Speaker Hastert: Eight years is a very long time

Speaker Hastert will have held that top spot in the U.S. House as long as Ronald Reagan occupied the White House. A lot can happen in eight years and a lot can be accomplished as well. Last week we said this:

Speaker Dennis Hastert and his staff failed the country for eight years. Sure, there were successes, and yes, progress was made on a few issues. But anyone arguing that we are better off as a country than we were eight years ago (when Hastert became Speaker) will have a tough case to make.

But we didn’t provide any details. Below are a few. First we need to say what we shouldn’t have to – but people are people and it’s human to get confused when someone talks tough.

The bottom line in a business, the win-loss record for a sports franchise, the effectiveness of a non-profit set up to help the poor – all these things are measurable. There can be disagreements as to what constitutes success, but in most cases we know it when we see it.

If the aim of holding political office is to be liked by your friends and colleagues, no doubt Dennis Hastert succeeded. If it was to make the best use of power and influence towards the aim of getting good government according to the principles outlined in the Republican platform, we think Hastert and his team fell far short. What makes this particularly regretful is that next to the President, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives has more potential for good than any other elected official in the land.

One of the big issues this past October was the Foley scandal. However important that failure might have been, it pales when compared to Team Hastert having created the circumstances whereby we wound up getting Speaker Pelosi in a time of war.

Those circumstances might be summed up by taking a look at the idea of the Republican “brand” nationally. What do voters around the country think of when they think of Republican members of Congress? After eight years of Team Hastert – do a majority of people see Republicans as the Party that…

  • effectively articulates the realities of “post 9-11” warfare as illustrated by Iraq?
  • controls government spending?
  • provides real oversight of government programs?
  • holds a high standard of ethics?
  • advances needed reforms for bloated and unsustainable entitlement programs?
  • simplifies the ludicrous federal tax code?
  • in the wake of Hurricane Katrina forces the needed structural changes over agencies like FEMA?
  • has the fix for the nation’s health care system?
  • leads the charge for true education reform?

We could go on. Eight years is a long time. And yes, the federal government and the political system is a powerful beast that will fight any change. At the end of eight years, however, it’s possible to leave the voting public with the notion that that fight has at least been engaged in even if all battles weren’t won.

There is no question many think we’re too tough on our “local boy” (our offices are located in Speaker Hastert’s Congressional district). And make no mistake – we’d rather be singing his praises. But alas, 2007 ushers in a period of time where Republicans aren’t looking to build upon the successes of the last several years but instead will be seeking to rebuild.

Both nationally – and here in Illinois where Speaker Hastert could’ve been a force for reform but wasn’t – the condition of the battlefield isn’t a pretty one.

So what’s our point in making these points? It’s not be kick a guy when he’s down. It’s to acknowledge reality. Speaker Hastert might be the greatest guy ever, but what’s being left by him and his staff can’t be ignored. When it’s all said and done, we’re not concerned with the likability of our political leaders (or their staffs) if that likability isn’t put to good use.

Failure is rarely a pleasant topic to discuss, but as we move forward we need to decide what the standards should be as we choose future leaders. To pretend that Republicans are inheriting anything other than a fine mess is an act of delusion. A quote from Saul Bellow comes to mind:

“A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.”

We don’t have time for such illusions. Too many critical issues cry out for action and the need for competent leadership is too great.

On the personal side regarding Speaker Hastert — we appreciate his service to his country and wish him well now as well as in his retirement.

Our work, however, is only beginning.