Say Goodnight Hastert

In playing the Prima-Dona, Rep. Hastert has commited political suicide. In fact he ought to quit now.

Ben Stein:

"Now comes Speaker Hastert, at the very first moment where House Republicans can push back against an image of corruption, to step all over both the law and especially the politics in order to assert a highly dubious congressional privilege. As if Congress doesn't already look privileged enough.

READERS WILL BY NOW, OF COURSE, be familiar with the crazily loud and intemperate complaints shouted by Hastert about the FBI's duly warranted search of Rep. Jefferson's office. Legal opinion is somewhat fractured on the constitutional issues involved, but the dozens of both conservative and liberal experts who have pronounced the search perfectly valid does indicate, at the very least, that Hastert's assertion of legal privilege from such searches is far from a slam-dunk. All of which makes the intemperate tone of his complaints all the more objectionable: The more dubious the legal case, the more circumspect should be its embrace by a political leader.

Worse still, of course (in the short term, at least), is the nature of Hastert's political blunder. In the face of a general public already fed up with congressional malfeasance and self-absorption, the very last thing the Speaker should do is to sound as if Congress is above the law.

Sen. John Warner was entirely right, in contradistinction to Hastert, when he said that "Congress should not set itself apart from citizens. We should be treated alike when it comes to criminal codes." That bit of wisdom should be familiar to Hastert and others who signed the Republican Contract with America in 1994: As has been widely noted, one of the most popular, applause-generating parts of the Contract was its pledge to, "FIRST, require all laws that apply to the rest of the country also apply equally to the Congress."

The inviolability of one's own office space against a duly and carefully executed search warrant is far from being a law generally applicable to the "rest of the country."

If Hastert's outburst against the Jefferson search were an isolated incident, a rare lapse in judgment, it certainly would be forgivable. Because, however, it is part of a consistent pattern of abuses of ethical norms or of simple fairness, and because Hastert's own compromised image is helping drag down his whole party's electoral prospects for November, this Speaker should silence himself politically.

As Republicans realized way back when they first took the majority in Congress, eight years is long enough for any Speaker to become the source of horrible static -- and to be replaced, forthwith."

Amen. Couldn't have said it better.

H/t to ever vigilant Carol, a frequent commenter.

UPDATE: Further on Hastert's betrayal from The Observer.