Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Speaker Hastert is done

He probably won't resign as Speaker but, even if the Republicans retain control of the House after November, he won't return as Speaker. Why am I so sure? Because at this point, even some of his best friends are turning against him. In Washington, that is usually fatal.

Yesterday, the lead editorial of The Washington Times called for House Speaker Denny Hastert to resign his speakership immediately. I am the editor of the editorial page. Several loyal Republicans and conservatives around the country strongly disagreed with that judgment and thought we were caving to Democratic Party and liberal media pressure and dirty tricks.

I couldn't disagree with my fellow conservatives and Republicans more. I have been an active and loyal Republican for more than 40 years (starting as a youth coordinator for Barry Goldwater in 1964, campaigning for Ronald Reagan for governor and president, serving in the Reagan White House for six years and as Newt Gingrich's press secretary from 1990 to 1997, among other Republican campaigns and jobs).

I believe in and have regularly fought the partisan fight to the bitter end — except when the position is ethically indefensible.

In this case, defending Denny Hastert's decisions is ethically wrong, would undermine our party's commitment to the defense of traditional moral values and is politically stupid in the bargain.

I have known Denny for almost two decades. He is an exceedingly decent man and a hard worker for conservative Republican values and politics. But we cannot deny the fact that he had a sustained lapse of good judgment. The fact that he reportedly has been quite ill for some time may be an explanation — but not an excuse.

Forget the later hideous text messages. When the speaker was told that Mark Foley had sent that first e-mail — the "overly friendly" one that we all saw last Friday — he had to be either obtuse or on notice of the problem. Any father of a young man who saw such an e-mail sent to his son would rightly be disposed to immediately punch out Mr. Foley and warn him to keep away from his son, and then he would call the police. It was common knowledge that Mr. Foley was gay. If he had been straight and asked for a 16-year-old girl's photo, any sensible person would have concluded the same thing.

But the fact that, according to my best sources in the House Republicans, Mr. Hastert never informed any Democrats of the matter (even on the page oversight board), unambiguously suggests that he knew what was up. Thus began the cover-up. Of course he knew what the Democrats would do with the information. But not only is this not a Democratic Party dirty trick (the facts are real, not made up), but Mr. Hastert had a moral duty to do all in his power to make sure there would not be more victims of Mr. Foley's alleged sexual predation — or clear potential for such.
Hastert appears to be guilty of negligence, not malfeasance. But negligence is enough reason to lose your position as third in the presidential succession line.

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