front sections of the papers.

That tide of muck touches nearly everyone’s hem because the political money loosed by the K Street arrangements floods every Republican’s election treasury.

Congressional Republicans’ only good defense is that Democrats might have been just as rotten if they had the power and if they were half as good at it. The House of Representatives, ceremoniously known for two centuries as “the people’s house,” now belongs to K Street lobbyists for corporate and international interests.

Washington now has 65 lobbyists for each of the 535 members of Congress, and they spend $200 million a month co-opting members of Congress and administration officials.

Three Republican congressmen, including Majority Leader DeLay, have now resigned. Two have been indicted and one of those is already in prison. The investigation reaches other congressional offices.

President Bush said he did not remember talking to Abramoff, the convicted head of the K Street syndicate, and that he did not frequent the White House.

But Abramoff’s former firm last week documented nearly 500 contacts with the White House in the three years before he surrendered and turned state’s evidence.

There is a plausible suspicion that many Democrats are aching for the Republicans to fall so that the people’s party can get its hands on the DeLay-Abramoff apparatus and assure its ascendance for a while.

Either way, it is a matter that every voter should contemplate before Nov. 7. Less or more deserving, one party will control the House.