Never did like the guy. He was an incompetent, corrupt House Speaker who reversed the direction of Newt Gingrich’s reforms, he began the recent tradition of terrible leadership among Republicans in the House, and most of all he said probably the stupidest thing anybody in American politics has said in a generation.
And now we know his corruption wasn’t just political, it was intensely personal. Hastert apparently molested a student while he was a high school wrestling coach in Yorkville, Illinois before becoming a politician.
Those of us living in the areas affected by Hurricane Katrina, and particularly those of us hailing from New Orleans, feel a sense of schadenfreude by Hastert’s recent run of bad luck. It was Hastert, after all, who made the moronic comment that rebuilding an under-sea-level New Orleans would be a waste and that the city could be bulldozed — and he made those comments while the flooded city was still in chaos. Later, it would be recognized that New Orleans flooded largely for two reasons; first, the marshland surrounding it is disappearing because the Army Corps of Engineers has leveed the Mississippi River all the way to its mouth and therefore has denied the marshes of the river sediment they so badly need, and second, the levees keeping New Orleans’ canals in their place were designed and built in a substandard fashion by the Army Corps of Engineers. In other words, it was the federal government Hastert held a lofty place in which had victimized New Orleans — and not two days after the effects of its failure were made manifest he was publicly suggesting to finish the job. After that episode, most New Orleanians would find any fate up to and including Hastert’s dying in a fire perfectly acceptable. This one fits within that universe.
It’s really peculiar that the GOP seems so incapable of coming up with credible leaders who aren’t creeps. But what we’re finding is that, simply speaking, good people just don’t generally get into politics.
An election campaign is a crawl through a mile of sewer pipe. You and your family will be dragged through the worst possible character assassination, and even if your background doesn’t contain anything embarrassing or disqualifying your opponents will fabricate something, anything they can use to discourage voters from supporting you. And the media, looking for something that will generate ratings, sell newspapers or generate clicks, will publicize those attacks because it’s the media’s job to do so.
None of us could stand up to that kind of scrutiny, and so few of us try. Those who do make the attempt are all too often crazies, narcissists and attention whores.
Because we’re asking these people to take on a thankless job that pays less than the private sector would pay for top-quality people, and to run a governmental system that is obsolete and dysfunctional, and to fulfill promises made by a previous generation of crazies, narcissists and attention whores which can never be fulfilled – and the only real benefit we offer to candidates for elected office is power over their fellow man.
Most really good people don’t want power over their fellow man. They certainly might like to try to help make things better – but who actually makes things better?
Steve Jobs did more to improve the quality of American life than Lyndon Baines Johnson ever dreamed. Ditto for Bill Gates, Sam Walton, Henry Ford, Dave Thomas and Ted Turner. If you can create something which fills a hole in the market and makes a meaningful difference in the lives of people who choose to have you make that difference without being coerced, then you’ve become a real change agent.
Politics can do very little to improve people’s lives. It can do a lot to make things worse. When you ask too much of politics, the fact that the crazies, narcissists and attention whores are the people who run political institutions becomes a lot more significant.
Denny Hastert, it turns out, shouldn’t even have been a high school wrestling coach. We made him Speaker of the House and put him in charge of a legislative house overseeing a multi-trillion dollar enterprise. Shockingly, he wasn’t good at it.