The calls now for Hastert to resign are all well and good, but a scandal of some sort, involving an arrogance of power that involves being blind to ethical or moral considerations, was eminently predictable for years. Back at the beginning of 2005, for instance, I lamented in The New Republic the loss of an ethical compass in the GOP leadership. In these very pages earlier this year I said Hastert should not be re-elected as speaker. In January of this year Rep. Jeff Flake and others demanded an entirely new round of leadership elections. On March 17 of 2004 I spoke to the Georgetown College Republicans about the ethical blindness (scroll down to the right date), while calling for “A New Era of Responsibility in American Life.” In late November of 2003 I wrote a scathing column (I am having trouble finding a link for it) for the Mobile Register on the strong-arm tactics used to pass the Medicare Rx bill. But earlier that same year, I complained about the exact same sort of tactics on an earlier vote on the same bill — tactics that were mild compared to the ones used later, in November (the point being that even the milder violations of protocol should have sounded warning bells all over). And so on and so forth, I and some others have made the same complaints repeatedly. It sounds like tooting my own horn (and I guess it is), but the point is not that I was so perspicacious, but that the evidence has been there for a long, long time and it should not have taken a page scandal to bring it to a head.
And lest someone think I just had it in for Hastert, I wrote a column in, I think it was, 1999, for the Mobile Register that praised Hastert to high heaven. I was a big fan of his for his first several years as Speaker. I was biased in his favor, not against him. The point is the actions, or lack thereof, not the personalities.
Which brings up: What to do now? Well, Hastert should say he will not run for re-election as speaker. An actual resignation right now might be premature, but a pledge to honor the original terms of the Contract With America (no speaker shall serve in that office more than eight consecutive years) would be appropriate indeed.