One of the many differences between the Republican and Democratic parties is the way they deal with scandals. The Democrats’ first instinct is always to circle the wagons and lash out furiously at anyone who attacks “their guy.”
On the other hand, Republicans have a much different approach. Although, in all fairness, we do tend to be sympathetic to people on “our side,” we’re also much more willing to unload both barrels on fellow conservatives when we think it’s deserved.
As a general rule, this policy serves Republicans well. It gives us more credibility with the general public, it helps cut down on hypocrisy, and it influences Republicans to behave better because they know that they can’t count on the support of the people in their party if they do the wrong thing.
Moreover, it leads to better policy. Because Republicans complained so bitterly, we got Samuel Alito instead of Harriet Miers—and we now have a wall that made its way through Congress instead of an illegal alien amnesty.
However, there are downsides to the Republican way of dealing with scandal.
First of all, it leads to a double standard that regularly allows Democrats to get away scot free with gaffes that destroy Republican careers. Although that’s certainly unfair, it’s probably a plus overall for the GOP. After all, because Democrats do regularly give each other passes on ethical issues—they have a former member of the KKK, a guy who a left a woman to drown to death, and a congressman who stuck $90,000 in bribe money into his freezer representing them up on Capitol Hill.
But then, there’s the flip side of that equation: the frenzied bursts of pointless self-flagellation that the Republican Party seems to engage in every so often. We have Republicans turning on each other, like a school of piranha out of their minds with bloodlust, for the flimsiest of reasons—and that’s exactly what we’re seeing happen in the aftermath of the Mark Foley scandal.
Mark Foley? He’s a sexual predator who treated the congressional page program like a dating service. For that reason alone, he doesn’t belong in Congress and if it turns out he broke the law, they should throw the book at him.
But, Dennis Hastert? Look at the situation he was put in back in 2005. He has someone come to him with slightly creepy, inappropriate e-mails from a congressman to a page. But the e-mails weren’t sexual, weren’t illegal, weren’t an ethics breach, and Foley didn’t ask for a meeting with the page.
So, what is Hastert supposed to do about this other than have Foley told not to contact the page in question any more? Could he contact the Capitol Hill Police? Well, again, the emails weren’t criminal. Could he refer the matter to the ethics committee? Why? There was no ethical breach. There have been suggestions that Hastert should have started an investigation into Foley’s sex life, but that’s ridiculous given what he had to work with. If you’re going to start peering through someone’s files, listening in on his phone calls, and asking dozens of people questions like, “Has Mark Foley ever touched you or made inappropriate sexual advances,” then you better have more evidence than an e-mail asking a page for a picture.
It’s funny, if you think about it. We have had Democrats up in arms about listening in on the phone calls of foreign terrorists or using data mining to ferret them out—and Republicans have bitterly criticized them for it. But now, we have Democrats and even some Republicans who are claiming that Dennis Hastert should resign his leadership position because he didn’t start an exhaustive investigation into the background and sexual conduct of a gay American congressman based on nothing more than the fact that he sent some “overly friendly” emails to a page.
The FBI? They received these e-mails and didn’t take it any further because they decided that there was nothing there. The hostile, liberal media? They got these e-mails and didn’t publish them because they decided that there wasn’t enough to go on. But Dennis Hastert? He’s supposed to look at these exact same e-mails, instantly decide—perhaps by using Nostradamus-like psychic powers—that Foley was guilty and then start looking for evidence to prove his hunch right.
This is the insane standard that normally sensible conservatives like Maggie Gallagher, Tony Blankley and Michael Reagan are applying to Dennis Hastert—and not only are they wrong, they’re setting a terrible precedent, falsely accusing members of the House leadership of choosing to look the other way while a sexual predator worked, and smearing the entire Republican Party by association with this malicious accusation. So maybe, just maybe, some of the people wildly raving about the Republican House leadership should take off the hairshirts, calm down, and wait for all the facts to come out before they start calling for the heads of Republicans like Dennis Hastert who have, in the eyes of most Republicans, handled this matter properly from beginning to end.