There’s an enormous amount of tragedy surrounding
revelations that former House speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.)
sexually abused a number of young men whom he coached during his time as
a high school teacher and wrestling instructor. But there’s also an
enormous amount of hypocrisy, as the public words of a public man are
seen in a new light after his past conduct was revealed.
events that led to Hastert’s election as speaker overlapped with the
impeachment of then-President Bill Clinton. That impeachment centered on
Clinton’s own sexual misconduct — albeit legal conduct with an adult.
It was his denial under oath that he’d had an affair with Monica
Lewinsky that prompted the Republican-led House to call for his ouster.
On Dec. 18, 1998, Hastert — a month away from taking the gavel as speaker — rose to address the topic.
Speaker, I am saddened that there is clear and convincing evidence that
the president lied under oath, obstructed justice and abused the powers
of his office in an attempt to cover up his wrongdoing. I regret that
the president’s behavior puts me in the position of having to vote in
favor of articles of impeachment and pass this matter on to the U.S.
Senate for final judgment. In facing this solemn duty, I looked to the
wisdom of our founding fathers.
According to Alexander Hamilton
in Federalist 65, impeachment concerns offenses with proceed from the
misconduct of public men — or in other words, from the abuse or
violation of some public trust. The evidence in President Clinton’s case
is overwhelming, that he has abused and violated the public trust. In
this nation, all men are created equal. Simply put, the president in our
representative democracy is not a sovereign who is above the law.
I shall cast a difficult vote. The president’s inability to abide by
the law, the Constitution and my conscience have all led me to the
solemn conclusion that impeachment articles must be passed.
reference to his “conscience” and scolding remarks about abuse of the
public trust were not atypical for a Republican leader at the time. But
today, knowing that Hastert had in his past ignored his conscience to
abuse trust in a more significant way, the speech is jarring in its
A month later, after the path to his election as
speaker was cleared by his chief opponent, Bob Livingston, who
admitted to extramarital affairs, Hastert took the gavel to lead the
chamber. He spoke about his new role with humility, frequently referring to his time as a coach in Illinois and the lessons it taught him.
He mentioned that period when he introduced himself to the country.
of you here in this House know me. But “Hastert” is not exactly a
household name across America. So our fellow citizens deserve to know
who I am and what I am going to do. What I am is a former high school
teacher, a wrestling and football coach, a small businessman and a state
legislator. And for the last 12 years, I’ve been a member of this
He talked about the lessons he’d learned from coaching.
good coach doesn’t rely on only a few star players, and everyone on the
squad has something to offer. And you never get to the finals without a
well-rounded team, and above all, a coach worth his salt will instill
in his team a sense of fair play, camaraderie, respect for the game and
for the opposition.
And he mentioned his time as a teacher when calling for limiting federal oversight of schools.
my 16 years as a teacher, I learned that most of the decisions having
to do with education are best left to the people closest to the
situation – parents, teachers, school board members. What should the
federal government’s role be?
As the Chicago Tribune reported last week, Hastert suggested that the federal government take a firmer hand in at least one situation: sexual abuse crimes.
is important to have a national notification system to help safely
recover children kidnapped by child predators,” he said in a statement
reported by the Tribune. “But it is equally important to stop those
predators before they strike, to put repeat child molesters into jail
for the rest of their lives and to help law enforcement with the tools
they need to get the job done.”
On Wednesday, Judge Thomas Durkin described
Hastert as a “serial child molester” as he prepared to impose a
sentence. But Hastert won’t spend the rest of his life in prison. Like
Clinton, he was targeted for a tangential crime, and he was sentenced to
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