Dennis Hastert, 'Amnesia' Speaker

Should Dennis Hastert resign as Speaker of the House?

I hope not.

He is the perfect symbol of everything that is wrong in a leader of the House of Representatives. He can’t remember being told about one of the members of the closet caucus who had a special affinity for young boys.

Everyone else on Capitol Hill apparently knew; interns were warned; pages had the word passed from one generation to the next; but while there is no question that other members of the leadership were told, no question that top aides in the Speaker’s office were told, no question that the Congressman involved was himself warned, it was apparently just not important enough a matter for the Leader himself to be concerned about.

Keep that man right where he is for the next four weeks.

What, or rather, who, could be a better symbol of the priorities of Washington DC than the man who can’t remember?

And what could be a better symbol of everything that is wrong with partisan politics than the response of Republicans to this particular horror show?

What do you hear leading Republicans saying? Do you hear them saying they are outraged, that things have to change. Just a few. Most are too busy playing politics.

There is Ann Coulter on The Factor minimizing the wrongdoing as just a few “overly friendly” emails, that have prompted a “hysterical overreaction” “just because Foley is gay and sending, you know, asking a kid what he wants for his birthday.”

Of course Hastert should stay, she says. Why not? What planet does this woman live on?

But it’s worse than that. Because most conservatives, Mr. O’Reilly included, cannot with a straight face minimize the offensiveness of these exchanges, even if they’re happy to let Ann Coulter do it for them. So instead of dealing with the problem on its own terms, the Republican answer has been to revert to the old Washington game: don’t take responsibility, throw mud instead. Or as one Republican operative put it, we’re going to turn Mel Reynolds into a household name.

Now Mel Reynolds, in case they haven’t succeeded yet, is the former Democratic Congressman who had sex with an underage campaign volunteer and was ultimately pardoned by President Clinton. You can split hairs on this one if you want: there is a difference between an underage volunteer and a page in a program administered by Congress on the one hand; sex is worse than emails, etc.

But guess what? Who cares? I don’t. I’m not defending Reynolds’ conduct or Clinton’s pardons, but neither are an excuse for Foley’s wrongdoing or Hastert’s lackadaisical attitude towards it.

As any mother will tell you, just because one toddler jumps off the Empire State Building, does that mean that the right thing is for the next toddler to follow suit? Who cares if some years ago an ethically challenged Democrat behaved in a reprehensible way? Is that an answer to the unethical behavior of a Republican today?

Tit for tat is the way they play in DC. As if that is all we care about: Whose stink it is, as opposed to the stink itself.

This is the basic problem. Republicans think they can do no wrong so long as Democrats do worse. Democrats think the same. Guess what? They’re all wrong. The place stinks. It’s just that this time, the smell is coming from the Republican side. And trying to spread the odor doesn’t make it go away. It just reminds us of the depth of our disgust.

Click here to read Susan's responses to her reader email.

Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California and a member of the Board of Contributors of USA Today. She writes the "Portia" column for American Lawyer Media and is a contributing editor of The Los Angeles Times. She was appointed by the president to serve on the National Holocaust Council and by the mayor of the City of Los Angeles to serve on that city's Ethics Commission.

Estrich's books include "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System," "Dealing with Dangerous Offenders," "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women" and "Sex & Power," currently a Los Angeles Times bestseller.

She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel.

Respond to the Writer