Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Hastert seeks shelter with Rush, but it's raining too hard

Quote of the day, from House Speaker Dennis Hastert: “We are the insulation to protect this country.”

One could argue, of course, that Hastert and others in the congressional Republican leadership haven’t exactly excelled at sufficiently insulating certain underage Americans. But Hastert was not referring here to the Mark Foley/GOP leadership scandal. Actually, he was referring to 9/11 – the party’s predictable default defense. Here’s how it works: If anyone suggests that the governing party might have screwed something up (such as, for example, by allowing a veteran Republican congressman to prey on kids), then the party is simply to respond by saying, in effect, “Vote for us if you want to live.”

Just as noteworthy was the venue where Hastert uttered that remark. Under fire from all sides, fighting to hang on to his lofty title, and seeking a friendly place where he knew he could be insulated and protected from serious questions about his own conduct in the Foley matter, he sought refuge yesterday with the most obsequious shouter in the conservative echo chamber.

I am referring, of course, to Rush Limbaugh.

One could make the case that, at a time when Hastert needs to defend his party’s family-values credentials, it might be seem odd to seek out Limbaugh, a guy with a history of bad marriages and drug prescription fraud. But what matters is that he’s such an accommodating host. For instance…

Rush: "Well, it's clear to me that what the Democrats are doing here in some sort of cooperation with some in the media is to suppress conservative turnout by making it look like you guys knew this all along but because you're so interested in holding the House rather than protecting children that you covered it up."
Hastert: "Yeah."

Here’s another…

Rush: "This is a strategic political, or politically timed, release of information, particularly based on how long ago it has been known, and there is -- I have to tell you there's -- a hunger and a real craving amongst conservative voters for Republicans in Washington, House and Senate both, to simply refuse to be set back on your heels and accept this defensive position and just go on offense and strike back at these guys. 'Hey, Mark Foley is not what the future of this country is about. It's about protecting the nation, national security, prosperity, ongoing efforts to maintain a good economy, not destroying the health care system,' and this sort of thing. Is there a problem that Republicans in the House and the Senate have about going on offense when these kind of things happen?"
Hastert: "Absolutely not."

And this...

Rush: "Okay. Before I let you go, you know that the Democrats and the media are going to continue to press the Foley issue -- even though you've dealt with it, even though he's gone, even though the mistake has been corrected. What is the battle plan to deal with these continuing allegations and accusations that are going to be designed to depress voter turnout?"

Hastert’s answers don’t even matter, since Limbaugh basically does all the heavy rhetorical lifting. For instance, look again at the latter Limbaugh comment. Especially the part where he says “even though you’ve dealt with it…even though the mistake has been corrected.” There’s something a tad odd about those pronouncements – such as the fact that they’re flat wrong.

It now turns out, according to news reports today, that Hastert’s office had multiple opportunities to deal with the Foley issue starting back in 2003 – and never dealt with it, never corrected the “mistake.” Limbaugh’s initial remark notwithstanding, it’s not “the Democrats” who are blowing the whistle on Hastert; it’s his own side.

Foley’s former chief of staff, Kirk Fordham, said today that he warned senior Hastert staffers more than three years ago that his boss was preying on the House pages. Hastert’s office then put out a statement which contends that Fordham is lying. Fordham then put out a statement saying that Hastert’s office is lying: “"Rather than trying to shift the blame on me, those who are employed by these House leaders should acknowledge what they know about their action or inaction in response to the information they knew about Mr. Foley prior to 2005.”

And sorry, Rush, but if the issue has been “dealt with,” then why are House Republicans weighing the idea of bringing in a high-profile attorney to assess the situation (as the Wall Street Journal reported today), and why has the House Ethics Committee (along with the Justice Department and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement), deemed it appropriate to probe this matter further?

With top officials in the “family values” party now calling each other liars, is it any wonder that clear-headed conservatives are fearing a political debacle? Hastert might not have fared so easily if he had sat down today with Rich Lowry of the National Review:

“The fundamental problem congressional Republicans are experiencing now is that they have almost no moral capital left after the last two years. Again and again, when given the choice to reform their practices or do little or nothing, they always picked the latter. On travel, on Abramoff, on earmarking—you name it. The impression they always gave was that the integrity of the institution and the public interest had to take a back-seat to their own convenience.

“They wanted to squeak by this year on gerrymandering, negative ads, and money, and just might have succeeded—had nothing more gone wrong. Well, now it has and people feel confirmed in what they always suspected: that it is unable to police its own practices and is full of people who don't follow the same rules as the rest of us. This is deadly."