Thursday, October 12, 2006

Hastert's Folly

Dennis Hastert (and various other Republicans) would like us to believe that the Mark Foley scandal is a result of a dastardly plot by Democrats to discredit the Republicans by revealing an, ahem, inconvenient truth just before the midterm elections.

They actually have no evidence of this accusation. And some of their claims have actually been debunked. But let's say for sake argument that Hastert was right. How can you stop the Democrats from leaking damaging and scandalous information to the press just before election time?

The answer is painfully simple: tell a Democrat.

As soon as any impropriety on Foley's part came to Hastert's attention, he should have made it a point to notify the Democrats on the House Page Board. Not simply because it would be sound policy and morally right, but because it would have been wise politics. In fact, if Hastert couldn't reach the Dems on the Page Board, Hastert should have grabbed any other Democratic House members available, and told them about Foley's behavior even if he had to physically force them to listen.

You see, if you want to hold someone accountable for keeping a secret, it helps to have them know it.

Blaming "the Democrats" in general is a losing proposition. If Hastert wanted to make an effective counter-accusation, he would need to be able to name names. Which Democrats are to blame? Who should be forced to answer for their conduct? Who can the media go pester? "The Democrats" doesn't do it. If you want to shift even part of the blame onto another party, it needs to be a specific recognizeable individual, preferably one running for reelection him- or herself. (And frankly, the only people who are going to get exercised about a shadowy pan-Democratic conspiracy are already so deeply committed to the Republican base that their votes can be taken for granted.) This is another version of Hillary Clinton's "vast right-wing-conspiracy" mistake. Voters don't get angry at vast anonymous conspiracies. They need to focus their dislike on an individual bogeyman. But poor Dennis. He doesn't know which Democrats to finger individually, because he doesn't know who knew. Because he didn't tell them.

Also, Hastert is inconveniently unable to say how long the hypothetical wicked Democratic conspirators held on to this information, because he doesn't know how long they've known it. Have they been sitting on the information for half as long as Hastert has been sitting on it? Three-quarters as long? One-third? Impossible to know once you've neglected to tell them. And then you're in the absurd position of attacking the people who brought up the subject first, on the grounds that they didn't bring it up sooner. In any case, they brought it up before you did.

I mean, what kind of political saboteur reveals something like this just before an election? Why not wait like a civilized person until just after the election? That's what the Speaker would do. Not for political gain, of course.

Hastert's also in the odd position, since he didn't tell any Democrats about the Foley situation, of being unable to say how the Democrats could have known. His own primary line of defense is that the actual e-mails he saw were not enough to raise any real suspicions in his mind. If seeing the Louisiana page's e-mails isn't enough of a tipoff, how are the Democrats supposed to have worked it out about Foley without even seeing those e-mails? It's quite a pickle.

If Hastert had told the Democrats, then when the scandal broke those Democrats would have been on the hook. Why didn't they step in and do something? Did they tell any of the Democratic House leadership about the situation? Why not? Or why hadn't the House leadership acted? At the very least, the Republicans would be able to counterattack in the districts of the tainted Democrats. But alas, there are no Democrats who can be personally leaked to the scandal.

Of course, if Hastert had notified the Dems something else might have happened entirely. Perhaps they would have insisted on getting rid of Foley years ago. Perhaps the Republican leadership would have had to find another candidate for Foley's Republican-leaning district. Maybe that subsitute candidate would be running for re-election in Palm Beach right now. What a hassle that would have been.

No comments: