Washington's establishment of politicos, lobbyists and media sparklies are shocked — shocked to their very core! — by the scandalous sexual revelations about Dennis Hastert.
The portly Republican, who'd been Speaker of the House a decade ago, was an affable, non-descript Midwesterner who was popular with his fellow lawmakers. A former high school wrestling coach in rural Illinois, Hastert was viewed as a solid salt-of-the-Earth fellow embodying Middle America's moral values. So his recent indictment for paying $1.7 million in hush money to a man he apparently molested during his coaching years has rocked our Capitol City.
"I'm shocked and saddened," said the current GOP Speaker, John Boehner. Likewise, former colleagues from both sides of the aisle were dismayed that "our Denny" would have been engaged in child molestation and now caught in an illegal financial cover-up of that abomination. "This has really come out of nowhere," exclaimed Rep. Peter King, a longtime ally of the man whom all of Washington considered a straight arrow.
Washington's gossip mill is spinning furiously over last week's revelations. Before we join these officials in wailing about Dennis Hastert's alleged long-hidden molestation, however, let me note that while they are bewildered by his sexual impropriety, they find it not worthy of mention — much less condemnation — that Denny has long been immersed in the immoral swamp of Washington's game of money politics. The guy they profess to love as a paragon of civic virtue — "the coach," as Rep. King hailed him — was one of the most corrupt speakers ever. What about the filthy, backroom affair he has been openly conducting with corporate lobbyists for nearly two decades?
During his tenure as House speaker, Hastert turned the place into the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory of corporate favors. By putting campaign cash into Republican re-election coffers controlled by him and his top hit man, Majority Leader Tom DeLay, corporate interests gained entry into Denny's psychedelic playhouse.
With Hastert himself singing "Candy Man," the favor seekers could help themselves to the river of chocolate running through Congress' back rooms.
Remember "earmarks", the sneaky tactic of letting congressional leaders secretly funnel appropriations to favored corporations and projects? Earmarks became the trademark of Hastert's regime, sticking taxpayers with the tab for such outrages as Alaska's "Bridge to Nowhere." Indeed, Denny grabbed a $200 million earmark for himself, funding an Illinois highway near land he owned — land he then sold, netting millions in personal profit.
When he left Congress, Hastert moved just a short limo ride away to become — what else? — a corporate lobbyist. Trading on his former title, personal ties to House members and knowledge of how the chocolate factory runs, he has been hauling in a fortune as a high-dollar influence peddler for makers of candy-flavored cigarettes, Peabody Coal Company, land developers and other giants. And guess what his specialty is? Getting "riders" attached to appropriations bills, so public money is channeled directly to his clients.
Hastert openly traded legislative favors for campaign cash, including profiting personally from his powerful position. And, when he was squeezed out because of the corruption, he didn't return to the home folks — he became a K-Street lobbyist, continuing to profit to this day by doing corporate favors. That's how he got so rich he was able to shell out $1.7 million in hush money to the student he abused.
Good ol' Denny has always thought he was above the law. Just as Hastert should be held accountable for the deep personal damage his alleged molestation would've done to his former student, so should he also pay for his abominably-indecent abuse of office, his self-gratifying groping of public funds and his repeated, sticky-fingered violations of the American people's public trust.
(Jim Hightower has been called American's most popular populist. The radio commentator and former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture is author of seven books, including "There's Nothing In the Middle of Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos" and his new work, "Swim Against the Current: Even Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow".)
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