Category Archives: newt ginrich

>REACT: Denny, we hardly knew ya.

>Illinois Congressman Denny Hastert will step down from Congress before the end of the year. He will leave with the distinction of having served longest in a position he well might never have held — Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. At the time of his ouster in the wake of the 2006 Democrat election tsunami, Hastert was, with only 8 years incumbency, the longest serving Republican Speaker in American history. He also is among the most undistinguished speakers. (Ironically, he beat the record of fellow Illinoisan, Joe Cannon, who many consider to have been the most powerful speaker in American history.)

Hastert was an accidental speaker, gaining the office only after Newt Gingrich’s successor-apparent, Bob Livingston of Louisiana, was forced to admit some adulterous indiscretions in his past – suffering more from the hypocrisy, after having tossed some sizeable stones at President Bill Clinton on the very same subject.

To me, it is remarkable that in Hastert’s history making tenure, one can hardly find a significant accomplishment. While he may have presided over the Republican majority for eight years, he was never much of a leader on the national scene. Having hardly made a ripple in his own time, Hastert is not likely to endure in historic hindsight – his sole accomplishment being longevity.

In his original acceptance speech, Hastert set forth his priorities in what he called the “four big challenges” — Social Security stabilization, Medicare reform, economic security, tax relief, a leaner and more efficient government; stronger national defense, and improved K- 12 education. (Yeah, I know he called them the FOUR challenges, but hey, the guy was a wrestling coach, not a math teacher.) Regardless how you count them, by his own challenge, Hastert failed across the board. In addition, his promise to lead a more congenial Congress was quashed by some of the most acrimonious partisanship since before the Civil War. Under his leadership, Hastert not only lost the speakership, he lost the Congress.

While Hastert was initially considered a philosophic brother of his predecessor, Newt Gingrich, they differed dramatically in style, strategy and intellectual power. Unlike Gingrich, Hastert eschewed the spotlight. He seemed to consider public communication as more of an inconvenience of his office than an opportunity to advance his, or the GOP, agenda. For Gingrich, the speakership was an ideological soap-box to espouse unbending conviction, for Hastert it was a pragmatic position for collegial compromise. Gingrich risked survival for his great causes. Hastert seemed to have no greater cause than survival. Gingrich is known for changing the course of a nation. Hastert is known for staying the course. If Gingrich was Meet the Press, then Hastert was Let’s Make a Deal.

Even in Illinois, Hastert’s reputation as an old-style “good ole boy” leaves little for the home town boosters to cheer about. His most memorable actions were dubious accomplishments. He is remembered for passing over fellow Illinoisan, Phil Crane, from the chairmanship of the all powerful Ways and Means Committee –a disservice to tradition, Phil Crane and the people of Illinois. It was a decision that ultimately cost the Republicans Crane’s seat.

Hastert again proved himself to be the consummate insider when he joined the corrupt Illinois GOP establishment in attempting to derail the appointment of Patrick Fitzgerald as the new U.S. Attorney for the northern district of Illinois. This effort, too, ran against the longstanding tradition of conceding the appointment to the senior senator of the President’s party – in this case Senator Peter Fitzgerald (no relationship to the appointee).

This was not the only time Hastert had crossed swords with the reform minded young senator on behalf of the boys in the back (nee smoke-filled) rooms – led by the criminal administration of Governor George Ryan. Over Fitzgerald’s attempt as fiscal responsibility, Hastert served up sizzling “pork” for Ryan massive Build Illinois rape of the taxpayers. He tried to shut down Fitzgerald’s efforts to bring accountability to the third airport fiasco. He attempted to thwart Fitzgerald’s effort to prevent Ryan from making the new Lincoln library and museum another cesspool of political cronyism.

Hastert also discovered that his throw-back concept of insider leadership was a relic with little relevance for the modern political game when he botched the handling of the Mark Foley “boys are toys” scandal. He mixed collegiality with Pontius Pilate-like washing of the hands to avoid addressing the issue at the time it was brought to his attention.

Most people do not know of Hastert’s record breaking tenure. His loss of the speakership is largely unnoticed because his presence there was largely unnoticed. He will now retire from Congress with most of America never having known he was even there. Hastert’s only enduring image may be his rotund Nast cartoon physique.

When the inevitable book is written about the career of Denny Hastert, it will be a short tome – lots of pictures and don’t wait for the movie. After noting that he was the accidental Speaker, who stayed a relatively a long time, what more can be said?

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