I’m becoming annoyed that this is all being called the “page scandal,” and that we’re talking about reviewing the “page program,” because, you know, the pages didn’t actually do anything wrong, and the problem isn’t that there wasn’t a “system” in place, as Hastert tried to say this morning. It’s that the people in charge of other people on Capitol Hill were stone stupid and so craven they put the interests of their own above the interests of constituent kids.
That’s not a “page scandal.” That’s a “House leadership scandal.” It’s a “Republican Congress scandal.” It’s a “Denny Hastert scandal.”
Watching this play out, watching the press conference this morning, I’m shocked by the to-the-letter similarity with the Roman Catholic Church abuse scandal, because the response from the bishops was almost exactly the same as Fat Denny’s has been.
The best of the bishops knew right away that this was a huge problem and responded with openness, compassion, and a willingness to talk to whoever they needed to talk to for however long they needed to do it in order to get their shit straightened out.
The worst of them did exactly what Denny Hastert is doing. First, they denied ever being informed. Then, when presented with letters in their own handwriting that say, basically, let’s sweep this under the rug and not tell anybody, they floundered around for a while giving conflicting statements while the victims got more and more pissed. Then the bishops got pissed off themselves and blamed the press for, variably, digging up old history, stirring up trouble, having an anti-Catholic bias, trying to “collect scalps,” or just plain lying.
That’s usually when the press got pissed right back. I’ll never, ever, ever forget Brian McGrory’sBoston Globe column:
Enough, cardinal, enough. Enough of the brazen disregard for the believers in your midst. Enough of the tens of thousands of dollars you’re throwing at public relations companies. Enough of the self-centered hope that you can salvage your reputation before you ride off to retirement in Rome.
No longer are you part of the problem. No longer have you contributed to the problem. You are now, as one disgusting revelation after another tumbles out, the core of the problem. There is no criminal act committed by any pedophilic priest that’s worse than your practice of repeatedly and knowingly putting children in harm’s way.
And now there is no possibility of reform, no measure of organizational penance, no ability for the thousands of victims to reconcile the past until you are finally done and gone. So please, cardinal, for the sake of a city and the church that in many ways dominates it, pack up and get out of our town.
Then came the show of contriteness. The “I’m sorry, and I’ll fix it” moment we got from Hastert today. The attempt to put the bees back in the nest. Trouble is, reporters still had questions. “I’m sorry” is not enough, you have to explain yourself. That’s when the bishops would revert to anger at the press, and it would all start all over again.
What the bishops figured out is what Hastert’s counting on happening in his case: that in the long run, it won’t matter all that much. When the Boston church scandal broke I told my now former employers, “this is the end of the Roman Catholic Church in this country.” But it wasn’t. The bishops dug in, with the patience of officers of a corporation that measures time in millennia, and they waited out the storm, most of them. Cardinals Mahoney and Egan should be in prison, but they’re plugging along just fine. Bishop Joseph Imesch of Joliet was allowed to resign honorably, as though none of what he did ever happened. Cardinal Law quit, sure, but he’s living the sweet life in Rome right now, and the only way he’ll get his is if my childhood priest was right and there really is a pit of fire beneath the earth into which the sinful sink.
Hastert’s counting on what has buoyed Bush for so long: that the polls don’t matter. So what if two thirds of the country thinks you suck? You don’t have to change your tune one bit if you don’t want to. It’s not like they’re gonna come for you with pitchforks, are they? You can sit back and say, “So what are you going to do about it, white boy?”
I’ll tell you what we’re going to do about it.
Write to your congressmen. Ask them to publicly demand Hastert’s resignation. Not from his leadership post. From Congress. Ask them to put out a statement, to talk into a microphone, post something on their web site, go on record in some way asking Dennis Hastert to quit, and to do it now.
Give money to John Laesch. Do what the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee wouldn’t do, and make this race against Denny one of the top-tier races in the country. He chuckled today about expecting to win re-election, Denny did. Wipe the smirk off his face.
Give to your favorite House candidates, too. Make Denny the speaker of nothing when the Democratic Congress comes back to work.
Get back up.