Dennis Hastert and the Cringing Republicans

Australians used to speak of their "cultural cringe" — a tendency to internalize what they supposed to be the British view that all things Australian are backward and provincial. This colonial residue lingered after many decades of independent achievement.

Republicans today suffer from a moral cringe which makes them internalize the Democrat view that whenever anything goes wrong Republicans are at fault. Between 1932 and 1994 the GOP was the ninety—seven pound weakling of our national politics, and Republicans retain some of the servile self—criticism they learned in those years.

The latest example is the absurd Republican reaction to the Foley scandal. Representative Mark Foley was widely known to be a homosexual. He was known to take a friendly interest in young pages and even to appreciate masculine beauty. No public information even hints that anyone in the Congressional leadership knew anything else about him that should have prompted an investigation. Nobody ever complained to any Republican authorities that Foley was guilty of any sexual misconduct, until last week.
It turns out Foley is a pervert, or at least he is credibly alleged to be a pervert. He is an ephebophile and his interest in young pages apparently wasn't friendly at all.

Democrats who see nothing suspicious about homosexual men who want to be scoutmasters are now claiming that the Speaker of the House should resign because he ignored the "red flags" and failed to initiate an inquisition into Foley's sexual practices. Their blatant hypocrisy is as transparent as their lust for political advantage.

Incredibly, a lot of Republicans are jumping on the dump Hastert bandwagon. This is bad tactics and worse morals. Let's talk about morals first.

Moral sense

Zero tolerance for perverts sounds great until one considers what it would mean in practice. If the conventional wisdom concludes that Hastert was derelict in his duty because he didn't investigate Foley, people in positions of authority will receive a message most of us don't want to send. They will conclude that, to shelter themselves from criticism, they need to investigate every homosexual who puts himself in contact with young men.

High school principals will start seizing the computers of every unmarried middle—aged male teacher who takes an interest in his students and former students. They will troll among students for accusations and sometimes they will net false ones. Student gossip about teachers becomes an element of due diligence. Reputations will be unfairly tarnished and communities will be divided and embittered.

We've been down this route before with the sexual harassment hysteria that began with the effort to destroy Clarence Thomas and burned itself out in the effort to save Bill Clinton. We shouldn't go there again. Basic decency and fairness should make us recoil from the prospect.

The government's investigative apparatus is not something to be deployed lightly. The House leadership didn't tap Foley's phone, inspect all his emails, or interrogate handsome young pages about him for the best possible reason. They didn't have adequate grounds.

Instead they did the decent thing, and they don't deserve withering crossfire for it.

Tactical sense

Now consider the tactics of throwing the Speaker under a bus merely because Democrats have embroiled him in yet another ersatz scandal. Nothing could be more pointless and self—defeating.

It would be pointless because Republicans can't mitigate whatever political damage there is going to be from the Foley scandal by jettisoning Hastert and company. The damage is done and it has nothing to do with the Speaker.
Political junkies may think that the Foley scandal hurts because it undermines public trust in the House leadership, but that's not the source of the pain. The number of voters who know or care about the House leadership is infinitesimally small.

Democrats didn't keep Mark Foley's sins on ice and serve them up shortly before an election to make Dennis Hastert look negligent. They did it to drive a wedge between the GOP and its evangelical supporters by publicizing the fact that the Republican leadership in Congress gave the benefit of a substantial doubt to a known homosexual.

The tactical calculation behind the Foley scandal is the same as the calculation that drove both John Kerry and John Edwards to babble on about Mary Cheney's sexual orientation in nationally televised debates. Democrats believe that they can suppress the evangelical vote by suggesting that the GOP is too gay friendly and they aren't about to let mere scruples stand in their way.
Kerry's lesbian gambit failed because the targeted voters were not the troglodyte simpletons of the Democrats' imagination. They largely recognized and resented the condescension motivating the attack, and affirmed their respect for tender love within a family.

Maybe the Democrats are right about evangelicals this time and maybe they aren't. Either way, replacing the Speaker now would be beside the point.
It would also be devastating to the Republican Party.

You can't win by losing

Lots of Republicans have never thought much of Speaker Hastert. Many others have acquired grudges against him for everything from profligate spending to sheltering Representative William Jefferson (D Louisiana) from the FBI. He may be a lousy Speaker, but Republicans will pay a heavy price if they help the Democrats shove him aside with just the pathetic leverage of the Foley scandal.
In politics you never win by losing. Dumping Hastert and the rest of the leadership team would be a loss. His departure would empower Democrats and dispirit Republicans. It would underscore the Republican's principal political liability, which is that many of their own supporters see them as spineless weenies.

Caving in to groundless and hysterical criticism is the quintessence of spinelessness. Republicans have made a habit of it.

They were too timid to change the rule that required Tom Delay to resign his leadership post when the rube who passes for a prosecutor in Travis County, Texas trumped up an indictment against him. The Bush administration couldn't stand and fight when it came under fire for including sixteen words in a State of the Union Address, every one of which was true. It never even tried to defend itself when Democrats and the media were spewing nonsense about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina for the purpose of blaming President Bush for everything that may have gone wrong in New Orleans. One could, as Zell Miller once said, "go on and on and on."

Republicans can't afford to crumble yet again just five weeks before an election. They can't win a fight without fighting and it's better to start late than never.

The moral cringe is baggage the Republicans can no longer afford to carry. It has been a burden throughout the 12 years of majority control of the House. Unless they push it away now those years will end and cringing will return as a way of life.

J. Peter Mulhern is an attorney in the Washington, DC area and a frequent contributor to American Thinker.