Why The Pedophile Who Led The GOP Is Relevant
We Need To Talk About Hastert, Trump, and Everything Between Them
From January 6, 1999 to January 3, 2007, a now-admitted pedophile was one of the most powerful political leaders in the United States. He was third in line to the presidency, a heartbeat behind then-Vice President Dick Cheney. His name is Dennis Hastert, and hardly anybody even talks about him anymore.
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The disappearing of Hastert says a lot to me about the lack of a killer edge from the Democratic Party, the kind of investment in bare-knuckle politics that is so desperately needed in the current atmosphere, but which the party fails to engage in time and time again.
Certainly, this is also a media failure as well. The press has repeatedly shown that former Speakers of the House, like Newt Gingrich and Paul Ryan, are often the fodder for major news stories long after they have left, but Hastert and his crimes have received very little attention — relatively speaking.
In 2016, Hastert was sentenced to prison for his role in a scheme to send hush money payments to cover up his sexual abuse of a minor.
In fact, Hastert abused multiple boys during his time as a wrestling coach in Illinois. He admitted to this in court, offering a supposed apology for his crimes.
Thomas M. Durkin, the judge at his sentencing hearing bluntly explained, “The defendant is a serial child molester. Some actions can obliterate a lifetime of good works. Nothing is more stunning than having ‘serial child molester’ and ‘speaker of the House’ in the same sentence.”
But in reality, the abuse conviction of Hastert is almost never brought up by Democratic officials or even pundits on the left side of the aisle.
The disappearing is even more damning when you consider the mountain of allegations, based on absolute nothing, that is frequently heaped on Democrats. According to the right - not the fringe, but mainstream Republicans, conservative pundits and the like - figures like President Joe Biden, President Barack Obama, Sec. Hillary Clinton are nothing short of serial killers and abusers, responsible for a legendary list of crimes and offenses.
One time Obama was even accused of trying to drop a nuclear bomb on Charleston, South Carolina.
Why does this happen? Why do Democrats go into political battles by unnecessarily disarming themselves?
There is the belief among some that Democrats are controlled opposition, that they intentionally throw fights. I admit, it certainly can look that way sometimes. You honestly have to make a concerted effort to be that inept, so the idea that Democrats know exactly what they’re doing when they fail like this certainly has the ring of some truth to it.
But I’m a simple man and I think the problem is more basic than that. The fight-throwing argument feels to conspiratorial to me. I’ve argued in the past that American politics is a lot dumber than it appears and that advocates on either side of the aisle often attribute way too much Machiavellian thought to the people who lead the parties.
I think the failure to weaponize the Hastert scandal, and so much else, is because many Democratic leaders find the mechanics of politics “icky.”
While Republicans and the conservative movement revels in combat, valuing ideas like “owning the libs” as among their highest priorities, liberalism still tends to hold on to loftier notions. I have personally caricatured this as “West Wing brain” for liberalism’s obsession with some sort of Pollyanna view of politics, but it is a real phenomenon.
When faced with the kind of opposition that makes up most of the right, attacking the LGBTQ right to exist, cheering on police violence against Blacks, pushing anti-Asian violence by calling COVID “the China virus,” calling for Muslim travel to be banned, regulating the reproductive organs of women, and on and on — it feels “icky” for some to walk in a similar kind of muck to the right.
This notion leads Democrats to the idea that they must pursue the higher ground. To quote First Lady Michelle Obama, “When they go low, we go high.”
But being blunt with the truth, telling the public what the Republican Party and the conservative movement is and the kind of people it places in the highest levels of leadership, is not going “low.” In fact, if a Democrat were to point out that at the time Dennis Hastert and the GOP were busy lecturing America about marital infidelity by Bill Clinton, shaming single mothers, demonizing Muslims after 9/11 — that the man who led the party was a serial molester, this would be going “high.”
It is going “high” to demand that our leaders be better than the kind of filth Dennis Hastert is, and that people who abuse others — like Donald Trump, like Ron DeSantis, like every other Republican demonizing transgender kids from coast to coast — should not be in public office.
If your political opponents are in the mud and they live and breathe the mud and the mud has unfortunately been a valuable weapon in elevating them to positions of power, you cannot in good conscience simply pretend that the muck doesn’t exist.
For too long the Democratic Party and liberalism has been pathologically afraid to get into the arena and fight, even for things that are no-brainers, popular, and easy to win fights about.
You lose nothing by invoking the facts that the Republican Party has been led by a pedophile, and is currently led by a serial sexual abuser. You show people the stark differences between the two movements. You show the people in your own movement that they have two-pronged motivation: To keep the twisted people on the other side out of power, and to put the perfectly normal and competent people on your own side in power.
This is basic politics, and its long past time for the party to get on board.
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Just never-ending eye bleach.