Last week in a rather surprising development, the Justice Department handed down an eight-page indictment of the former Speaker of the House, Denny Hastert of Illinois.
Hastert, it appears, didn’t just build a political narrative out of his time as a high-school wrestling coach. From the indictment and reporting subsequent to it, Hastert may have sexually abused one or more students in his care. The indictment concerns a pattern of bank withdrawals the former congressman and current $2 million-a-year earner as a DC lobbyist made in order to pay off someone in either compensation or blackmail for “prior bad acts.” Hastert was making frequent withdrawals just below the $10,000 mark upon which federal reporting requirements rest, and that alerted his bankers and the FBI. Questioned about the withdrawals, Hastert said they were because he didn’t trust the banking system.
The indictment says Hastert was trying to pay his counterparty in either a blackmail or compensation arrangement some $3.5 million, and had satisfied some half of that figure before the hammer fell.
All of which offers a delicious example of what ails our culture and politics. Several points to offer:
• Can we now do away with the constant harassment of Catholics over the infrequent and hyper-publicized incidences of pedophile priests in the Church? The aim here is not to excuse or condone that behavior, by any means; instead, if the Hastert indictment is a true bill it points to something obvious but seldom mentioned — that children are as or more likely to be sexually abused while in the care of the public education system than the Catholic Church, or any other religious institution, for that matter. That might not fit the mainstream media’s agenda to report upon, but it is statistically true. After all, when a teacher so well-respected in his profession that he moves on into national political leadership can later be exposed as a sexual predator of children in his care, the problem has to be widespread…n’est-ce pas?
• Can we now put to bed any pretense that the House Republican majority from 1998 to 2006 was anything but an unmitigated disaster? The collection of dunces and scoundrels Hastert presided over grew the federal government at rates not unlike a standard Democrat majority, spent America into oblivion, made no effort whatsoever at real reform even when circumstances were ripe to do so and took public corruption to levels that even unengaged voters found unacceptable. A side point — perhaps we now know why Hastert was so lax for so long on the Mark Foley scandal, which did such political damage to the Republican Party in 2006.
• Never put politicians from Chicago in charge of anything outside of Chicago. Ever.
• How did Hastert go from being a high school wrestling coach to a rich enough man that he could pay off a $3.5 million blackmail demand/settlement for “prior bad acts?” It seems he was of the Harry Reid school of “honest graft” — securing earmarks to site highways through farmland he’d invested in and then pocketing huge profits on the sale of that land. Hastert was an adamant defender of earmarks while House Speaker even as the practice and the public’s disgust with it drove him from power; it’s not hard to understand why.
• Those of us living in the areas affected by Hurricane Katrina, and particularly those of us hailing from New Orleans, feel a sense of schadenfreude by Hastert’s recent run of bad luck. It was Hastert, after all, who made the moronic comment that rebuilding an under-sea-level New Orleans would be a waste and that the city could be bulldozed — and he made those comments while the flooded city was still in chaos. Later, it would be recognized that New Orleans flooded largely for two reasons; first, the marshland surrounding it is disappearing because the Army Corps of Engineers has leveed the Mississippi River all the way to its mouth and therefore has denied the marshes of the river sediment they so badly need, and second, the levees keeping New Orleans’ canals in their place were designed and built in a substandard fashion by the Army Corps of Engineers. In other words, it was the federal government Hastert held a lofty place in which had victimized New Orleans — and not two days after the effects of its failure were made manifest he was publicly suggesting to finish the job. After that episode, most New Orleanians would find any fate up to and including Hastert’s dying in a fire perfectly acceptable. This one fits within that universe.
That said, Hastert was indicted for withdrawing money from a bank, and then lying to the FBI about the withdrawals. And he’s being indicted on those charges while the same Justice Department fails to prosecute anyone involved with the IRS scandal, Al Sharpton, or Hillary Clinton. Given the harsh treatment of other Republicans for what seem to be relatively minor scrapes with the law — former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell, for example, or Dinesh D’Souza — it does seem a pattern within the Obama administration that the vigor DOJ pursues your rowdy behavior is directly dependent on the letter next to your name on your voter registration form. And that is troubling, even if Hastert’s predicament is most certainly not.