Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Foley Disgrace

The Washington Times calls on Dennis Hastert to resign as Speaker of the House. It won't happen.

Unfortunately, in the US the English tradition of the honorable resignation has never become customary. In the UK, if a Cabinet department became embattled in a disgraceful affair or if its failure to take appropriate action cast disgrace upon the Government, the Minister in charge would resign; similarly, the opposition leader often resigned after losing a general election because it reflected poorly upon his (not her -- Thatcher never lost a general) effectiveness as leader.

By contrast, Jane Garvey continued as the FAA Administrator after 9-11-01, George Tenet remained the head of the CIA, Norman Mineta continued as the Secretary of Transportation. The US political class therefore more closely resembles the international political class (i.e., IOC Premier Juan Antonio Samaranch's laughable claim that he would be the best person to preside over cleaning up the ethics of the International Olympic Committee; Kofi Annan's "efforts" to clean up the UN). And Dennis Hastert will continue as Speaker of the House until and unless there is some evidence that he had direct knowledge of Mark Foley's particular perversities and Hastert actively helped bury that for the past year.

Nonetheless, the WaTimes is persuasive:

Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois, the Republican chairman of the House Page Board, said he learned about the Foley e-mail messages "in late 2005." Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, the leader of the Republican majority, said he was informed of the e-mail messages earlier this year. On Friday, Mr. Hastert dissembled, to put it charitably, before conceding that he, too, learned about the e-mail messages sometime earlier this year. Late yesterday afternoon, Mr. Hastert insisted that he learned of the most flagrant instant-message exchange from 2003 only last Friday, when it was reported by ABC News. This is irrelevant. The original e-mail messages were warning enough that a predator -- and, incredibly, the co-chairman of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children -- could be prowling the halls of Congress. The matter wasn't pursued aggressively. It was barely pursued at all. Moreover, all available evidence suggests that the Republican leadership did not share anything related to this matter with any Democrat.

Now the scandal must unfold on the front pages of the newspapers and on the television screens, as transcripts of lewd messages emerge and doubts are rightly raised about the forthrightness of the Republican stewards of the 109th Congress. Some Democrats are attempting to make this "a Republican scandal," and they shouldn't; Democrats have contributed more than their share of characters in the tawdry history of congressional sexual scandals. Sexual predators come in all shapes, sizes and partisan hues, in institutions within and without government. When predators are found they must be dealt with, forcefully and swiftly. This time the offender is a Republican, and Republicans can't simply "get ahead" of the scandal by competing to make the most noise in calls for a full investigation. The time for that is long past.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert must do the only right thing, and resign his speakership at once. Either he was grossly negligent for not taking the red flags fully into account and ordering a swift investigation, for not even remembering the order of events leading up to last week's revelations -- or he deliberately looked the other way in hopes that a brewing scandal would simply blow away. He gave phony answers Friday to the old and ever-relevant questions of what did he know and when did he know it? Mr. Hastert has forfeited the confidence of the public and his party, and he cannot preside over the necessary coming investigation, an investigation that must examine his own inept performance.

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